I love skating parties, for birthdays, holidays, and family get-togethers. Skating parties work great for mixed-age groups, and provide ready-made activity, which if I recall from kids skating parties is an enormous boon.
However, they come with their very own set of management and etiquette issues. Here's some things to keep in mind.
The guest list
Dry-land parties are easy--you invite your friends, go somewhere out of sight (i.e. away from school or office) and don't worry too much about the peripheral social circle. But if you have a skating party at your regular rink, you come up against the problem of the "skating friends." Some of these people are actual friends and some of them are just training mates, or even more casual in their acquaintance. Problem is, your kid spends a LOT of time with them.
There are a couple of solutions:
Don't hold the party at the home rink. That way people aren't there to get their feelings hurt. And it's simple courtesy to not talk about parties around people who may not have been invited, so it's a good teaching moment for younger kids too.
Invite only, and ALL skating friends (for instance everyone who takes from your coach) Then have a smaller, close friends party or sleepover for just 5 or 6 non-skating very close friends. These friends might or might not also come to the skating party. This commits you to two parties, of course, but it avoids the hurt feelings at the rink.
Invite who you want, and hold it where you want
Don't worry about the people whose feelings are hurt because a casual acquaintance has a party without them. If you accommodate them in this, they're just going to find something else to complain about.
The Synchro Team
If your child is on a synchro team, and you have a skating party, the issues get stickier. You don't want the party to become an unscheduled team practice; you don't want the team to overwhelm the non-team members who are also there. Plus, your kid may not get along with everyone, and may not want them at her party.
If you invite half the team, you have to invite the whole team
This is a common grade-school rule to keep kids from feeling left out of birthday parties. If half or more of the class is invited, you have to just invite the rest, because there's no way some child is not going to feel really bad about being left out (especially if it's 20 out of 24 being invited).
No synchro skating
You really have to have a no-synchro rule so the team doesn't take over the ice, but if a lot of the team is there, schedule some time for them to do a short exhibition (if you're renting the ice. If you're on public, no exhibition).
You don't have to avoid non-skaters at the party. Hire a pro to teach willing beginners some basics (including adults), and have plenty of engaging off-ice activities so that the ones who really don't want to skate can feel included in the festivities. If there are some very young children, have pushers or cones available.
There are going to be some very good skaters at any skating party. You want to police them as little as possible, but gently make sure they're not making the lower level and non-skaters feel inadequate, or hot dogging around on the ice. You can also ask them to do very short, prepared exhibition numbers (again, if you've rented the ice; this won't work on public); this is especially nice if the birthday child is one of the show-offs. You could even set up an impromptu exhibition with the non- and lower skaters, asking the Pro you've hired (for her full rate, please), to put together a little group number with anyone interested.
Yes. Lots and lots of parents on the ice. More so than regular parties, skating parties are better with lots of adults.
Even if they are non-skaters, or beginners, adult presence on the ice will ipso facto keep the show-offs and the hot doggers at bay. You'll also want some parents in the party room and in the lobby at all times for the non-skaters, bathroom breaks, and bumps and bruises.
How much skating
Time on the ice is generally spelled out in the rental agreement. Most rinks have party packages that include a set number of pre-paid rental skates, a certain amount of ice time or public skate passes, possibly a pro, and a party room. Make sure you leave enough off-ice time for cake and presents!
Renting vs. public
Facilities with multiple ice surfaces, especially if they have "studio" (small) ice, often have very reasonable rentals. This is the best way to do an ice-skating party. You have lots of control because your group is the only one on the ice. This is the best way to do larger parties, say more than 12 families/kids involved. For smaller groups, public skating can work just fine. Some of the best party fun happens on weekend public when there are 4 or 5 or 6 party groups there all at once, and they find each other--you'll get all the skating birthday girls bonding.
How many is too many?
The number of people on the ice, at a well-run facility, is going to be limited by the rental agreement. For a studio-sized rink this is generally 40 to 60 people. If you're doing a party for 60 people, you're crazy, but that's just my opinion. Groups of 6 to 8 kids, with fewer adults supervising, can do well on a public session, and it's also a lot cheaper.
This is a great time of year for family skating--think about making it a party. Bet you didn't know Grandma could spin like that!