Carnival Snacks

I treasure the stability of my childhood years, but my clearest memories are of the breaks from routine — family vacations, the time Dad let us go to a midnight movie opening on a school night, my 16th birthday bash. Ye olde family reunion is upon me once again, and I’m in dire need of a punch-up — a focal point for bored children. Ah-ha, a sweet spot for their sweet tooth — popcorn from an old-fashioned popper in little striped bags, great swaths of pink cotton candy rolled into cloud-sized mounds, icy blue snow cones and the subsequent brain freeze. I’ll give them an old-time carnival-snack binge.

Greg at San Diego Kids Party Rentals in Clairemont (858-272-2700; sandiegokidspartyrentals.com) told me I could start making fresh-popped memories for $79 a day. “The popcorn machines are the old-fashioned kind — basically, a cart on wheels. It comes with enough popcorn and oil for 30 servings and the boxes you use for serving. You take the premeasured packets of corn and oil, cut the tops off, stir them together in the hopper, press some buttons, and you’re off. The first batch takes three to four minutes; after that, each batch goes a little quicker. It’s preseasoned to give a buttery, salty flavor. And you can get additional packets, each containing seven to eight servings, for $2 apiece.”

As for the snow cones, “You need to provide your own ice. We provide the rest, including the syrups. We have a variety — strawberry, cherry, lime — and we send out syrups in blue, green, red, and yellow. You plug the machine in and add a bag of cubed ice. There’s a button on the machine that activates a big hammer that grinds the ice into snow. Just scoop it out into the cone and add the syrup. It takes no time at all to get going, and I suggest that people make a whole bunch of snow at once. We provide cups for 40 to 50 people. That’s $79 a day.”

San Diego Kids Party Rental offers delivery and pickup on orders over $125. “But either of these can be picked up,” said Greg. “Just keep in mind that Saturdays are our crazy days, so you’ll want to try to give us as much advance notice as possible when booking, as we do sell out. Other days, it’s not usually an issue.” Greg noted that no cleaning was necessary prior to return.

Raphael’s Party Rentals in Miramar and Carlsbad (858-689-7368; raphaels.com) rents antique-style popcorn carts for $116, or tabletop-style for $66. A $35 deposit is required, but if the machines are returned cleaned, the deposit is refunded. As for popcorn, said the clerk, “Our smallest amount serves 200; that’s $45. You might want to buy your own at Costco or Smart & Final. And for something like this, your best bet is to pick it up. We deliver for minimum orders of $75, but the delivery fee starts at $97.50.”

Abbey Party Rents has five locations: San Diego, Mira Mesa, El Cajon, Escondido, and Temecula (888-552-2239; abbeypartyrentals.com). Antique-style carts run $95; tabletop models, $55. Sales clerk Jackie told me, “It’s really simple. You plug them in, turn the switch on, add the popcorn. We sell enough popcorn and oil for 10 to 12 servings for $1.99, and a pack of 100 bags is $4. Delivery charge depends on zip code — La Mesa is $45. We ask for only a minimum cleaning — empty the hopper of excess kernels, and wipe out any leftover popcorn. We’ll do the actual washing.”

Jackie also offered cotton-candy machines for $55 a day. “It’s basically a motor with a giant bowl on top of it. You pour the candy floss into the bowl when it’s turned on, and it spins and spins. Stick the cotton-candy stick into the bowl, and let it collect cotton candy. For this one, we ask you to clean the bowl when you’re finished. The candy floss runs $7.95, and a pack of 100 sticks is $4.95. Oh, and we also have rotisserie-style pretzel warmers for $55. You can buy the pretzels at Costco — just defrost them first. Generally, a week’s notice is enough to reserve any of these.”

ABC Party & Event Rentals in Chula Vista (619-476-2222; abcpartyrental.com) was more no-frills. Tabletop popcorn machines and snow-cone machines ran $40 per day. No supplies or delivery available, but the clerk told me that either machine would fit in a minivan. Cleaning was not necessary, and a two- to three-week advance notice was recommended.

At the opposite end of the spectrum was Party Pals in Sorrento (858-622-6613; partypals.com). I talked to Linda and learned that cotton-candy, snow-cone, and popcorn machines could be had for $575 each. “That includes an attendant for a four-hour event and servings for 425 people. Delivery in San Diego is $95. The attendant will bring out, set up, operate, and take down the machine and will serve the guests during the event. You determine where you want the machine to go; we just ask that it’s a flat surface. Also, you want to make sure we can get ten amps per machine — you might want to check your power supply ahead of time. We do a lot of outdoor carnivals, school events, grad nights, and company picnics. Popcorn and cotton candy tend to be most popular around Halloween. We’ve probably already booked the snow-cone machines for the Fourth of July, but other summer dates are still available.”

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Why rent for near $100 a machine when you can buy and keep your own machine off of eBay? They have machines from $75 to $250 and supplies too. You don't have to worry about what days you can use it and you can be a big hit at other parties.

Fools and their money are soon parted.

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