How We Won a Halloween Campsite Decorating Contest

Have you ever thought you told someone something only to realize later that you never did? I’m often guilty of replying mentally to texts, emails, you name it, but this one takes the cake. Last Fall, my family participated in a campsite decorating contest at a state park for Halloween. I thought I told you all about it, turns out I never did! I’m here today to remedy that. Pretend it’s October.

Guess what everybody?! My family won the coveted “Best in Campground” award by decorating our campsite with a Mad Hatter Tea Party theme!

If you follow my blog, you know I’m a big fan of Disney. I’m always on the lookout for ways I can add a little pixie dust to someone’s day. Some call it being a little “extra”. The way I see it, why settle for an otherwise ordinary day if you can add a little magic instead? Such was my approach to decorating a campsite at our state park for Halloween.

Harvest Days at Spring Mill State Park in Indiana

Every year Spring Mill State Park in Indiana has a campsite decorating contest as part of their Fall Halloween festivities. Campers decorate their campsites and kiddos trick-or-treat the campsites throughout the evening. The event is so much fun it has become our family’s tradition to join in the festivities.

This camper created an autumn scene with a homemade “log” cabin – with a working chimney!

The Competition

If you haven’t had the opportunity to see what this event is all about, let me fill you in. Hundreds of kids from all over the area come here to trick-or-treat. Campsites are reserved months in advance and sell out pretty much as soon as they open for reservation. The competition is TOUGH and the decorations are FIERCE. What do I mean by fierce? Well, I’ve seen witches dance to a choreographed routine when trick-or-treaters are nearby. I’ve seen an entire autumn theme complete with a homemade “log cabin” with, get this, a working chimney! I’ve seen a full blown carriage “pulled” by skeleton horse. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

So what’s a Disney fan like me to do in a campsite decorating contest with stiff competition like this? You set your sights on decorating with a Mad Hatter Tea Party theme and you spend the entire year leading up to it preparing the decorations.

I chose a Mad Hatter Tea Party theme for a variety of reasons. I love this story and all the wonderful quotes nestled within it. The story is whimsical and fun and leaves a lot of room for creativity on a budget. I wanted a theme that was unique and memorable, something others probably haven’t seen before. I love the idea of sort of “transporting” visitors to a little magical place if only for a moment. Stumbling upon our campsite in the woods felt like the perfect scene to set-up a tea patter fit for a Mad Hatter.

The Decorations

I spent a lot of time in thrift shops and garage sales collecting items for our decorations. The first items on my list? Fine China, tea pots and tea cups! It turns out tea cups weren’t as easy to come by as I had anticipated but by planning so far in advance, I had enough time to get a nice collection together. The great thing about a tea party in Wonderland is that nothing has to match. The more mismatched, the better!

To set the scene, I purchased a couple of 6′ long folding tables (similar to what I have on this list) at Walmart for roughly $30 each. I placed them end to end to create one 12′ long table for all of Mad Hatter’s guests. I covered the tables with layers of various floor fabrics (table cloths, curtains, scrap fabric). Thrift stores are great for this, too. Ruffled tablecloths, burlap, lace, etc. were all my favorites for covering the tables.

Once the fabrics were in place, I rolled out a table runner made of moss down the center of the table. Fyi – This moss is messy and can break apart easily if you’re not careful. It also needs some time to flatten out. Also, stacking natural wood pieces (like the kind I have on my Amazon idea list), is a great way to add height to your centerpieces. Speaking of centerpieces…

Whimsically Stacked Tea Cups

As I’m sure you know, the Mad Hatter isn’t going to have just any old boring tea party. A tea party in Wonderland has got to be whimsical so we got to stacking.

We created this whimsically stacked tower of tea cups with thrift store china, a hot glue gun, and patience! Balance is key to this. It took some trial and error to see which pieces work well together and in what order it made sense to stack them. To help with balancing, I picked up a bag of decorative stones vase filler at a thrift store. You can find stones like this at the dollar store. The stones in the bag I found were really heavy which made them ideal to scoop into the bottom tea cup as wherever needed to give this tower weight for stability.

There are various types of glue that can be used to fasten these together. What worked best for me was a basic hot glue gun. It was the most reliable for me, though I should mention the glue may loosen and melt a bit if you will be outdoors in hot weather. I also liked that the glue didn’t really damage the china. Once I was finished using the decorations, I was able to carefully pull these pieces apart and the glue could be pulled right off the pieces, too. But again, make sure you use thrift store or yard sale china – just in case.

Once the stack was in place, I added a few finishing touches like red roses, playing cards and moss.

Whimsically stacked tea cups

I used this same approach in creating a stacked tea pot centerpiece.

Whimsically stacked tea pots

Floating Tea Cup

One of the decorations that got a lot of attention was this floating tea cup. I created this with only a tea cup, spoon, china plate, artificial roses/petals and my trusty hot glue gun. Much like the stacked tea cups and tea pots, the key to creating a floating tea cup is balance.

I bent a spoon in sort of an “S” shape and used hot glue to fasten the handle portion of the spoon to the inside of the tea cup. Once that was dry, I glued the spoon onto the plate. I hid the spoon by gluing the artificial rose petals and flowers on top of it. Depending upon how heavy your tea cup is, you may need to put weight on the plate. Any weight I used was hidden by gluing an artificial rose on top.

Floating tea cup

This tea pots with flying cards just might be my favorite decoration of them all. With cards, toothpicks, a tea pot and a hot glue gun, I promise you can create the same. Just cut a few slits into the cards and start slipping the cards into each other. Glue toothpicks as a sort of card sandwich for extra bracing. I rolled a few into the spout and kept gluing the cards as needed throughout. Before you know it, your tea pot will be exploding, too!

Deck of cards "exploding" out of tea pot

The Furniture

Now that the table has been set, I placed a variety of mismatched chairs around it. I purchased a wingback chair and footstool for the Mad Hatter and a variety of other chairs for his guests from thrift stores. With some paint and scrap fabric, everything old became new again!

I also found a old trunk an suitcase at a local thrift store. Not only was the trunk perfect for additional whimsical seating, but the suitcase was the perfect place to store all our treats for the trick-or-treaters!

Trunk filled with Halloween candy

Speaking of treats….I found a few edible wafers on etsy that were the perfect touch to top the store bought cookies I picked up for the table.

Eat Me cookies

I also bought a couple glass bottles from our local Dollar Tree. I filled them with colorful soda and a tag to each “This one makes you smaller.” and “This one makes you taller.”

Drink me

Decorations

I couldn’t help myself. We needed more decorations. Specifically, we needed signs directing everyone to our tea party. I painted large styrofoam boards from Dollar General. I cut a few of them in the shape of arrows and fastened them to a post.

Tea Party Signs

Cheshire Cat

Night view of the Mad Hatter Tea Party with Cheshire Cat

You simply can’t have Mad Hatter’s tea party in Wonderland without the Cheshire Cat. Fortunately, the folks over at the AtmosFX website had exactly what I needed to create an illusion of Cheshire Cat stopping by. Using their hollusion material, a projector, and a digital download of their Eerie Eyes collection up in the trees I was able to project cat eyes with a smile worthy of the Cheshire himself! Typically the hollusion material this digital decoration will fade into the background but because I had some lights on and limited campsite space, this was the best we could do. I’ve inserted a video below showcasing the many ways the Eerie Eyes digital decoration collection can be used.

The Finishing Touch

Last but certainly not least, we built two giant mushrooms. That’s right. Using 2x4s, chicken wire, fabric, spray paint, bolts and cans of spray foam (lots and LOTS of spray foam) we managed to create giant mushrooms. Now, go easy on us because it was our first time trying to create these and we didn’t have much of an idea of what we were doing. If you Google “Giant Mushroom Build” you can find similar mushrooms that are far superior than what we put together. That being said, we also needed to transport these beauties 4 hours round trip to the campground and at 8 ft tall and who knows how wide the caps are, I literally had to rent a U-Haul to make that happen. Although a bigger mushroom cap would look better, the ones we made barely (just barely) fit in the back of the U-Haul as it was. So, we were happy. Before draping the fabric out from the center underneath the cap to the outer rim of the mushroom cap, we wrapped some twinkle lights to help them glow. By using a color changing solar spotlight from Walmart, we were also able to shine a spotlight from the ground up to added effect.

We had the absolute BEST time creating these decorations but the best part of all of this was seeing the reactions on everyone’s faces as they came upon our tea party. The reactions were priceless! We used this theme 2 years in a row and we were awarded the ever elusive Best in Campground award at Spring Mill State Park in 2018. We never dreamed in a million years we could win that award. Like I said, the competition is fierce and we don’t dance!

Night view of the Mad Hatter Tea Party with Cheshire Cat

It’s such an honor to receive the award and would you believe we even made it into the local paper?

Stay tuned over the next couple of months when I’ll be back to share with you the new theme we’re currently working on. It’s top secret until it debuts the first weekend in October. It’s by far a much simpler set-up but I think you’ll love the nostalgia of it all. I can’t wait to show you!

Until then….

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