questionsis it worth is renting a popcorn cart for a…

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Sure, pick up a cotton candy machine while you're at it

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Given the price of gas and the time involved, I would probably not go with a rental, but would maybe order some popcorn online. I know there are several popcorn sites, but I have only used/tasted that from thepopcornfactory.com. They have many flavors and you could make up little nostalgic bags or boxes for the kids to grab.

That site has a popcorn ball decorating kit. I think it is a bit expensive, but the kids might have fun doing such an activity. Seems you could easily buy the frosting and candies, etc for the decorating part with store bought or pre-made popcorn balls.

It is a neat idea to have the actual cart there, but for a kid, it might be better to funnel more of the budget towards games/prizes/food vs something that could turn into a lot of work (getting/returning it, cleaning it, etc) for mom/dad.

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Well, I think it depends on the cost. If you don't mind the driving + rental cost, then go for it. Do any of your friends/neighbors/coworkers happen to own one? My grandparents have one, I'd have my parents borrow it and bring it in for class parties, it was a big hit. Ask around, you might be able to borrow one.
A second option is to just use a 'regular' popcorn popper. Not as carnival-esque, but more affordable. There are probably special flavorings that you could use to make it more fun or carnival like.
Finally, depending on the cost, you could buy one? This http://www.amazon.com/Maxi-Matic-EPM-450-Tabletop-Old-Fashioned-4-Ounce/dp/B000NCPXBG has pretty good reviews (I quickly googled and found this) and isn't terriblely priced ($140). I'd imagine that the rental + gas +whatever you value your time at might come close, and you could use one over and over.
Anyway, just stuff to think about.

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No. Save the money and save your sanity.

It's a great idea, but then somebody has to maintain the machine and keep the popcorn going. When you factor in the time and expense (and gas) to get the cart and return it, that works out to being some very expensive popcorn. It's not a good value.

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I think if you got those striped popcorn boxes and just filled them with normal microwave popcorn, most people wouldn't know the difference.

...now if you want to REALLY be different and embrace the carnival theme, you should get a cotton candy machine!!

Just searching Amazon turns up a couple of affordable options. What 11 year old can say 'no' to cottony sugar goodness?

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My neighbors would have many game booths for birthdays. They had popcorn balls about the size of baseballs.

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www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001TH8X20
www.amazon.com/Wabash-Valley-Farms-Popcorn-Original/dp/B000CIXMKA
www.amazon.com/Popcorn-Bags-8-50-Count/dp/B00018TVVA

Get all the above and it'll taste the same as the machine. You can whip up a big batch of popcorn in under 5 minutes, it's incredibly easy to clean, and when the party's over you'll still have a great popcorn popper to use whenever you have a craving for movie-style popcorn.

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I think all the kids parents would appreciate it if you gave out feeder goldfish like a real carnival.

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@brad3326: If you could afford it, that would be the way to go. I expect that with gas (both ways), and the rental fee it would be close to what you would otherwise pay. Since your daughter loves popcorn, this would get good use. You would be a hero.

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@samstag: said exactly what I was going to suggest. I have one of the poppers and it makes the absolute best popcorn in the world. My kids' friends ask for it. :) I had one kid stop in at my house when he was out hanging around the downtown area with another friend, and begged for popcorn.

I'd also suggest the plastic cups that look like popcorn bags as a party favor. My s-i-l gave some to my kids once, and they love eating out of them. It's also great if one kid likes cheese shaked on top and another doesn't. Totally personalize your popcorn with individual things. :)

Have a great time! Sounds like a blast! I'll be doing a 12th birthday later this year with a Harry Potter theme and a game of Quidditch.