A birthday party on the Santa Maria

It's hard to imagine kids excited about cleaning, but hand them a mop, call it "swabbing the deck," and they're all over it.

Washing the deck is just one of many fun chores and adventures that await kids attending a birthday party on the Santa Maria. The wooden ship, which really is designed to be a replica of the vessel Christopher Columbus used to sale to the Americas, regularly gets stormed by pirates. The ship holds pirate-themed birthday parties to raise money and increase interest in the Downtown feature.

It was just the venue that Will and Alex Olah were looking for their fourth birthday. The twins love playing pirate and encouraged their party guests to dress for the occasion. Many showed up in stripes, flannels and other seaworthy attire.

"The pirate theme is so great," mom Erin Olah of New Albany said. "They were just so excited."

She also liked that the ship provides the cake, goodie bags and the entertainment. Olah provided a piata full of extra pirate booty for the youngsters, and every guest also received an authentic-looking pirate hat from the Santa Maria.

The Olah twins had two party helpers assigned to their gathering. One led the crew on a tour of the ship while the other set up the cake and drinks. The guide offered bits of age-appropriate history of the ship, including details about what early sailor did when they had to go to the bathroom. (The youngsters were delighted to learn what pirates used for toilet paper. It involves rope and sea water.)

The kids also received a quick lesson about the starboard and port sides of the boat. Party guests hunted for treasure - fake coins hidden in the ship's belly - and pushed on the rudder to steer the mighty vessel. They also heard pirate tales and played games provided by the Santa Maria.

The tour and the games took kids all over the ship, which is permanently docked behind Columbus City Hall. The kids enjoyed visiting the various levels of the ship. A few parents looked nervous as the little ones scampered up and down the ladders located throughout the vessel. But the parents, many of whom said they had never visited the Santa Maria, also enjoyed learning about the ship.