"Surprise! We're going to Disney!"
Are there any sweeter words a kid — or adult — can hear? If you're planning to say those words anytime soon, we are so excited for you! Having the opportunity to surprise your loved ones with a Disney trip is just about as good as it gets. With Christmas around the corner, and Walt Disney World and Disneyland vacations hiding beneath the tree, 'tis the season for surprises. Vacations are great Christmas gifts, and pulling off a great reveal can make the trip memorable before you’ve even left the house. If you are aiming for a spring break surprise, you can hide clues in plastic eggs around the house!
Today, we're sharing a few ways that Leap and I have surprised the tadpoles ... and a few ideas from Undercover Tourist customers too! You'll also find some tips and things to consider when planning the big surprise. No matter whether you're headed to Disney World or Disneyland, we've got plenty of ideas for telling the tadpoles, "We're going to Disney!"
Introducing ... 'Surprise! We're Going to Disney!' Printables
These Surprise! We're Going to Disney Word Search and Surprise! We're Going to Disney Connect-the-Dots Printables are perfect for ages 3 to 9. Plus, they're a fun and creative way to let your kids know where you're headed! The word scramble will send them piecing together a surprise sentence, while the connect-the-dots page will paint a hoppy picture. Download these Disney printables, give them to the kids and get the camera ready!
Two Approaches to Surprise Your Kids with a Disney Trip, Plus Tips
Before we leap into the ideas, it's important to discuss the act of surprising children. Not all children handle surprises well. It’s possible that your dream video moment — the one you want to get TONS of likes and shares — may not hoppen just as you've envisioned. If you're not sure how your tadpole will handle this surprise, this "We're going to Disney" moment may not be the route for you. Some children simply cannot process the magnificence of the words "Surprise! We're going to Disney" and have an immediate meltdown.
You should factor this in before deciding whether to create an elaborate plan for surprising your kids with a trip in the near future versus surprising your kids with a trip to Disney right now! This is especially true if you'll be pulling your kids from school. We've heard of tears from kids who found out their trip to Disney meant skipping an in-class event or holiday party. Older kids may have school work to turn in early or projects to start ahead of the trip. So definitely give your star students a bit of notice to prepare.
A few tips for surprising the tadpoles:
- Be careful about misleading your children about where they are going. Many parents create a fake destination story, such as visiting a relative or hanging with mom/dad while they attend a conference. Children often get attached to the destination and then are disappointed when they learn they are actually going somewhere else ... even if that somewhere else is Disney.
- If you’re planning a trip in the future, surprise the kids when the trip is within a relatively short period of time. For younger children especially, the future is a nebulous concept. A month to you could feel like YEARS to them. Depending on the child’s age, a few days might be in order. For older children, a month or even longer might be possible and would allow them to get involved in the planning. This can be a great bonding experience and create excitement about the trip. With advance planning, you can also create calendars or crafting projects to help children count down to the big day. If you don't want to extend it too long, use our Surprise! We're Going to Disney Word Search Printable and Surprise! We're Going to Disney Connect-the-Dots Printable to get the trip started in style!
- Use a delayed approach to space out "clues." This helps children anticipate a big surprise and works especially well for Christmas surprises. Parents can theme gifts around Disney and the trip (Mickey PJs and backpacks, for example) with the last "present" as the big reveal.
'Surprise! We're Going to Disney!' Ideas
Christmas time is when we break out the Advent calendar. If you're planning the big Christmas Day reveal, leaving 25 days' worth of clues can definitely build curiosity. Depending on how big your Advent calendar is, you could even leave big clues such as a MagicBand, a Disney shirt, ear headbands or hats. Consider a word scramble and leave one of 25 letters every day. (You can use our Surprise! We're Going to Disney Word Scramble Printable for suggestions.) Make sure you leave them out of sequence! If your family has an Elf on the Shelf that comes during the holidays, they could also be the one to break the magical news!
Spread the Clues Over Eight Nights for Hanukkah
Hanukkah sometimes falls a little earlier in December than Christmas, giving you time to lay out the clues (and time to mentally prepare the kids for a winter break Disney trip). If you give gifts each night, the gift items may be clues that lead up to your trip. Some nights the kids can unwrap travel size toiletries or luggage. Other nights might uncover Disney shirts, ear headbands, plushes or Disney accessories. You can buy Disney dreidel or Hanukkah menorah to drop the clues as well.
Instead of gifts, you can instead create clues that lead to one big gift — the surprise Disney trip — on the eighth night. It will be a miracle if they haven't figured out that they are going to Disney by the last night!
Send It in the Mail
Tad and Lily LOVE getting their own mail. One surprise announcement started via snail mail. The tadpoles started receiving letters with clues. They were so excited to have something addressed to them that it never dawned on them that these letters might mean something. I started about a month before our trip and sent a letter every few days. The first one was vague: "Dear Tad and Lily, It's been a while since we've seen you. We're beginning to think you've forgotten about us. We hope we see you real soon!" They were convinced it was a letter from their grandparents. The clues got a little more specific each time until they received the last one, which read: "We talked to your parents and they said it was OK. You're going to Disney World in just a few days! Love, Mickey."
Put the Puzzle Together
During the time in the tadpoles' lives when they were into puzzles, I let them solve the surprise piece-by-piece. Here's how I did it: I got one of those huge foam boards (but a poster board would work just fine) and a package of markers. I wrote "We're going to Disney World!!!" in big, bright letters. Next, I cut it into about 20 puzzle pieces and hid them all over the house ... taped to the bottom of the coffee table, in the linen closet, under the popsicles in the freezer, everywhere.
Tad and Lily are like bloodhounds when they think there's a surprise involved, so finding the pieces took all of about 10 minutes. After they gathered all the pieces, I videotaped them arguing as they put the puzzle together. Then they broke into a full-on happy dance when they figured out what it said. We still watch it for frogtastic memories and a great laugh.
Pack Your Bags
Like any trip to Disney, packing for the trip takes days of preparation. This surprise takes some planning, but the end result is phenomenal. A few days before the trip, I packaged up items that the kids would be taking with them on vacation. I put their toiletries in one bag and their pajamas in another. I got them both new autograph books and markers that I put in gift bags ... you get the idea. On the day before the trip, I hid the packages around the house while the kids were at school. When they got home, the fun began.
Tad is never a happy camper when it comes to cleaning the dishes. He had no idea what was going on when he found his toothbrush and toothpaste in the dishwasher. Lily always complains about having to get the clothes out of the dryer. She was puzzled when she opened the machine. The only things inside were her Disney pajamas. When they had gathered all of the packages, I told them to bring them into our bedroom, where they found their suitcases and backpacks. Tad's had a stuffed Mickey Mouse inside and Lily's had a stuffed Minnie Mouse. Both had a note that read "It's a good thing that you're packed — we're going to Disney World!"
Map It Out
If you have Disney park maps from past visits, you can use them to help spring this year's Disney World surprise. Stuff them in lunch bags. Put a stack inside the napkin holder on the kitchen table. When you're ready for the big reveal, write "We're Going to Disney World" on one in big black marker!
Small Gifts Lead to a Big Surprise
This is similar to the Pack Your Bags surprise, but it’s all done in one sitting. In this approach, you build up to the big reveal with smaller things. First, I purchased items that they would use on their trip — travel-size toothpaste, a book to read on the trip, sunscreen. Next, I bought some Disney vacation items — personalized ear hats, MagicBands, autograph books and such. Once all the gifts were wrapped, I called a Frog Family meeting. First, I handed them each a box with an obscure item — I think it was toothpaste. From there, the gifts built up to the final item — the ear hats. Taped inside each hat was a note reading, "You’re Going To Disney World!" Tears of joy ensued.
The same can be said for fun items such as themed cupcakes, balloons or T-shirts. Small items can deliver a big message in a unique way!
If you thought yelling "Uno" on game night was fun, try "We're going to Disney!" Everyone's a winner with this approach. If game night is a thing at your lily pad, dealing out the surprise during the game will make everyone hoppy. Spell it out during a game of hangman, or draw Spaceship Earth or the Matterhorn in Pictionary. There's more fun if you create your own special card. Create your own Community Chest card for a Monopoly game or add a Disney cat into Exploding Kittens.
Status Update = OMG GOING 2 DISNEY!!!
If your older kids are on social media, give them the surprise status update of their life. The evening before your reveal, wait until they’re asleep. Before you head to bed, post a new status update announcing the trip and tag them in the update. Perhaps include a picture of a past trip or video announcing the trip. Be creative with the different platforms. Do a video for Snapchat or tag them in an Instagram photo of the matching vacation shirts you'll wear. #BestFrogParentsEver. If you're traveling with our discount Disney World tickets, we'd love to know. Tag us in your pics and posts!
Give Video Clues
Use videos from our YouTube channel of attractions your kids don't necessarily know are at a Disney park. Here's a sample list of video clues: Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, Frozen Ever After, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. For the grand reveal, go with A Closer Look at Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom. You could also make a video of yourself announcing "We're going to Disney World!" as the final clue. You can tailor the list to suit your children's ages and interests. If you are heading to Disneyland on a future trip, we have a lot of Disneyland videos as well. Our Top 10 Favorite Disneyland Rides is a good start.
Making a surprise trip to Disney can be a surprise in itself. Find a way to reveal the trip when they least expect it. Hang a large "We’re Going to Disney!" sign in the shower or leave a small note in their lunchbox. Write the surprise on a window or leave a message at the bottom of a box of doughnuts. While we're all about leaping, we caution you about jumping out from behind a couch or door with a huge sign. (A scared tadpole won't be interested in any kind of vacation. Don't start the trip with a traumatic moment!)
Keep It a Secret Until You've Arrived
This one is either the absolute best way to surprise your kids OR the absolute worst way to surprise your kids. Here's what happened when we did it: I kept our trip a secret up until the moment we drove under the big Walt Disney World sign. Tad and Lily literally thought we were going to a local park. When I turned around in my seat and announced, "Surprise!!! You're at Disney World!!!" Lily screamed with joy. She began thanking her father and me for being the best parents in the whole entire world. She promised she would be a good girl and never get in any trouble the rest of her life. She announced, "Watch out, Mickey! I'm on my way!" It honestly sounded like an Academy Award acceptance speech.
Tad, on the other hand, went into a panic. The spontaneity of the whole thing did not sit well with him at all. Keep these two scenarios in mind if you're thinking of keeping it a secret up until the last minute.
The surprise arrival works best if your tadpoles don’t connect their destination with Disney. It’s possible to take a flight to Southern California, rent a car and drive right up to the Disneyland Resort — all without so much as a hint as to Disney being there. The Orlando airport features huge Disney, Universal and SeaWorld gift shops. While you may be able to get them to Orlando, it can be a challenge to keep your travel plans quiet upon landing. Think about springing the "We're going to Disney" surprise at the gate once you’ve landed. An even better idea? See if the flight attendant will make the announcement overhead while you're in the air.
Surprises for Local Theme Park Visitors
If you are lucky enough to live a short distance from Disneyland or Disney World, you can still plan a hoppy Disney surprise. Since locals often make day trips to Disney theme parks, you can plan an unfrogettable mini vacation by surprising your kids with an overnight stay at a Disney hotel.
But you can also plan a surprise day trip without the vacation part. Birthdays are a popular time to surprise your kids with a day at Disney instead of a day at school. Some parents let the teacher in on the secret and send kids to school, but then surprise them by pulling kids out early to go to Disney. We know one mom who told the birthday girl she was taking her for a birthday treat before school. But instead of going to Starbucks, they pulled up to see some friends holding a big birthday sign. They yelled, "You're going to Disneyland!" and they all went to Disney together. This, of course, works better with preschool to elementary school kids. Older kids usually need a little more time to mentally prepare, especially if the surprise falls on a school day. Don't froget to pick up a free birthday button in the park!
Here are a few of the ways our readers have unveiled the "We're going to Disney!" surprise on their children:
From Karen: "My husband and I have maintained all summer that our before school trip is to Michigan to go bird watching. Won't they be surprised!"
From Carol: "We surprised our grandchildren by giving them a few clues like a number 2 and a number 7 for the 27th state of America, an orange ( fruit ) as the orange state of America, a Milky Way chocolate bar, as that's where you would find Pluto, an autograph book for all the characters at Disney and last of all a soft toy of Mickey. [Since] my son and daughter-in-law had no idea [the trip was planned] they could help the kids with the clues. My daughter-in-law was worse than the kids. It was worth every penny to those faces. Kids are 12 years, 8 years and 2."
From Angela: "We aren't going until the end of December. We are going to surprise our kids Christmas morning with tons of Disney stuff and tell them that we are going, but not tell them what day. Three days later, on the 28th, we are going to wake them up at 3 a.m. and give them one more present: An 'I'm going to Walt Disney World' shirt, tell them to put it on and get in the car. That's how I have it all planned out anyways, haha. Who knows what I'll decide on between now and then."
From Emma: "I'm going to tell my kids by sending them on a scavenger hunt and when they get to the end they will find a big box wrapped up like a present. Inside will be helium-filled balloons and they will come out and there will be a note that says WE'RE GOING TO DISNEY!!! They are ages 3 and 5. Super excited!!"
From Amber: "I just booked our trip to WDW for May. I plan on sending all kids to school, then packing the bags and loading the car up (we are driving, it's about 16 hours). I was going to pick them up after being at school for a few hours and hit the road. I got a hotel booked about 3 hours away from Disney World and have surprise boxes for each kid to open the next morning. They've always wanted to go but I've told them it's just too expensive. I have four kids ranging ages 11 to 5."
Parents, are you planning a surprise trip to Disney World or Disneyland? Share your ideas in comments below! And for those of you who have done a "We're going to Disney" surprise, how did it go? For more vacation planning tips, check out the When to Visit Orlando page inside our Orlando Planning Timeline!