'Tis the season for parents surprising their children with trips to Disney. Vacations are great Christmas gifts, and pulling off a great reveal can make the trip memorable before you’ve left the house.
Today we're sharing a few ideas on how we've surprised the tadpoles and yours too. We’ll also give you 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, "Surprise! We're going to Disney!"
Now, keep in mind that not all children handle this type of surprise well and it’s possible that the video moment—the one you want to get TONS of likes and shares—may not happen like you want it to.
Two Approaches to Surprising Your Kids With a Trip to Disney World or Disneyland
When it comes to the surprise, there are two approaches:
1. Create an elaborate plan for surprising your kids with a trip in the near future
... OR ...
2. Surprise your kids with a trip to Disney right now!
'We're Going to Disney' Tips and Things to Keep in Mind
- Some parents create a fake destination story (Visiting a relative or hanging with mom/dad while they attend a conference). Be careful about misleading your children about where they are going. Children often get attached to the destination, and then are disappointed when they learn they are actually going somewhere else. Even if this somewhere else is Disney. While this is hard to believe, you need only do a search on YouTube to see documented examples of a dream reveal gone wrong.
- If you’re thinking about planning a surprise trip to Disney right now, keep your child’s temperament in mind. Some children will literally be jumping for joy at the idea of a surprise Disney trip. Other children simply cannot process the magnificence of this prospect and have an immediate meltdown. Because Tad and Lily have visited the parks before, they are better able to handle an immediate surprise trip to the parks. I will note that I was a little worried about how rowdy they were going to be on the plane a few years ago. For the benefit of our fellow air travelers, we allowed no sugar consumption at the airport!!
- 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 — which 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 countdown to the big day.
- You can use this approach to space out "clues" if they would like, which also helps children anticipate a big surprise. This 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" the big reveal.
'Surprise! We're Going to Disney!' Ideas
Here are five ideas that are sure to make your kids' reactions as priceless as Tad and Lily's were when they finally figured out that they were going to Disney!!
Send It in the Mail
Tad and Lily LOVE getting their own mail, so when they 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 you can come back 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 Walt Disney World in just a few days! Love, Mickey and the Gang."
Put the Puzzle Together
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 "You're going to Disney World!!!" in big, bright letters. Then I cut it in 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 video taped them arguing as they put the puzzle together, only to break into a full-on "happy dance" when they figured out what it said. We still watch it for great memories and a great laugh.
Pack Your Bags
This one takes a bit of preparation, but the result is phenomenal. A few days before the trip, I packaged things up that the kids would be taking with them on vacation. I put their toiletries in one bag, their pajamas in another, I got them both new autograph books and markers that I put in gift bags ... you get the idea. Then the day before the trip while they were in school, I hid the packages around the house. When they got home, the fun began. Tad grumbled all the way to the dishwasher, but when he found his toothbrush and toothpaste where clean dishes should have been, he didn't know what was going on. Lily complained about having to get the clothes out of the dryer until she found their Disney pajamas inside. When they had gathered all 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 "Now that you're all packed, you're going to Disney World!"
Small Gifts Lead to a Big Surprise
This is similar to Pack Your Bags, 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. Then I bought some Disney vacation items—personalized Ear Hats, MagicBands, autograph books and such. I wrapped all the gifts and we gathered the family together. 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 Disneyland!"
Status Update = OMG GOING 2 DISNEY!!!
If your tadpoles 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
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, Finding Nemo - The Musical, Jedi Training Academy, Disney Junior - Live On Stage, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and of course, the Park Opening when Mickey officially opens 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 likes.
When the Surprise Is a Surprise
Making a surprise trip to Disney can be a surprise onto itself. Find a way to reveal the trip when they least expect it. Hang a large "We’re Going to Disneyland!" 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.
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 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 that 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 hint as to Disney being there. The Orlando airport features huge Disney, Universal and SeaWorld gift shows, so 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 surprise at the gate once you’ve landed.
Here’s a few of the ways our readers surprised their children with trips to Disney:
From Stacy F.: "We surprised our kids and my nieces and nephew this year by doing a scavenger hunt with clues. All the clues had little hints about Disney with either the names of rides or parades in them. Once they found the last clue it led them to a bag with T-shirts in them. Since we had 6 kids, each of the backs had a separate word on it that said "We Are Going To Disney World" on the back. They each opened them in age order and once they got to the last two everyone stood up together until the oldest two opened their bags and they put it all together to tell them they were going to Disney World."
From Angela H.: "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 3am 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 Ellen E.: "One Christmas we wrapped boxes inside each other. The first one was huge! They thought it was a TV or something else. The next boxes were wrapped and nested and said "Guess", "Where", "You're", and "Going?". In the final box were autograph books, a stuffed Mickey and park maps. Once it clicked, they jumped around like crazy!"
From Linda D.: "I surprised my kids the first time. But now that they are 14 and twins that are 13, I get way more enjoyment in letting them plan the trip with me. That way they feel invested in the trip and are sure to get to do the things that they want to do."
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!