A couple of times per year, I have to travel around for my job. Usually, it is at tourist-unfriendly city, and only rarely it is somewhere cool. But with three kids, my wife almost never gets to go with me. “No one loves you enough to watch three kids!”, we like to say.
But this past May, we had a sitter all lined up. My father and his wife (my step-mother) had volunteered to watch the kids for a weekend. I had a conference in New Orleans where I had to give a lecture on Monday morning. My DW was going to fly down from CT with me on Friday (after the kids got dropped off at school) and then leave on Sunday (so she could be there for Monday school). My step-mother was going to pick the kids up from school on Friday and stay until Sunday at our house. My dad (whose health is not great), was going to join them on Saturday. We had rides to soccer & lacrosse games/practices all lined up. We were all set!
Now I should mention here that my wife is a huge fan of the Grand Floridian. We play a game with our kids while waiting for things: virtual hide and seek. In virtual hide and seek, you pick a place to hide (anywhere in the world) and everyone else asks yes or no questions until they find you. Think 20-questions, but with a place. When we play, 9 times out of 10, my DW is at the Grand Floridian. When asked, she will tell you that the Grand Floridian is her favorite place in the world.
I should also mention, that we don’t get away alone often (about once every 1-2 years). With our oldest’s issues, it is difficult to find someone besides us who can take care of him like we do. But coincidently my wife and I had spent a weekend alone in New Orleans 3-4 years ago. So although New Orleans is a lovely place, we’d kind of done it already.
So, the time comes for me to start looking into buying flights to New Orleans from Connecticut. But I hit a snag. In the winter-spring of 2010, the price for flights from Connecticut to New Orleans were outrageous. At least $800/ticket. No matter when I looked (and I looked almost daily), the prices did not go down. And, it is not easy to get to New Orleans from Connecticut. Since we had to drop the kids at school, we couldn’t get a really early morning flight. With connections, for any possible flight we’d get there after 6pm (unless we wanted to pay even more!). It was getting closer and closer to May and I still hadn’t bought the tickets.
So, one morning, after my daily trolling of the DIS sites, it occured to me, for that amount of money, we could just go to Disney World instead. And that was the end of it. We actually had a surprise trip scheduled for our kids in June, but I couldn’t get the idea of an adults-only trip out of my head. I priced flights. Much cheaper! And direct! I could even fly directly to New Orleans myself from Orlando in time to make my lecture and my DW could fly directly home to CT.
I started to ask around work. “What would you think?” I’d ask people. And uniformly, they said do it. Especially the women. They loved the idea of a surprise trip. So, still somewhat apprehensively, I called Victoria and Alberts to see about dinner reservations. If I was going to do something this crazy, I was going all in. Even though we were only a month out, shockingly the woman at Victoria and Alberts had a reservation at a reasonable time. I called the tour hotline. They even had openings on the Segway tour (something she’s always wanted to do).
I took these as signs. It was meant to be.
Fortunately, I’m the planner in our Disney family, so planning a surprise trip for my wife was something I felt I could do. My kids will tell you that my favorite thing in the world is making dining reservations. I’m not sure that’s true, but its a fair assessment. When we have a trip planned, even up to the month before, I’m frequently rearranging reservations/touring plans/etc to make sure that everything is a well laid out as possible. I’m willing to bet that there are more than a few of you out there like this…
So once I made the decision to do this surprise trip, I knew what I wanted to to. As you’ve probably guessed, the hotel was easy- the Grand Floridian. I booked some activities, but didn’t over-extend our touring plan (like when we travel with the kids!). I wanted us to be able to walk around and enjoy ourselves at our own pace. The Flower and Garden Show was going on at Epcot. My DW is an excellent photographer and I knew she’d take some amazing pictures (more of those later).
Our plane was going to arrive early afternoon on Friday in Orlando. I figured we could go to the Magic Kingdom the first afternoon and do some rides. For our first night, I got reservations at Victoria and Alberts. We’re both “foodies”, and we’d been there once before (with my dad), so this was a must do. The next day, I booked us on the Segway Tour around Epcot, something that we could never do when the kids were with us! I made lunch reservations for Saturday at the Coral Reef restaurant and late dinner reservations at Narcoosee’s back at our hotel. We were due to fly out on Sunday. Me to New Orleans to give my talk at the American Thoracic Society, and DW home to Connecticut.
But I had one other hurdle to overcome. Fortunately and unfortunately, my DW knows everyone! I knew that it would only be a matter of time before she started calling and emailing friends in New Orleans about setting up lunches/dinners/meetings/etc. So I had to take charge. Knowing our plans for Disney, I went on-line and printed out info on walking tours of New Orleans, places to go to eat, fun things to do, etc. I told her that I wanted to make this a special surprise weekend for her (which I did, just not what she was expecting!), and to let me plan some fun and suprise activities. Luckily for me, she agreed. We poured over the info that I got on New Orleans and discussed things she might like to do, but I told her that I would take care of everything. All I said was that she should pack a fancy outfit, as well as an outfit for walking and comfortable shoes!
Finally, I took the deviousness to a whole new level. I called a mutual friend of ours in New Orleans and told him my plan. Then, I emailed him, his wife, and my DW and pretended to make plans with them for that Saturday. I hoped that this would keep DW from making other plans! Fortunately, this plan worked as well.
But as it grew closer to our surprise trip, it got very difficult not to spill the beans. I had told many of the folks at my work, so I could talk to them about the trip, but other than my father and his wife (who were watching the kids), I told no one. Plus, I had never done something like this for DW. The women at work assured me that she would love it, but still, you can never tell about a surprise like this!
I agonized a bit about the best way to tell her. I planned to wait until after we dropped the kids off at school. I made a little card, using the Waltograph font, that said simply “Surprise! We’re not going to New Orleans…” on the outside. On the inside, I put the Magic Express tags (which I had delivered to my work address) and a small card that had our flight, dining and tour reservations on it (a minaturized version of our tour plans that we use for our family trips).
Finally, that Friday came. Our suitcases were packed and we were ready to drop the kids off at school. Still, she suspected nothing. We dropped them off, kissed them goodbye and drove home to pick up our suitcases to get to the airport. We walked in the door, and I nervously gave her the card.
Her first reaction was definitely shock. She was generally stunned as she rechecked her suitcase, drove to the airport and even on the airplane. It wasn’t until we landed in Orlando (fortunately, a direct flight!) that it started to sink in and she started to move from stunned to thrilled. As we landed, we were just in time to see the Space Shuttle Atlantis Launch from our airplane window. Very cool. I’d see these so many times on TV, it was neat to see one of the last flights “in person”.
After stopping at one of our favorite Starbucks (why isn’t there Starbucks in WDW?), we caught the Magic Express to the Grand Floridian. The CM along the way couldn’t have been nicer. I kept telling people that we were there for a surprise trip- our 2nd honeymoon. Although we never took a first. We moved from Washington, DC to Chicago the day after our wedding, and I started residency 2 days after our wedding. Honeymoons give you a falsely optimistic view of what married life is going to be like, we like to say. That may be rationalizing a bit.
When we arrived at the Grand Floridian, two roses, a bottle of champagne, a white chocolate Mickey and chocolate covered strawberries were waiting in our room.
We dropped off our stuff and headed over to the Magic Kingdom to walk around before dinner. The Magic Kingdom is very different when you are there without kids. Quietier and slower. It also wasn’t as crowded (since it was around 3-4 in the afternooon) and this accentuated the fact that we were on our own.
We did some shopping (of course) and caught the end of the parade:
Knowing that we’d be back in a month with the kids, we didn’t feel the need to go on lots of rides. But, my favorite ride (and my DD’s) is Buzz Lightyear, so DW suggested we go there next. We rode this twice, the first time DW got 999,999. Not wanting to be shown up, we rode it again and both got 999,999. A CM gave us two Galactic Hero buttons for our valor, but I gave one of them to a little boy on the way out of the giftshop.
My DW’s favorite ride is Space Mountain, so we hit that next. I’m not a roller coaster guy (stipulate the wimp jokes). I do Test Track, Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Mission Space, but often when we got to Space Mountain or Tower of Terror, I stay on the ground with my DD. But since it was a special occasion, I braved it and survived to tell the tale.
On the way out we took the obligate picture:
That night, we had reservations at Victoria and Albert’s
I took so many pictures of the food, DW finally made me put my camera away (I think I was embarassing her!)
Best dinner ever at Disney! Next time: Segway Tour