To Surprise or Not to Surprise?

I’m sitting here enjoying several things: Magic Kingdom Background music on my computer (I’ve already gone up Main Street, USA, turned left and wandered Adventureland, then veered north where I’m currently in Frontierland), my nice comfy Walt Disney World blue hood sweatshirt (which feels extra comfy on this dreary, rainy Wisconsin day) and finally, the fact that I have a trip to Disney World coming up in 35 days.  The best part about that last item is that my kids have no idea it’s coming.  For the first time ever, we’re planning a surprise trip.

My family’s situation is a bit different than most, in that my wife’s parents live 45 minutes from Mickey’s doorstep.  They are our children’s only living grandparents, so the kids (and us, and the grandparents) really enjoy our visits.   Since we are separated by  1200 miles, 7 states and a time zone we don’t get as many visits in per year as anyone would like.  If we’re lucky, we’ll get down there twice a year, and they’ll come up to our house once or twice.

When the visits are over, the kids are pretty heartbroken.  So it helps to be able to tell the kids things like “we’ll be back down in June” or “Grandma & Grandpa will be up to our house for your birthdays”  (The kids’ birthdays are one day apart in October).  We always have a date and time in the future that the kids have to look forward to the next time they can see their grandparents.  And because of that, we’ve never been able to plan a surprise trip.  Until now.

Last fall we started planning a family trip to Houston to visit my Aunt and Uncle in Houston, TX over my daughter’s school’s Easter Break.  The plan was to fly down on Good Friday, spend a few days, then return on Wednesday.  We’d spend the rest of the week around home, taking care of all of those odd jobs that never seem to get done.  Then in February, my wife was talking to her mom and found out that her dad has been having a pretty rough time.  His father recently passed away, and after spending several weeks with his family in Northern Wisconsin, was once again feeling isolated down there in Florida.  My wife approached me with the idea of spending the last half of the week in Florida with them.

We hadn’t purchased our plane tickets yet, so I started looking into the pricing of adding another leg to our trip.  Southwest had some pretty good deals,  so booked a flight from Houston to Orlando.  I called DVC Member services and booked 4 nights in a standard view at Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Kinani Village and set up Magical Express.  We have Annual Passes from out December trip, so tickets aren’t a problem.  I made one ADR – O’Hana.  We know it will be busy because it’s Easter Week, so our touring plan will be very relaxed – do what we can and just enjoy the time with family.  And just like that, we had a trip planned and we still haven’t told the kids.

We talked about it (in hushed tones and using code so the little rugrats won’t catch wind of our plans) and have decided to not tell them at all.  They already know that we’re going to Houston, so packing bags and driving to the airport won’t be a surprise.  If they notice and question why our departing flight is going to Orlando, we’ll just tell them we have a layover.  (We won’t tell them that it’s a 4 day layover 🙂 )  Part of the excitement for us is wondering when they will figure it out.  At the Magical Express counter?  On the bus?  Once we drive under the Magical Sign that announces your arrival at the Happiest Place on Earth?  And what will their reaction be?  Jumping up and down?  Screaming?  Disbelief?

I have heard both sides of the argument for surprise trip vs. involving the kids from the get go.  Some kids may really enjoy helping to plan – picking out ADRs, must-do rides, etc.  Other kids will drive their parents crazy everyday by asking “are we going to Disney World today?”  Our kids have always been involved in the planning.  From the resort to the park days to the dining – they get a say in everything.  So this trip will be very different and very special for us.


So what say you, Dis Dad’s Universe?  To Surprise or Not to Surprise?  Have you done a surprise trip?  Let your voice be heard in the comments section!



5 thoughts to “To Surprise or Not to Surprise?”

  1. I like the idea of changing it up–why not do both?

    We have historically allowed the kids to help plan. For us, planning is part of the fun of vacation, and it helps build the anticipation. I love pulling out the Disney Parks DVD’s and watching them with the kids, and hearing them tell me what they’re gonna try next.

    Another problem is that I’m terrible at keeping secrets.

    But my wife and I have talked about making the next Disney trip a surprise. I’d love to see the kids’ reaction. Can’t wait to see how yours react.

  2. DW and I went back and forth on this for our most recent trip (We’re in the middle of it currently) We liked the idea of surprising our kids, but we also love the time spent planning and anticipating a trip to Disney. Since this was going to be a land and see trip we decided to tell them about the cruise but surprise them with the trip to the parks.

    We told our kids about the cruise in December and they have been super excited waiting for it. We have video of them dancing around our living room while watching the cruise video and chanting “We’re going on the Dream”. Those moments of pure anticipation are really priceless.

    We kept waiting for our kids to realize that we were going to the parks too. We kept thinking the kids would realize what was going on and call us on it. We though for sure when we arrived in Orlando they would catch on, but they never did. We finally broke the news to them by putting their KTTW cards on the clothes we laid out for them in the morning. Even with that it took them a couple minutes to realize what was going on and their reaction was very mellow. It doesn’t help that neither of my kids are morning people. If they were or we surprised them in the afternoon I think their reaction would have been much different. If I had a do over, I’d figure a way for them to figure it out in the afternoon, and I’d just go to MK and see how long it took for them to figure it out.

    Even if I got my do-over and everything was set up perfectly, I don’t know that it would be worth missing out on the planning and anticipation with the kids. Only thing that would make it worthwhile is if the kids make a memory of “that time their parents surprised them with a trip to WDW.” I think it’ll take a little bit for me to see if our kids have this memory now.

  3. I love the idea of a surprise. I’ve never experienced it first hand, but I think it looks like a lot of fun. I sure wouldn’t complain if someone surprised me with a trip to see Mickey. I think in your situation it should work out well. If your kids usually know the trip is coming and are somewhat involved in the planning this might be an especially nice change of pace. It looks like a lot of fun and I’m sure they’ll enjoy it. I can’t wait to hear about the end results!

  4. We surprised our kids for their first-ever trip to WDW back in October. Here is DD’s reaction:

    It was HARD keeping the secret for a year, but worth it. I’m not sure the kids could have contributed much to the planning for their first trip – they dicn’t know enough yet. And for them, I’m afraid that the anticipation would have threatened to overwhelm the trip itself – it could never match their imaginations.

    That said, I’m taking a hybrid approach for future trips. We talk about going back sometime I’n the future. We just won’t tell them exactly when. That way, they can help plan, but still be surprised when the trip finally comes.

  5. Barry, When I wrote my initial response I think I was a little bummed because my kids seemed nonchalant when we revealed stuff to them. In the coming days their excitement about being surprised has grown. I’m sure that they’ll be talking about the time mom and dad surprised them with a trip to disney for a long time.

    I think your kids will cherish that memory too and it’s something they’ll always remember. Its great to make those kinds of memories.

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