For many families the big Christmas gift to their families will be a trip to Disney. We’re giving a Disney Cruise for Christmas this year. Shhh! Don’t tell! Some parents, though, have visions of a surprise vacation dancing in their heads. I think most of us have seen the somewhat hysterical yet hard-to-watch YouTube of the kids who would rather go to Dick’s house and even start crying (and not tears of magical joy) when their parents drop the pixie dust bomb. Of course, sometimes it goes fantastically right and is the stuff dreams are made of. Read on to find out if a surprise trip is the right choice for your crew.

Let the kids in on the secret if…

1. They don’t do well with change.

Some children thrive on routine and popping a trip, even to the Happiest Place on Earth, at the last minute may go over like a lead balloon. You can still have a little fun with a reveal, but do it with plenty of time until takeoff.


2. They have outside obligations.

This would apply mostly to older kids who may be involved in music, sports, etc. They may have to clear rehearsal and practice absences in advance. While parents may be keeping track of this kind of information, too, there’s the chance that your high school senior doesn’t want to miss her last student council meeting or would rather not skip rehearsals for his senior recital.

Get Planning Wise: Most school districts put out a calendar at least a year in advance. Take a look at it before planning a trip, surprise or not, and decide if it’s worth it to schedule during the school year or if it’s easier to wait for a vacation period.

3. You’ll be disappointed with a lukewarm reaction.

Sometimes it takes the kids a little while to warm up to the idea. While we’ve done a fun reveal several times, we’ve done one true β€œWe’re leaving TOMORROW!” surprise. It took the kids about five minutes for it to really sink in that it was actually going to happen since we’d made plans to play video games for the next 24 hours in celebration of the last day of school. Once they got it, they were pumped. If I were hooked on streaming tears of joy, jumping up and down and telling me I was the best ever, I probably would’ve been bummed out. On the contrary, I really liked the fact that they were in disbelief for a while because we’re annual Disney trippers, and I thought they’d have figured it out already.

Not cooler than Dick’s house, apparently.

But, for Pete’s sake, don’t tell your kids they’re going to Dick’s house. They’ll never forgive you for changing the plans. πŸ˜‰

By the way, here’s the not so adorable video of the kids who’d rather go to Dick’s house than Disney World . . .

Full speed ahead with the surprise if…

1. It’s something for which they’ve been pining for.

If the kids have been asking to hit Disney World since they saw their first β€œtoo excited to sleep!” commercial, chances are they’ll be pretty excited when you spring it on them. You can even expose them to a little more Disney prior to the trip to get them primed for a fun reaction.


2. They know what the Disney Parks are.

Unless they’ve been to the parks before, chances are they might have no idea what you’re talking about when you squeal β€œWe’re going to Disneyland!!” On my mouseketeers’ first Disney World romp, they were two and five. I told the toddler that we were going to Disney World. He looked at me with excited eyes, asked when and then went back to his coloring. He knew Disney was good, but he had no idea what was in store. My niece, on the other hand, knew exactly what it was and was beyond thrilled!


3. They’re Disney veterans.

This may seem a little counter-intuitive. Why would a kid who has been to Disney several times enjoy the surprise? That’s precisely why! He knows what to expect, you know it’s a favorite spot and there’s not a major need for research and input when the family knows the parks already. My little guy, now eight, is a Disney pro, so it’s a lot of fun to mix things up and add surprises here and there (on our last trip, we surprised him and his best friend when she showed up at the airport) to keep him on his toes.


Get Planning Wise: If your kiddo is used to regular Disney trips, it’s easy to ask her input on where she’d like to eat on the next trip, or which hotel he’d like to try next time. They don’t have to know when next time is just yet.

Have you done or would you consider a surprise trip? If so, how did it go?


  • Mr Snappy

    Good article. We have two boys (now ages 15 and 11). We go to DisneyLand or DisneyWorld at least once every year. We have tried it both ways and did get a someone good reaction when we “surprised” them with the trip. However now that they know we are probably going anyways, we tell them months ahead of time. This gives us time to dream about it, plan for it, and start to set our agendas. What is coolest about the whole process is how organized and professional they both are about the trip. They know what to bring on the plane, what to have for the Condo or Hotel, what clothes they need (Van’s and T-shirts!) and what non-Disney places they want to go to (like IN-N-OUT and the Aircraft Carrier in San Diego). We actually use them for ideas on our trips now!

    • It’s kind of nice when the kids can start prepping themselves for the trip, isn’t it? I remember having to pack the airplane busy bag, etc. Now they know what they want and do it themselves. Well, with a little parental editing. πŸ˜‰

  • Centaur

    Hi! Long time reader, first time commenter! πŸ™‚

    Great article! I’ve seen the described reactions from one of my sons on different occasions!

    When he was about 5, we told him about the trip as part of his Xmas gift. He wasn’t so thrilled at first but took about 24 hours for the news to sink in. Then he wouldn’t stop talking about it!

    On another occasion, we told him while on the plane trip back from spending a week at the Disney Aulani (a trip report about that “when I get to it”). He was so sad on the plane (because he LOVED Aulani), but when we told him we were going to Disneyland in 3 days, he started jumping up and down on the plane. The people around us were worried he was having a seizure or something!

    But more recently (last year), when we told him about our trip to Disneyland, he had a lukewarm response. Unfortunately, this kind of response stayed with him until we actually got into the park. (He ended up having a blast.) It might have been due to the fact that we went to Disneyland 3 times in a 12 month period. So my wife and decided to cool off the D-land trips for awhile (no trips this year). But now he’s starting to talk about Disneyland more and more….. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks for commenting!

      All kids have a different response to a surprise, but I think once they get there they’re excited. We’re in the same boat with multiple Disney trips a year, but the littles still get pumped every time. I plan to take advantage of that as long as possible. Haha!

  • StevenW

    Surprises are for the giver, not the recipient. The giver has more invested in the surprise, which puts pressure on the recipient to show the required reaction. Thus, the surprise should not be contigent on a happy reaction.

    “Full speed ahead with the surprise if…”

    4. You will give them something else if they don’t like it.

    5. They can participate in the plans and make changes to suit their interests.

    6. Knowing it is their gift, you are flexible with their desires. And sometimes it could mean they can stay out late or go on a ride that you dislike.

  • danyoung

    From SNL’s Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy –

    β€œOne thing kids like is to be tricked. For instance, I was going to take my little nephew to Disneyland, but instead I drove him to an old burned-out warehouse. “Oh, no,” I said. “Disneyland burned down.” He cried and cried, but I think that deep down, he thought it was a pretty good joke. I started to drive over to the real Disneyland, but it was getting pretty late.”

    • toonaspie

      That sounds really disturbing and sadistic. Just another reason why I will never be a parent.

      • StevenW

        So you’re confirming you’ll do that?!!! If you ever become a good parent, you wouldn’t do that or allow others to do that.

    • CaptainAction

      Folks! It’s a joke from a book. Nobody did that. Be calm and carry on.

    • A classic! Hahaha!

  • bigugly

    We’ve surprised the kids twice with a Disneyland. The first time was the best. We woke them up at 4am and announced that it was time to get up and get donuts. My oldest (then 10) looked at us with bleary eyes and asked “Donuts? It’s still dark outside…”. “That’s when the donuts are freshest!!”, I responded and bundled them into the (already packed up) minivan.

    So, we pick up the donuts at our neighborhood shop (Marie’s Donuts, BTW – best in Sacramento!). We’re munching on donuts and driving in the vague direction of our house (and also towards the entrance to I-5). My youngest (8 at the time) son casually says – “Hey Dad, let’s go to Disneyland”. Now, you have to understand that it’s a family joke that anytime we’re near I-5, someone will say “Let’s go to Disneyland”. In this case, though, perfect timing and I was very happy to be able to casually reply with “Oh, OK let’s do it.”, at the exact moment where I was turning onto the freeway. 5 minutes go by with us cruising south when then the kids finally ask “We’re really going to Disneyland?”. “Yep”. Another quiet pause, and then the sounds of “Yes!” and high fives came from the back of the van. Mission accomplished.

    • How fun! Of course, now they’ll wonder every time you get donuts… πŸ˜‰ Haha!

  • dobberdoo

    Who the heck is Dick and why is his house better than Disney World!!!!!???

    • I know, right?!!!

      When the little boy exclaims that he thought they were going to Dick’s house and then the little girl actually starts crying . . . I couldn’t believe it. As a kid, I would rather have been at a Disney park than ANYWHERE else in the world. That’s still true.

    • For real! If Dick’s house is that great, I want to go, too.

  • CaptainAction

    Maybe we should be buying Anuual Passes to Dick’s house? Never heard of it but it must be great.
    Think I would turn around and take these punks home.

  • CaptainAction

    Oh I get it now. These kids have read all about the Fast Pass Plus Armbands!

  • David Hollenbeck

    We gave a surprise trip to my two kids and my niece, ages 5, 9 and 9 at the time. It was a bit of a let down for us. It wasn’t awful by any means except for one small thing, but just wasn’t “That’s awesome!” reaction we thought we’d get.

    So, the first point was that we sort of primed the pump by talking about Disney World in general terms before we went, mainly by talking about what we remembered from our last trip. Then we even traveled down to Florida saying we were going to meet some friends, etc. We had reasons we wanted to keep the secret until we actually got to Orlando. When I woke my daughter to get ready to go, I told her we were going to fly on a plane that day and she rubbed her eyed and clearly disappointed, whined, “But Daddy, I thought we were going to Disney World!” Oy! She’s a perceptive one. But we kept to our story about visiting friends.

    So we got down there and passed by the Earport and I said maybe we’d stop in there on the way home, etc. They trudged by, not-so-secretly disappointed that we weren’t even going in the store, that’s how Not-going-to-Disney this trip was. Then we made our way to the buses, and said how cool it was to see everyone was going and hopefully we could go sometime soon. Then we got to an area where we could all sit, got the bus info straightened out, then, after pulling them away from their DSIs, made the big announcement that we actually were there to go to Disney World, so come on! Let’s get on the bus and go!

    Almost stone cold silence…

    until my niece started crying. We were down there the week before Christmas and she realized she was going to miss her class Christmas party. I think all the adults slapped their foreheads in their palms because that was absolutely not the reaction we expected. When my son and daughter started to realize that by “now” we meant “getting on the bus with no stops or side trips between the airport and WDW”, he got much more excited, especially at the prospect of not going to school that week (it was the only time we could get everyone together for the trip). On a sidenote, when we got on the bus, we were fortunate enough to have the best, most entertaining driver who immediately got all of the kids mind on WDW and they soon forgot any troubles they might have.

    So, yeah, I agree with the article in general, be prepared that it might not be the glorious, home run moment of parenting you expect it to be, but don’t let it get you down. If you know they’ll like it, but they don’t react how you expect, give it a little time to breathe.

    We’re going on the DCL soon and we’re giving it as a Christmas present, so they’ll have time to ramp up the excitement before we go.


    • It’s so funny what kids zero in on when all of this is going through their minds. I’ve seen stories of similar reactions where kids were bummed to miss a field trip or something of the like.

  • Tarakeet

    We live in San Diego, so it’s a 1.5-2 hour drive to Disneyland. Sometimes I tell the kids we are going, and sometimes I surprise them. They love it, though! Last week I decided at the last minute to take them, so when it was time to leave for school I told them I had decided to drive instead of walk. It took them a few minutes to realize we weren’t headed toward school, and just a little bit longer to ask if we were going to Disneyland. They were completely thrilled and I was the recipient of lots of “best mom evers.” I think a lot of the surprise is dependent on whether or not the anticipation is part of the fun – for my kids it generally is not. And also, don’t tell them they are going to be doing something that they will be disappointed about canceling! I’d tell my kids we were going shopping or something if I had to make up a story!

    • I agree! Sometimes it’s pure torture for mine to wait months upon months for their trip, but other times they like the lead up. Of course, when they know about it, it’s a nice bargaining chip. πŸ˜‰