How to Surprise Your Kids with a Trip to Walt Disney World

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Last week, I talked about whether you should surprise your kids with a Walt Disney World vacation. Let’s assume you’ve done the family analysis and decided that you do want to make a your Disney vacation a surprise. Here are some ideas on how to make that surprise happen. I’ve broken this up by general categories of “reveal,” but there is some crossover among them.


If you’re driving to Walt Disney World, you can reveal the trip en route. You may want to do this by:

Place a Going to Walt Disney World window cling on your car.
  • Asking the child to input a WDW address into your GPS unit.
  • Asking the child to look up something on a map. Have a “We’re going to Disney World” message written on the map, or place a big “You are going here” sticker over WDW.
  • Telling the child that you’re heading to a different destination. See how long it takes for him to realize you’re going in the wrong direction.
  • Change the lock screen of your portable entertainment unit (iPad, portable DVD player, etc.) to read “We’re going to Disney World.” Hand it to him during the trip for on the road entertainment.
  • Create a car bingo game featuring only items that can be found on the way to Walt Disney World.
  • Decorate the exterior of the car with Disney related magnets/stickers/streamers. When the child heads to the car for a routine errand (trip to school, etc.), he’ll ask why the car has gotten a makeover.
  • Place water bottles (sippy cups, etc.) in your child’s cup holder. When he gets a drink he’ll see a “We’re going to Disney World” message that you’ve stuck on the bottle.
  • Stock the car with Disney themed snacks. Target always offers a range of Disney branded juice boxes, fruit rollups, and fresh fruit. Ask the child to save a Mickey juice box to share with Mickey later in the day.
  • Make a surprise chalk drawing of Mickey on your driveway.


See if your child figures out what's going on when you pack only Disney-themed snacks for the trip.

Some of the auto transportation ideas can be adapted for flying, but presumably once the child realizes he’s getting on a plane headed to Orlando, he’ll figure it out. If you’re heading to Los Angeles, a Disneyland surprise trip via plane might be easier to conceal.

  • Invent a non-Disney reason to be headed to the airport (dropping mom/dad off for a business trip, etc.) Say you’ve changed your mind about business, are chucking it all, and going to WDW.
  • Invent a non-Disney air travel trip (going to grandma’s house). Ask child to check the gate number on the ticket. He’ll see the Orlando destination.
  • If you have a small child who does not realize that Orlando=Disney, you can ask a flight attendant on the plane to deliver a note/package “from Mickey” which includes the revealing information.
  • Use an unusual transportation method to get to the airport (limo, antique car). When the child asks what’s going on, say that a special trip needs special transportation.


Wrap up some personalized ears. Tell them the package contains something they'll need soon.

Really anything Disney related can be wrapped up in a box with a bow as a birthday or holiday gift. See if you child “gets it” when he opens a package containing:

  • An assortment of plush Disney toys, DVDs, books, etc.
  • A Disney gift card.
  • Disney parks guide books. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World is a lovely choice for an older child.
  • A selection of Disney parks maps.
  • Disney-themed clothing, or special pirate or princess attire.
  • Disney-themed helium balloons. Perhaps a message/note describing the trip can float out of the box.
  • A packing list.
  • An empty photo album labeled “Disney vacation pictures.”
  • For a child who has never been on a Disney trip before, a personalized Disney tree ornament.
  • Personalized ear hats, autograph book, sunscreen, other vacation essentials.


Here the fun comes from the method of reveal delivery.

Scatter Disney trading pins throughout the house. See if your child gets the message.
  • If you live in the NY Tri-state Area, visit Manhattan and ask one of the knock-off “Mickey” characters to tell your child he’s going to Disney World.
  • Dress a plush Mickey, your dog, the child’s babysitter, or anyone else special in a “You’re going to Disney World” tee shirt.
  • Ask a cast member at your local Disney store to tell your child about the trip.
  • Disney periodically offers promotions in which character will call your home with a special message for your child. Keep an eye out for the return of this service. As an alternative, enlist a creative friend to pose as Mickey and break the news.
  • Order customizable fortune cookies. Ask the server to give one to your child after your favorite Asian meal.
  • Serve your child a meal of all Mickey-shaped food. (Mickey pancakes are easy to make.) Hide a reveal message under his plate. He’ll see it when he clears.
  • Mom and Dad make a “We’re going to Disney World” video and post it to an older child’s Facebook page during the night. Child will see it when he checks his page in the morning.
  • Have “Mickey” send an invitation to the trip via snail mail.
  • Have your child pose for photos (like the family holiday card photo) instead of asking them to say “cheese” ask them to say “We’re going to Disney World.”
  • After a major sporting event or American Idol finale, tape the commercial of the winner saying “I’m going to Disney World.” Tell the child that they’re going too. Works particularly well if you child is fan of the winner.
  • Order a cake from a local bakery. Ask them to decorate it with a “We’re going to Disney World” message.
  • Ask the department store Santa to break the news.
  • Spell out the reveal with refrigerator magnets.
  • Write a “We’re Going to Disney World” message in soap on their bathroom mirror. They see when they wake up.
  • For an older child, create an app for the trip and surreptitiously load it onto his phone.


Make the kids work for their surprise trip by revealing it via a puzzle or game.

Reveal your message via jigsaw. For an added degree of difficulty, create a clue-based game to find the pieces.
  • Write your reveal message on a create-your-own jigsaw puzzle. Have child solve the puzzle.
  • Make a crossword puzzle or word search with all Disney-related clues.
  • Make a scavenger hunt with the trip reveal as the prize.
  • At a party, have the child break open a Disney-themed pinata, clues to the trip will be released when the pinata breaks.
  • Place a dozen or more small Disney trinkets (Vinylmations, Disney-themed cars, action figures, bulk trading pins from eBay) in places where the child will happen upon them: in their shoes, in the lunch box, in their bed, etc. Reveal the news when the child asks what’s going on.
  • For a spring trip, hide clues inside plastic Easter eggs prior to a family egg hunt.
  • Fill your home with “Hidden Mickeys.” Put the dinner plates in a Mickey shape, put loose change on the table in a Mickey shape, arrange round pillows in a Mickey shape, etc. See if the child notices and then tell him.

You can be as creative as you like in designing your big surprise reveal. You can use these ideas as springboard, but be sure to consider the age and maturity of the child when devising your plan. Some kids need to be eased into new and surprising information, while others can be hit with an “Oh My, Oh Wow, OH WOW” piece of news and take it in stride.

Are you planning to surprise your kids with a trip this holiday season? Let us know what method you used and how it went. Happy travels!

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Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (now PlanDisney), a regular contributor to, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater.

29 thoughts on “How to Surprise Your Kids with a Trip to Walt Disney World

  • December 5, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    These are GREAT, CLEVER ideas. I loved reading them. I was advised, given my kids’ personalities, that surprising them at the last minute was not such a great idea. My pre-teen was terrified when I told him that we were going to WDW (our very first visit). His pre-conceived notion was that WDW was filled with giant characters and only for little children.

    The turning point was showing him the complimentary DVD that Disney Travel provides, showing how WDW is great for ALL ages. He watched the pre-teen segment over and over again, taking in every detail. YouTube is also wonderful for “previewing” any first time experiences they may not be fully prepared for, like meeting life sized characters that they have only seen in cartoons.

  • December 5, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    We just surprised our two daughters with a Disney trip. We traveled to relatives via plane for the Thanksgiving holiday. The girls thought we were going home on Friday. At the airport, before we checked in, I gave them each a red gift bag with their autograph books, a plush Mickey & Minnie dressed in santa outfits and their Disney luggage tags inside. As I pulled the bags out, I told them that I had some bad news, the flight today was going to be longer so I had gotten them something for the plane. My older daughter (10) pulled out the Santa Mickey first and my younger daughter (7)saw it and simply asked “are we going to Disney?”

  • December 5, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Cover your tracks! We sent our 10-year old daughter out to get the mail one sunny afternoon…and of all days that day’s mail included the big WDW-themed envelope that said something like, “Looking forward to seeing you real soon!”
    Fortunately, we were happy to discover we weren’t raising a dumb kid. 😉

  • December 5, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Love the ideas! We are actually doing two of them (was decided prior to seeing the list). We are doing the puzzle with photos from our last trip and something like “were headed back to Disneyworld”. I havent quite figured that one out yet. 🙂 Then I am also going to make each one of them gift baskets filled with things for the trip, like swim goggles, luggage tags that I am making specific for each one of them, itunes gift cards for their ipods, disney gift cards, personalized invitation made by me for my 4 yr for breakfast with the princesses plus more. I am so excited if only April was so far away!

  • December 5, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    When my daughter was younger I used to surprise her at Christmas in similar way. I’d wrap several Disney items in a box. You’d think she’d catch on but she was surprised several years in a row. Now that my son is here I’ve given up and just include the family in the planning.

  • December 5, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    This is perfect! We are surprising our daughter next week. This gave us a few ideas for the big reveal! We cant wait!

  • December 5, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    We are surprising our girls this Christmas with a Spring Break trip
    To Disney World. We are going to have them open 10
    Gifts leading up to the big surprise. (This will be their first time.)
    The gifts are rain ponchos, sunglasses, sunscreen, bathing suits, plastic
    zoo animals, a movie, etc. And the final box will be monogrammed
    Minnie Ear hats. We can’t wait to watch their reactions and hear their

    • January 25, 2014 at 11:43 am

      Wow,this is perfect I’m stealing this we have a 13 hour car ride to Florida and then were gonna have their great grandmother who lives their tell them

  • December 6, 2012 at 9:14 am

    We are leaving in 4 days for our 4th family trip. The last one was a surprise for our then 4 and 6 year old boys, we surprised them with an early christmas present. My wife wrapped a box with a poem inside, which they opened @ 6AM in the hotel room outside of the airport. Can’t remember the whole poem but it ended something like, “we packed our bags from the house now lets go see Mickey Mouse.” No surprise this time, there was no way I could hold that secret again for 5 months.

  • December 6, 2012 at 10:23 am

    I am surprising my niece and nephew with a trip to Disney World the week after Christmas. Since they don’t have luggage, “Uncle Bobby” from out of town will be sending them each a small rolling carry on bag as a Christmas gift. I’m sure they will be disappointed to find a suitcase, but will love to find it filled with Disney themed items and a “we’re going to Disney World!” note.

  • December 6, 2012 at 11:13 am

    If I had kids and were taking them on a surprise trip to a Disney park via automobile, I would make up some bogus destination (we’re going to visit an old friend of mine from college, or my third cousin Charlene), start driving, and see how long it took them to figure it out. Would the Orlando highway signs clue them in, or would they have to drive through the gates?

  • December 6, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    We are suprising our kids in 3 days by letting them open one Christmas gift early. Their presents include a Disney gift card, plush toys,customized maps of the parks and some shirts we made for them to wear to MVMCP. We will follow the excitement by loading the car and driving to the airport. I can not wait!!

  • December 6, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    Check with your travel agent for additional items you can use as part of the surprise. We told our AAA agent when we booked that it was going to be a surprise trip – she sent us a few nice Disney themed items like Mickey-shaped balloons, a small autograph album and a little jigsaw puzzle that says “You’re going to Disney World!”

    Unfortunately, we had misjudged our kids’ enthusiasm for the surprise(please read the first article in this series before attempting the Disney Ambush). We quickly shut off the video recording after our 4-year old put her hand on her hip and asked flatly, “How could you keep something like that from us?”

    Nevertheless, the AAA surprise kit was a nice addition to the trip – and the kids had a great time once we got there.

  • December 7, 2012 at 11:36 am

    We purchased a “plush” of the Disney Cruise Ship at a Disney store and wrapped it up for Christmas. The kids knew what it meant right away…and had to wait until Spring for the trip. Then they had time to think about the trip and help make the rest of the plans.

  • January 22, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    I printed the word DisneyWorld and then cut each letter out. Each day I would leave one letter (in no particular order)out in the house somewhere and acted just as confused as my kids when they would find the letter of the day. It got to the point that they thought there was a “letter monster” in the house until one day we did not get anymore letters. I suggested that the kids put all the letters together and see if it makes a word. It took about 30 minutes but they finally managed to get all the letters in the right order and crazy celebrations began. It was fantastic.

  • February 20, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    my parents surprised me with a poster that said marry Christmas we are going to Disney and universal i thought i was going to taxes to see my sister but she came with us on the trip

    • February 20, 2013 at 9:01 pm

      my siblings were there too my two Sisters Jenn and Michelle brother Joey and Mechelle fiance Mat.

  • February 21, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Every one knew but me including my teacher, mom Friends, Aunts and uncles, and of course my 5 year old little cousin Kelly I screamed when I found out

  • February 24, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    Keep the ideas coming!! There are 10 of us going in October to The World!! Need ideas on how to surprise them for their first trip. Thank-you, Mary

    • August 10, 2013 at 12:58 pm

      We surprised our kids (9 & 10) with Disney trip by telling them they were going to do a scavenger hunt for fun. I gave them an idex card with a riddle on it. The riddle led them to another place around the house with another index card that which led them to another and another. We had them go upstairs, downstairs back up again, in the garage, all over ( I got pretty creative with the placements: inside a Disney movie, the dryer…) They were having so much fun. The last card led them to brand new backpacks (filled with goodies) with a plush Mickey in front of his & a Minnie in front of hers both with an envelope. I told them to open them & read them out loud… it was an invite from ‘the mice’ to come play at their house! We recorded the whole thing & the looks on their faces were priceless! Now to figure out what to do for the next trip Lol.

  • May 14, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    We did the scavenger hunt a few years ago. But Im looking for an idea that my 10 and 8 yr old wont blurt out so the 5 yr old cant take place in the surprise. Total Diseny family, I had to stop them at the dinner table from the game “guess whihch disney ride this is” just to change the topic of conversation.Leaving in August for a roadtrip form Chicago to WDW. Any ideas? Thanks

  • June 19, 2013 at 12:05 am

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  • June 19, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    We are surprising our 6 and 7 year old daughters with a trip this september. We really wanted their input on what thy wanted to do though, now my eldest has been asking when we are going back for a while now and just to give us a break from the question we just randomly said ‘when you are 10’ well this has stuck and now we have a great way to talk about the trip we simply as ‘what do you think about this ride/character/experience for when you are 10’ (thank goodness she seems to have no concept on how long 3 years is lol

  • June 19, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    We have been trying to find a good way to surprise them, I know that they really want to go to a local theme park to us in the UK (Alton Towers) and they often get the train with their Nana and Granddad out of Manchester airport as they live really close to it.
    We have decided we are going to do day before check in and then the day of the trip we are going to tell them we are getting the train to Alton Towers, when we get there hubby is going to ‘check his phone and discover it is closed’ and then say oh no what should we do, I know lets go to Disney instead.
    I am so excited, and very thankful that my children really dont seem to pay any attention to what people say around them as we (in code) discuss things round them all the time lol

  • July 12, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    We are surprising our three kids with a trip to Disneyworld in October. We take them geocaching all of the time and we are planning on planting our own geocache with coordinates for them to find. Inside we will have all Disney stuff and a note saying “We are going to Disneyworld”. So excited! They LOVE surprises!

  • December 22, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    Our girls are 3 and 5. We’re going to tell them about our January trip on Christmas morning, but they don’t really know what Disney World is. I think they’ll be really excited about learning they get to ride on a plane, and I was planning to tune in to the Christmas Day Parade as way of showing them where we’re going, but any tips on combining the reveal with an explanation?

  • January 30, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    I really like being surprised and I wish my parents would do something like this for me and my sister. I keep asking them to fake surprising us with trips and acting like it’s the real deal ( even if it’s not) so by the time it is the real trip we will have no idea but it will lead into something else. I’ve never been to disney in my life and I really want to go this year. I’m 13 straight a student and I always keep my room and my bathroom clean. If red my cats and do dishes and help as much as I can so hopefully they reward me with so etching soon.


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