You’ll notice that the question here is not, “Should you take your kids on a trip to Walt Disney World?” The answer to that is of course a resounding, “Yes indeedy do!” What I’m talking about here is whether your trip should be a surprise. Should you spring your Disney vacation on the young ‘uns?
Many family vacations are decided by tradition, vote, parental fiat, or simply a collective desire to explore the world. Someone, or everyone, decides. You discuss. You plan. You save. You wait. And then off you go.
The cultural zeitgeist makes Disney vacations different. Disney vacations seem to demand an extra measure of razzmatazz every step of the way. Not “We’re going to Disney World,” but “WE’RE GOING TO DISNEY WORLD!” Surpriiiiiise!
You rarely hear of people surprising their children with a trip to the Great Smokey Mountains, or Hawaii, or even other theme park destinations, wonderful vacation spots though they may be. But surprise visits to Walt Disney World are somewhat common. Disney even built a substantial portion of their recent “Let the Memories Begin” advertising campaign around guest videos of children being surprised with Disney visits. There’s almost a competitive pressure to create the most magically happy, over-the-top, wowapalooza Disney trip surprise reveal video, featuring cherubic children dancing with glee. A YouTube search of “surprise Disney” yields more than 21,000 hits. Maybe you should be one of those folks, but maybe not.
First let’s clarify that there are two types of Disney trip surprises: one where the trip is presented as a gift to be enjoyed at some later date and one where the family is leaving on the Disney trip RIGHT NOW.
There are pros and cons to each of these.
Children are surprised with a trip as gift. Actual trip happens later.
- This can be a money saver at birthday/holiday time. Instead of paying for a vacation and big ticket birthday/holiday gift, the trip becomes the gift and no addition funds must be spent.
- Allows for learning opportunities during trip planning. Kids can help with souvenir budgeting, packing strategies, etc.
- Allows time for children to prepare for some of the potentially emotionally challenging aspects of a Disney vacation. For example, you can practice meeting characters at a local restaurant so that the Disney characters are less overwhelming in the parks. Or you can practice having siblings share a bed so that they’re less prone to territorial fighting during the trip.
- Allows time for children to become more well versed in the Disney universe. For example, they have time to watch some of the older Disney films which may make them appreciate related attractions more fully.
- Children may be disappointed by not having tangible things to play with on a special day.
- Young children may not understand the concept of time enough to appreciate a trip several months down the road. Thus, they may pester you endlessly with, “When is the trip?”
- Young children may not understand what Disney World actually is and thus may not have a sufficiently joyful reaction.
- If you’re constructing an elaborate surprise or reveal, the children might not understand what the surprise is. For example, if you make a scavenger hunt including clues about the trip, the kids might not understand the clues.
Children are surprised with a trip right now.
- Provides immediate gratification. There will be no, “When are we going,” questions.
- Children who have been begging to go to Walt Disney World will think that you’re a hero.
- You don’t have to contend with potentially unhelpful child input on packing or itinerary development.
- It may be challenging to keep the secret until the last minute. Most trip planning involves phone calls or correspondence that could be discovered by children, ruining the surprise.
- Mom and Dad get no help from the kids with packing/planning.
- Without time to prepare for the trip, some children may become overwhelmed or melt down.
- If the surprise involves a cover-up, for example a fake cover vacation, children may be disappointed that the fake vacation is not real.
- If your surprise happens in a public space, you may cause a disruption. Case in point – the one time I surprise my own kids with a Disney trip, we pulled up to my daughter’s kindergarten in a rented limo, ready to whisk her off to the airport. This distracted the other children in the class and I’m sure the teacher though we were pompous jerks. In retrospect, I should not have executed the surprise in that way.
Given these points, here are some questions you should be asking yourself before you decide to surprise your children with a Disney trip:
- Who is the surprise actually for, you or your children?
- Have your children expressed a desire to visit a Disney destination? Will they be impressed by the surprise?
- How does your child react to expected experiences? Is he easy going or does he need time to get used to new ideas/situations?
- Can you actually keep the secret? Will you be disappointed if a third party accidentally spills the beans?
- Can you physically prepare for a “right now” surprise trip without alerting the kids? Will they wonder where their favorite sweatshirt is if you’ve packed it already? Can you intercept the Magical Express envelope in the mailbox before they see it?
- Do your kids like other kinds of surprises?
- Are your kids old enough to understand a complicated surprise reveal?
- Will you be filming/photographing the surprise reveal? Why? What will you do with the video? How will you feel if your kids don’t have the reaction you anticipate?
- Are there learning opportunities your kids will be missing if they don’t help with the trip planning?
- For a “right now” surprise, are you sure that your kids have not made plans that will be disrupted by you taking them away from home unexpectedly? For example, will a friend be disappointed by a missed playdate? Will the child be missing a test at school?
You get the idea. Every family is different. While a surprise visit may be great for many, it may or may not be the best approach for your individual family.
So fellow travelers, have you ever surprised your kids with a trip to Walt Disney World? How did it go? Did you get the reaction you were hoping for? Why did you decide to surprise them? Let us know in the comments below.
Next week: Sample ways to surprise your kids with a trip, assuming you think it will work for your family.
UPDATE 12/5/12: Here’s the link to ideas about how to pull off the surprise.