By: Jennifer Retzlaff
You see them all over YouTube and Facebook. The tear jerking videos of kids as they are told they are going to Walt Disney World for the first time. However, knowing when is the right moment to tell your kids is one of the tougher decisions for parents as they start to plan their vacation to Disney. Do you tell your princess that her dreams are to come true only to be faced with the daily question of “are we going today?” or do you wait until the last minute and surprise them but miss out on planning the trip together. Either way you are going to Walt Disney World, but what is the best way to go about this decision?
When we decided to take our daughter (4) and son (almost two) to Disney for the first time, I knew I wanted to tell them in advance so they could share in the planning fun. Right away I knew that I wanted the “unveiling” of the trip to be extra special. Our daughter was a huge Cinderella fan and was under the impression that only people who received invites from Cinderella herself could come and visit Disney. I used this in my creativeness for how we told her and her brother we were heading to Disney World. I created a royal invitation from Cinderella inviting them to come and visit. Along with that invitation came a book all about Disney, the Disney Vacation Planning DVD, a Disney calendar, a Minnie plush and “tickets” to the hotel as well as the airplane. This started our magical planning time together.
We now had three months to wait and I didn’t want the magic to be lost during that time, so I came up with fun things every week for our kids that would keep the excitement and magic going while teaching them about Disney World. For the next ten weeks they received a letter and a small gift from a Disney character.
Sometimes these letters invited the kids to come and visit them at specific restaurants while we were visiting, or they would give clues about specific rides they liked, or they would just ask questions about what they were excited about in regards to the trip.
The small gifts that came with the letters were things that they would need for the trip and tied into the character that wrote the letter.
Our daughter’s favorite gift was a craft set from Rapunzel whose letter explained to our daughter that Rapunzel was extremely busy right now learning to be a princess and painting, but she’d make sure to wave when she saw us. This letter helped us set the stage that we wouldn’t probably be standing in the four hour long line to see Rapunzel during our trip. Another favorite was an old camera that Cinderella had “talked to her parents” about giving to our daughter for capturing her favorite things on the trip. Other small gifts we did throughout out our wait were items such as puzzles, pajamas, books, crafts, and placemats.
In addition to the fun gifts and the excitement of the letters, the letters would make references to rides and shows that the characters liked and we would use that to motivate us to watch YouTube videos. By watching videos of shows such as Fantasmic, we were hoping they’d be less scared when we were actually there watching them.
During this time, we also took a week to write a letter to Mickey. Although our daughter was more focused on Cinderella, she was aware that it was Mickey’s park, so she wrote him a letter about how excited she was about coming down to visit. Mickey, of course came through and sent a postcard back which was a fun way to keep the magic going throughout the wait.
As we got closer to the trip, we did a variety of things to not only keep the magic going, but to pick up the excitement. We took our daughter to the store and sent her on a scavenger hunt of things that she’d need for the trip. It was fun for her to walk around the store and search for different items such as chapstick, Kleenex, and a few toys. She loved being able to choose which items she wanted for herself. Again this was just a simple way to keep things fun as we got closer to the trip. We were already going to go and buy these items, so why not make it a fun, family adventure.
Once she had picked out all her items we then took the next step and worked with her to pack her airplane bag. She had a list to look at and used that to pack her very own carry on backpack for the plane. Once again she loved the choices and feeling independent.
Mousekeeping envelopes were another fun and magical adventure we did together. We used Disney stickers and paper to decorate different envelopes that we’d leave for our Mousekeepers while on the trip. As the trip got closer we did a variety of these small craft activities together to keep us talking Disney while being crafty at the same time. We did pixie dust cards, luggage tags and stroller signs as fun ways to make our trip a little more magical.
With only one month left, we started a Disney calendar as well as a Disney countdown chain. There are so many ideas and choices out there now that it almost becomes overwhelming, but you just need to find one that fits your child’s age level. We went with a simple calendar that I made where we could put up a different Disney character each day to show how many had passed. The chain was also Disney themed and printed offline. Both of these used a specific character for each day so she could see the repetition of the weeks as we waited. It was so much fun to see her head to the calendar and chain following bath time to put up the next character and take down the link in the chain giving us a constant reminder of the magic to come.
As the last few weeks snuck up on us, we also started to invent new games to play in order to keep the magic alive but also teach them about Disney. We’d play “which park am I in?” where we’d give clues about different rides/attractions at one of the parks and others would have to guess which park we were in. The goal of this? To help the kids know which rides were offered at which park to hopefully prevent a meltdown about wanting to ride Splash Mountain but we are at Animal Kingdom. Another easy game we played was “what ride am I?” Again very easy games where you give clues about the ride and others have to guess what ride you are describing. This game was good for the kids to learn about the different rides and help them know what to expect with each ride. You can always throw in there “what princess am I?” or “what character am I.” These are all fun entertaining ways to keep the magic going while learning about the parks.
Finally as we were at the hotel waking up for our flight, we had one last letter from Cinderella to our daughter inviting her to join her for supper that night. It was an amazing way for her to wake up that morning and a magical way to start our trip.
It is really a hard decision on whether or not to tell you kids early about your upcoming trip or not, but I loved having the time with my daughter specifically to talk, plan and giggle about the upcoming vacation. Hopefully some of my ideas will help you create a magical wait for your family as well.
What do you do to keep the wait exciting and magical?