By Teresa Pittman
Years ago, when my oldest grandchildren were about five and two, we decided to surprise them with a trip to Disney World.
At the time, Disney was running a great series of TV commercials. In each scene, someone would notice a balloon with Mickey Mouse ears floating past. A little card was attached to the balloon’s string. When he or she caught the balloon, the card turned out to be an invitation to travel to WDW.
Was there a more perfect idea? I got in touch with some Disney friends, who provided us with some of the balloons and cards. The night before our trip, my son and his wife put the kids to bed and packed all the suitcases. Early in the morning, they inflated and released the balloons in their rooms.
When the kids woke up, it was just like in the commercial: balloons floating near their beds with cards attached. They were so excited! The family had a quick breakfast, picked me up, and we drove to the airport. Breakfast in Ontario, lunch in Florida.
At the end of the trip, the oldest grandchild said “ALWAYS surprise me. I love it.”
Well, we haven’t quite managed to always surprise them – sometimes the planning process means we need to let them know. But we do try.
Right now, we have a trip planned for mid-August for the families of two of my children, plus me. That’s a total of five adults and six children. Baby Isla will only be 10 months old, so she’ll be surprised no matter what we do, but the other kids are 14, 11, 9, 6 and 4, so we figured there was plenty of scope for making this a big surprise.
Here’s what we’re doing:
Starting nine weeks before our day of departure (we’re driving down), a mysterious package has been delivered to the home of the older five kids each week. Inside is a letter inviting them to join in the activity (signed by Aseret, which is simply my name backwards) and a set of envelopes with linked puzzles that they have to solve. I’ve had a lot of fun creating the puzzles and tried to have enough variety that even the youngest can take part (some are designated just for them).
The puzzles all have a running theme of creativity and imagination, and many refer to some of the creators mentioned or quoted in that circle on the ground in Epcot. For example, I did one puzzle where they had to work out a code to read a quote by educator John Dewey: “Education is not preparation for life, it is life itself.” (Especially fitting for these kids because they are homeschooled.) The next puzzle was about another Dewey who created something important – Melvil Dewey who invented the Dewey Decimal System. A jigsaw puzzle for the youngest two had to be put together to find the name of the System. And where might they see the Dewey Decimal System in action today? That’s right, the library – so they headed off to the branch near their home and found, on the “HOLD” shelf, two books (purchased for them) being held under the name Aseret, with an envelope with yet another clue tucked in between them.
Once they have all the puzzles worked out each week, they get a final envelope with a letter of the alphabet in it. On the back of each of those letters is another puzzle – the answer to each of those puzzles will be a number, and the numbers help the kids put the letters in order.
They’re not supposed to open the letters until the very last day, which will be our day of departure. The kids have been told that we are going to Great Wolf Lodge (giving mom and dad an excuse to pack!), but when they put the letters together, they will spell MARCELINE.
Okay, readers, do you know what that is?
Give up? The kids will get a chance to research this online, and what we hope they’ll quickly find is that Marceline, Missouri, is Walt Disney’s home town (and the basis for Magic Kingdom’s Main Street). Then the adults will say “let’s go visit the world he created!”
And off we’ll go.
Recently in one of the online Disney discussion groups I belong to, people were talking about whether or not it’s a good idea to surprise kids with Disney trips. Some said definitely not. It’s true, sometimes the surprises go wrong. We’ve all seen the videos where the child just dissolves in tears when the surprise is announced – and not happy tears either! And some parents said they didn’t want to lose the fun of planning with their children and everyone sharing in the anticipation.
We feel confident that the surprise will go over well because my grandchildren have been to WDW before and know that we will go again at some point. They just don’t know when. We’ve been able to plan in a sneaky way by asking things like “next time we go to WDW, where would you like to eat? What rides do you most want to go on?” Or we show them videos of other people’s trips and watch what seems to capture their interest.
But every family knows their own situations best, and these kind of surprises may not work for you.
You don’t need something as elaborate as my puzzle packages, of course, if you DO decide to surprise someone with a Disney vacation. A little online research will reveal hundreds of ways that people have made the announcement, and you can personalize them to fit your family. And for people who like the unexpected, any surprise adds to the fun!