Planning for a surprise trip

Hello! I’m planning my first trip to WDW for July for my parents, brother, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew. One…interesting aspect of our trip is that my brother wants it to be a surprise for his wife and kids.

My question is two-fold: First, what kind of packing must-haves would you recommend for a mom and two kids, age 6 and 7? I know stuff that would be the same for me, like blister protection, but I don’t have kids myself. And I don’t want to rely entirely on my brother’s packing–he’ll definitely come up with everything they’ll need, but not necessarily everything they’d want. :slight_smile:

Second, have you planned a surprise trip before? Been surprised by a trip? Any general advice about surprise trips? Warnings? Any stories to share?

This is my first post in the forums–and like I said, my first trip. I’ve really appreciated all the wonderful advice and excitement on these message boards!

I think that the idea of a surprise trip is lovely and adorable.

I think that both here and in the chat stream, you’ll find many people with stories of “surprise” reveals that went awry, kids who were overwhelmed, and kids who asked never to be surprised again. But also a few stories where it worked out wonderfully. There’s pretty solid research that shows that a huge amount of the fun of a trip is the anticipation of plotting and planning and imagining how much fun it will be.

It seems that reviewing the best “surprise” trip stories was when the trip was booked and planned well ahead, then the reveal was planned for sometime that WASN’T the day of or before the trip - say, a couple of weeks to a month or two before the trip, both to allow anticipation to build, and the allow for participation in planning what parks, fast passes, etc.

Not to rain on your brother’s excellent intentions, but he may want to consider ways in which it may or may not work out the way he wants. Happy planning! I’m sure you’ll have a great time, whatever you decide to do.

I know if someone tried to surprise me, I’d be disappointed to miss the planning and anticipation! I think for my brother’s family it will be okay–they’re constantly surprising each other with stuff. Some of it has to do with being a military family–going for the surprise approach instead of the potential disappointment when things need to change. I’m going to try to convince my brother to do it a little earlier, at least for my SIL, but it’s his call so I’m looking to be prepared for however it ends up unfolding!

Never tries to do a surprise trip. For me I love the countdown, the packing steps, the planning. Figuring out what I wan tot see, what I can miss.

Also the fact that you are going during very hot, busy packed days is another reason to maybe not be a surprise. As it is a first visit, they should be prepared for the crowds, how important rope drop is, stick to a plan in the morning, etc.

There is a lot to think about being a first trip, please ask all the questions you need, we will help.

As for packing this may help:

Don’t surprise a mom. No one knows her family unit like she does and if your brother (I am assuming he is the military person here) is away for lengthes of time that includes him.

She will need to plan for her children as well as her household. Maybe he can surprise her with aspects of the trip but not the trip itself.


Thanks for the advice on not surprising, @Jedilogray and @Disneyconsigliere. I shall pass on your thoughts to my brother. Might not work, though…once he gets an idea in his head… So I’m trying to be prepared in case he’s determined to go through with it.

Thanks also for the packing link!

Agree with @Disneyconsigliere - if he is going to surprise anyone, surprise the kids, but DON’T surprise the mom.

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You want to be able to love Disney, not be stressed or not enjoy it, It will be very busy and hot, and if you are unprepared for it, the trip will not go off happy, and they may not want to go back. If things are planned out and expectations are made more realistic it will be a fun time,

He should talk to the mom, she should be included in this.

I hear all that advice – I really do – and rest assured I’ll work toward that goal! But it’s ultimately my brother’s call and he knows his family better than I do.

If you have additional thoughts on what I can do to mitigate the situation should he go forward with it, that would be helpful. I have done a lot of planning for the hot/crowded aspect. I have a set of expectations for what the trip is and isn’t, planned mid-day breaks at the pool/hotel, very relaxed, low-key touring plans, etc.

Recommend that he surprises them with the countdown, not the trip.

If he insists on it being a surprise, get a wad of cash from your brother and:

I suggest you buy some cheap Disney trinkets from the dollar store or party store for travel distractions, buy a simple blank page book or 4 x 6 index cards and small 4x6 photo album with stickers so they can decorate an autograph book. Hats and wet bandanas will help keep sun off and the wet bandana will help keep cool or frog togs. Maybe tshirts for the whole group. Buy some cheap rain ponchos, you will need them, Florida is good at 10-30 minute rain showers everyday, sometimes longer. Some Disney gift cards for spending at the parks. This is for the kids aspect.

Come up with strategies for lines and keeping the kids distracted and happy. Make sure your brother is aware of the lines and crowds and he can get some things to help distract.

For the wife; maybe he should buy her a spa day for the stress he will be giving her. Have a book ready with important passages marked. Give her a copy of the plans, including meals, talk her through everything when she is receptive for it. Print up some passages from here explaining how important rope drop is and early morning touring.

Maybe buy some id tags to place on the kids shoe laces in case of separation.

Have table service meals booked, it is getting late to get reservations, set them up without talking to your brother so you can have some reservations. Table service will be important for air conditioned breaks with low stress. If you can get some character meals.

Be sure to get fast passes at the 60 day mark for Disney resorts or 30 day mark for others. Us liners are always happy to help.

As you said mid day breaks, careful planning of rides, ROPE DROP EXTREMELY important. For all make sure they have comfortable shoes, sneakers, I recommend avoiding flip flops.

Maybe place a garden grocer order so you will have snacks and drinks waiting for you.

If have to keep it a surprise the more you have set up should help.

Oh and be sure that your brother gives you your own Disney card for a gift for all the hard work and stress he is giving you. :wink:


Thanks! These are great tips. I’m pretty sure I can easily get everyone on board with rope drop, and I’m all set with reservations. I really like the idea of having the book passages marked.

On the plus side, it’s not that stressful for me. The planning’s the part I love–even thinking up all the different worst-case scenarios. Hopefully the planning will pay off.

I figure at the very latest, she’ll have find out the day before we go. There’s too much that would tip her off. And then I can have all these ideas on hand to help her out that night.

The kids travel distractions are a must. That will remove a lot of stress for everyone.

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I’m planning a Nov surprise trip for my kids (12 & 8 at the time of the trip), but DH knows about it. I would hate for someone to surprise me with a trip because I’m the planner in our family, so definitely consider how your SIL would receive a surprise like that.

For our surprise, we are going to pick the kids up from school, drive to the airport and see how long it takes them to figure it out :smile: There will be a lot of pre-planning and story weaving so they aren’t let down by missing other activities. My kids love surprises, they’ve been to WDW before, they are great travelers, love planes, hotels, etc. It could end up being a really expensive mistake, but I’m about 97.6% sure it’s going to be a hit.

My point being, let the personalities of the family involved be your guide. What works for another family may not work for yours, and vice versa.

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Thanks for the advice! I think we’re planning a similar “drive to the airport” approach with my niece and nephew. They haven’t been before, so I wonder at what point they’ll figure it out. I mean, they’ll get that we’re not going to Gramma and Grampa’s, but I wonder if they’ll even suspect WDW. I think that will be super fun. I hope your surprise goes well!

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I surprised my daughter with a trip about a year ago. I packed basic stuff for her and added a few items I purchased online as a gift for when we got there. I also packed her a carry-on with a few new items like coloring books, some Disney jewelry, as well as some information about the parks and what we were going to be doing.
When our trip came I loaded her things in the trunk of the car, woke her up, drove to the airport and didn’t tell her what was going on until we were getting out of the car to go to the plane. She was so excited! And having the information for her to see about the parks etc. gave her something to do on the plane ride and helped to build the anticipation.
We are actually planning another surprise trip for next year for all three of our children since the last one went so well.