What's up with all these surprise WDW vacations?

I admit, I stole the subject line from @Hoopsters. I was utterly perplexed by his/her 'what’s up with all the babies" post, having myself taken a 9 month old to WDW (because we very intentionally wanted to take his older 6.5 year brother to WDW in that ‘sweet spot’ age-range). Sooo many reasons to bring a baby, and I viewed this post as teetering very closely on the judgey side.

Then, the whole post got me to thinking: I too might be in that same ‘judgey’ zone, just on a different topic. Yikes.

So, here it goes. There is a ton of research that says that most, if not all, of the benefits of a vacation accrue in the planning / anticipation of the vacation itself. See link below. I doubt we even need the link to the study on this forum, given the overwhelming anecdotal support from all the tweets, posts, and chats from liners regarding countdowns to WDW…i.e. 16 days, 1 day, 499 days, 300 days.

So, why do sooo many people choose to surprise their kiddos, spouse, or loved one with a WDW trip? Or any vacation for that matter? Every time a colleague tells me they are surprising their kids on xmas day with an immediate ‘going to the airport now’ trip to WDW, I first cringe, and then compose myself with cheers and high fives and effusive exclaimers of well-done.

What I am really thinkng is how much anticipation and joy will likely be lost for the whole family related to things like: catching up for weeks on end on the many Disney movies never watched/not remembered (from Dumbo to Pirates), seeing kiddos become so responsible/serious when they are tasked with/allowed to plan one day of the trip, watching kiddos studiously set aside their clothes, swim suits and goggles in the weeks leading up to a trip so that “Mom doesn’t forget to pack it,” observing kiddos as they empty their piggy banks and carefully count their money to place in their wallets for their souvenirs, enjoying weekly trips to the library to check out disney books, from Pooh to Monsters, Inc, etc. etc. The list of cool things to do around prepping for any trip is endless, whether a national park, camping trip or beach vacation.

Here’s a link on this topic, but you can google it and find a ton of results in main stream media.

What are everyone’s thoughts? I am genuninely interested in understanding surprise vacations.


Anticipation is half the vacation for our family of four especially my DD and I. It always a great excuse to buy new clothes! Lol


I definitely agree that anticipation is half the vacation! I think you’ll find most people on this forum would agree, which would explain why we are here in the first place.

I knew a couple once who surprised their teenage kids with a Disney trip and their reasoning was that the kids had behavioral disorders that would make it difficult for them to handle the suspense and anticipation if they knew about the trip weeks or months in advance. In those kind of special circumstances I can understand it.

Would I be disappointed if someone surprised me with a trip to Disney somehow? Of course not, I love Disneyland/WDW. But I would feel like I had missed out on the planning phase.


My family and I have done both and thoroughly enjoyed both. Most of trips have been planned out loud with the kids to give input, but a few we have kept secret, why? Tradition. I traveled a lot as a child and my most treasured memories are being woken up at some ungodly hour and told we were going on a trip and to get in the car. The mystery, the excitement, the wonder were sometimes better than the actual trip. So on a couple of occasions we have done this with our children, one of which was to Disneyland. We had been a few times before, but his time we woke them at an ungodly hour by pouncing on their beds and singing “wake up! We’re going to Disneyland.” Then when we got there, their Aunt was waiting at the hotel for them as another surprise. The final surprise was I upgraded our rooms to club level. We have been several times over the years, but that trip is easily the one they talk about the most.


For me, I do enjoy the planning; it also helps build the anticipation. So I really don’t think I’d like someone surprising me with a WDW vacation.

However I feel in the interests of being balanced, it might be good to try. So if any liners want to include me in their vacation and spring it on me with little notice that would be fine by me. :stuck_out_tongue:


I don’t understand the surprise trips either. First of all, I know I wouldn’t deal well with that myself, and wouldn’t have as a kid. I need to know what’s going on. Even just on a night out with friends, I can’t stand it when people say “Shall we just decide where we feel like going on the night?” No. No we shouldn’t.

My oldest was 5 the first time we took him, and we just said we were going on holiday when we started planning. We talked about Disney in front of him and we thought he knew that’s where we were going, but we discovered a couple of months before that he thought we were going to Pontins - a British holiday camp. He was devastated that we weren’t going there. And he hated WDW so we should have saved ourselves a lot of money and taken him there :joy: I think he’d have liked it more if he’d understood from the start where we were going and had got familiar with the parks.

My youngest is a planner like me, he loves making touring plans, he looks at menus. We would both miss the time we spend together planning if we had a surprise trip. He’s 14 now so it’s unusual that he voluntarily spends time with me instead of on his Xbox!


All it takes is a quick search on YouTube for Disney Trip Surprise Fail (or similar) and you get a ton of visual evidence why it is not always a good idea. Some of the videos are pretty funny.


I definitely agree with you as an adult who likes to plan my vacations out.

However, I’m no expert on child psychology, but I do know that my own 2 young kids don’t really think about much more than the here and now. If I told DS4 that we are going to Disney in 3 months, he would probably ask “Why do we have to wait that long?” and after 5 minutes, he will have completely forgotten about it.

I surprised DS4 with a Disney trip as we were sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off. That’s how far I got without telling him! :smile: He is still talking about our trip surprise trip from March!


I def agree that the anticipation of a trip brings me a lot of joy. We always go to Disney on my DS birthday every year. This year I planned second trip for December for all the Christmas stuff. I am keeping that trip a surprise until the day of. He’s had lots of the anticipatory stuff so I think it will be great to surprise him.


I surprised the entire family with a trip way back when my two oldest were little and the youngest not even a twinkle in God’s eye. It went off without a hitch and it was so much fun. I’ll never be able to top that in terms of surprises, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

To pull it off, I set up a separate bank account. My husband’s office staff, our nanny and the bank people were in on it- even the answering service which woke him up (he’s a doctor- we left when he was on-call but his partners covered for him- they knew). So not just DH, but everyone involved had fun! Of course, he thought the answering service had gone 'round the bend until I showed him the new clothes and plane tickets.

But my family didn’t care then and they don’t care now about planning. They’re busy and they know I’ll do a good job of it because I know what they like. You have to know your family- for some it works and for some it doesn’t.

Of course, DH did notice a few things, like me getting all fit & trim, doing the nails, etc but he just thought it was a mini midlife crisis. I was a little deflated that he didn’t suspect I was having a fling but I guess he just knows me too well for that!


I can understand the surprise can work very well with some kids (not mine). But how can you surprise an adult, who has a busy work schedule? Most of us need to plan for days off at least weeks, if not months in advance.

Ha, that’s wonderful.


I’m with you! I couldn’t hold the surprise in anyway. We told the kids when we booked it so we could get their input (they were 12 & 9). Dd9 loved looking up everything Disney on YouTube and we planned together. DS12, being a ornery preteen, didn’t really care, and told us to plan it. DH was on the same page :joy:. Here’s a good example of how having them help plan was a good decision. I probably would have done a princess meal for DD. With dd’s input she did not want a princess meal. She wanted to meet Belle in her blue provincial outfit, not her ballgown. Ariel was also on the list and we knocked those off in the parks. It was so much fun planning together and I think the boys will be more involved next time.

1 Like

I surprised my DS (now 12) with a Disney trip a few years ago and it was a disaster. I thought he would be so happy and he just cried. Never again.


What upset him so much?

1 Like

That makes me sad, but I understand how that can happen. I hope he’s had a happy experience with Disney since.

1 Like

Honestly, I think it was just that everyone else in the family knew about the trip and he felt left out.


He had a great time once we were there–the flight down wasn’t so easy though.

1 Like

I can imagine that!

1 Like

I love planning but if anyone wants to give me a surprise trip I’ll take it! I could use some Disney magic about now…