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Ideas for how to plan a Disney World surprise

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Ideas for how to plan a Disney World surprise

Is there any vacation destination that has as many people planning ways to surprise loved ones with trips to it than Disney World?

We don’t think so.

Recently we asked WDW Prep School readers to share some of their favorite stories about their own Disney World surprise.

If you have your own thoughts of surprising somebody, you’ll want to grab a box of tissues and check out what they had to say.

Who knows? Maybe it will give you some ideas for your own fun reveal!

Scavenger hunts

Making time for magic

Carla B. writes:

I’m Carla, wife and mom of now 2 boys (11 and 9 months). In 2016, I surprised my son with his first Disney trip. He was turning 9 that year on the 9th, so it was his golden birthday. It should be noted I’m obsessed with Mickey Mouse and generally all things Disney, but hadn’t had a chance to take my son or go myself since becoming a parent.

I started planning this trip 2-3 years before – just doing research on various things Disney. About a year before the trip is when I stumbled upon your podcast (life saver!).

I decided to do a small scavenger hunt to reveal the surprise. The final clue lead to a huge box containing a note “Get Excited. We’re going to Disney World.” The box also contained special Disney shirts, Mickey ears, Disney Dollars, MagicBands, and our luggage tags. We also had a limo planned to take us to the airport. Disney World surprise scavenger hunt reveal

As my son and I were going through the box, my son looks at me and asks if I did “all of this” for him. I said yes, and he started crying. Of course I started crying, too.

We left 6 hrs later and had an amazing week-long Disney trip. He still raves about that trip years later! His reaction to the entire trip made it all worth it!

His final surprise was an In-Room Celebration package from Disney Florist once we were at our resort. I can’t wait to take my youngest son!

Disney World surprise ideas In Room Celebration

Pirate-themed treasure hunt

Becca P. writes:

Last week was my son’s birthday, and he wanted a Pirates of the Caribbean party. My husband and I made a map with clues and a pirate’s chest.

Disney world surprise treasure hunt

When he got off the school bus, we handed him the mail and he saw a letter for him. Inside was the map and first clue. We kept it short so he would stay focused and not get frustrated.

The 4th clue lead him to the pirate’s chest that had “gold” and our MagicBands. His sister did the treasure hunt with him and both were so surprised and excited. He said he loved the treasure hunt! It was so much fun!

Disney world surprise treasure hunt family

The family that solves clues together…

Stephanie N. writes:

We planned a June trip with my sister-in-law’s family, and we decided to surprise the three kids (all early teens – my daughter, her son and daughter) a couple of weeks before Christmas. We wanted the surprise element, but we also wanted their input on some planning related items, so decided to do the surprise ahead of the trip instead of the day of.

My sister-in-law and I created a scavenger hunt that took us around our town for very loosely-based Disney-related items because we didn’t want to give the surprise away too quickly.

To start the scavenger hunt off, we gave the three kids Disney themed pajamas and slippers that we made them wear out of the house. The girls were flipping out about wearing pajamas out of the house, but they got on board quickly. We also gave them a $20 bill and they took turns paying for each item.

I wish I could find the clues my sister-in-law created, she did a great job on those.

Our first clue for the kids took them to the bath tub to find a pool noodle (to represent a pool day).

The second clue took them to Target for English tea (Alice in Wonderland reference).

Our next clue took them to the grocery store for a pineapple (we all love Dole Whip!).

The next clue took us to the craft store for a fake Rose (Beauty and the Beast).

Then the next clue took us to the dollar store for plastic forks (dinglehopper).

And the next clue took them to Starbucks where a friend of the family was dressed as a pirate to deliver the last clue.

The last clue directed the kids back to the house with instructions to watch the below video.

Before the video, we asked all of the kids if they could connect the scavenger hunt findings to figure out their surprise.

My husband put the video together using clips from our earlier 2015 trip, he had a lot of fun creating this!

The kids were excited, and we had a ton of fun piling into the SUV and driving around town as they figured out the scavenger hunt clues. It was a very fun evening and way to surprise the kids, especially since they are all older. Our trip ended up rainy. and most of us got sick at one time or another, but we still made the best of it. We love Disney surprises!

Waking up to something special

Tinker Bell gifts at home

Jay P. writes:

We were able to surprise our kids today!

Tinkerbell gifts surprise trip

We didn’t do anything over-the-top. Their Tinker Bell gifts were on the kitchen table when they woke up, along with a note from Tink telling them that they are going to Disney World and that she really hopes they will come visit her at Pixie Hollow.Tinkerbell gifts Disney surprise trip

Although we haven’t done a big surprise for a trip, we did surprise our daughter with a dinner at 1900 Park Fare for her birthday. We printed the attached letter on a very formally-scripted heavy stationary, signed it Gus-Gus, and slipped it into a gift box that had her new Cinderella dress. She was over the moon, and Dad may or may not have gotten a little choked up reading the letter out loud…

Letter for Cinderella Royal Table breakfast

Road trip with lots of clues

Alyson W. writes:

I had been dreaming of taking my kids to Walt Disney World since they were little babies. I grew up in Southern California and had been to Disneyland many, many times. We had been fortunate enough to bring the kids to Disneyland while visiting with my sister and her two kids, but never seemed to be able to make a trip to the monumental Disney World happen.

After months of research, saving money, planning and more research (much of which was me scrolling through Pinterest and looking at WDW Prep School), I decided to book a September trip and surprise my kids (12 years old and 9 year old twins).

Since we were driving from Indiana to Florida, when it came to the surprise I wanted something that was more like a game with clues that they had to figure out on the way.

For inspiration, I found a family with a YouTube video of them surprising their kids with a trip to Disney World by giving them written clues and I based my idea on that.

I asked some friends both in real life and on Facebook for suggestions on clues, mostly using props. I made a list of items I could use based on my on ideas and their suggestions, and I tried to pick items that would also be used on the trip.

Some of which were:

  • Oranges (which also made for a snack)
  • Tiny plastic animals (which we later gifted to a young boy on our bus headed to Animal Kingdom)
  • Sunscreen
  • A suit of Kings from a deck of playing cards and a Dollar Tree magic trick toy plus some note cards with plus and equal signs to make a Rebus
  • Coloring pages with suns and colored pencils to color with
  • Rain ponchos
  • Inflatable travel pillows

All the items went into paper lunch bags that were numbered in the order I wanted to give them to the kids. I also included puzzle pieces from an Alphabet Puzzle in each bag, some pieces which had the letters circled with magic marker so when the puzzle was finally all put together the letters circled spelled DISNEY.

(They needed a little coaching with this and the rebus puzzle, but what else were they going to do on a 15-plus hour drive to pass the time?)

By the time we had opened the last bag, and the kids had asked several badgering questions, made observations about our location based on the states we traveled through, and their knowledge of the direction we were headed so far, my kids soon figured out we were indeed “Going to Disney World!”

Since I gave the bags out every few hours or so it became something they could look forward to while puzzling out what else was in store besides more of Mom’s car karaoke and time playing on their Kindles.

We have taken two other trips since this first trip. I really enjoyed coming up with the surprise and ideas. However, it also left the kids completely out of the planning process from choosing things like FastPasses and which parks we would go to which days and where we would go to eat. Overall, surprising my kids and using the clues to do it made the trip more enjoyable and memorable, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing!

Road trip with clues

The old switcheroo

Dallas…or Disney World?

Stefanie P. writes:

We went in September 2016 with our kids ages 13, 10, and 3 (at the time). We live in Oklahoma, but flew out of Dallas which is about a 3 ½ hour drive.

We homeschool, so we told the kids that we were just going to Dallas for “fall break.” We had told all of our friends and everyone knew the real story and were sworn to secrecy! We made several stops en route to eat and shop and do other things to kill time as our flight left late in the evening.

I documented each stop on social media with the hashtag #TheyStillDontKnow.

Disney World surprise social medai

All our friends got a kick out of them being in the dark about the true nature of the trip. We told the kids we were FINALLY on our way to our hotel but once we got close to the airport, my husband played “When You Wish Upon A Star” in the truck and I whipped out my phone to record their reactions.

They started getting confused as they saw planes and no hotel. We finally told them our hotel is in Florida and WE’RE GOING TO DISNEY WORLD!!!!!!!! Our 13-year-old daughter started crying, the toddler still didn’t get it, and our 10-year-old son thought it was all a prank. He even told us it was really mean of us to take it that far as we were getting on the airport shuttle.

I don’t think he believed it until we actually boarded!  We had planned and saved for that trip for a year and it was sooooo hard to keep it to ourselves. We almost slipped up discussing details a few times when we noticed a child walking into a room, but we were always able to cover. It was so exciting to keep it a secret, and we hope we can be just as fun in the big reveal the next time we go to WDW!

I thought you said you had a meeting?

My wife, Leah, and I decided to keep a trip in 2013 a surprise as long as we could. Our girls were 9 and 7  at the time and had been to Walt Disney World 3 times before this trip.

We told them I had a really early work meeting, and we had to bring them to their grandparents’ house (who were actually coming with us) so they could watch them and get them to school that day. When we were dropping them off I received a “text” that my meeting was canceled.

We were all up and dressed so we suggested going to breakfast. Instead of driving to a restaurant, we headed to the airport. The attached video was taken as we were pulling into the airport parking garage. Libby asked “Are we eating at the airport?”

We had the time of our lives and are reluctant to ask them if they want to go to breakfast even 5 years later.

Other magical ideas for a Disney World surprise

“Skype” with Mickey

Kristen M. wrote:

I paid a voice impressionist from to record a message from Mickey Mouse. I wrote the message, including things like “make sure you listen to your mom and dad.”

Since my daughter never talked on the phone and only talked to people via Skype, I made a screen that looked like Mickey Mouse on Skype and then played the voice clip. She was only 3, so she didn’t know any better. She LOVED it and asked to listen to it over and over again.

Singing Olaf-gram

Kristen F. writes:

As a little background, my husband, Ray, and I planned a very last minute trip to WDW in December 2015. We had such an amazing time and experienced lots of magical moments in our short 4 days!

That trip made such an impression on us that we decided we wanted to go back again in 2016…and bring my family (Mom Sheila, sister Kelly, brother-in-law Tom & nephew Noah). We used a bounceback offer and booked a trip for December 2016.

2016 was going to be a big year. My mom was turning 75 and had never been to WDW or any Disney park, and my nephew was turning 16. (As an aside, your website was incredibly helpful for planning that family trip!!)

We decided to tell my sister and brother-in-law on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas Day we were able to convince my mom to make the trip. She is not an easy sell!

However, we decided to keep the trip secret from my nephew until his 16th birthday on March 15th. It was such a tough three months to keep that secret, especially for my sister.

As a last minute surprise for my nephew and my family, we hired a singing telegram/balloonogram to come in a Disney character outfit to break the news. It may seem weird (because my nephew was turning 16) that we requested an Olaf. But my nephew has very strong feelings about Olaf. As in, he strongly dislikes Olaf. We thought it would be hysterical and it truly was!

Needless to say, my nephew was a really good sport about Olaf and was super excited about our trip!

Olaf Disney World Surprise costume

Easy reader

Amy P. writes:

This year we surprised our kids with a trip and told them on Valentine’s Day, which was 5 days before we left.

My son is in kindergarten and is proud new reader. We made him and my daughter a “storybook” on Shutterfly with Disney photos for him to read aloud with the reveal.

When Disney World surprise trips go wrong

I’d rather go to Alberta!

Melanie R. commented on the WDW Prep School Facebook page:

We surprised our boys, and my oldest cried and cried because he didn’t want to go to Disney; he wanted to go visit his cousin in Alberta!

Hey…this isn’t the beach!

Katie C. writes:

In 2016, we set out to surprise my then four-year-old daughter with a trip to Disney World. We had gone the previous year and she LOVED it and had been asking to go back almost daily. We decided not to tell her where we were going until we crossed under the big welcome sign (our cover story was that we were going to beach).

So as we approach the sign, my heart is pounding and I have my phone ready to record what I’m sure will be her overjoyed reaction to our big secret. I watch her face closely as she sees the sign: recognition, confusion … anger?

Then she says with annoyance, “I thought we were going to the beach.” You can see by the picture she wasn’t too thrilled.

This isn't the beach

So much for the big surprise! Despite the rocky start, it was one of the best trips of our lives and she had a blast. We decided to try the surprise again the following year (this time meeting her triplet cousins and grandparents at Disney) and she had a far more appropriate reaction. Thank goodness!

Thank you to everybody that shared their stories. We wish we could have included them all! Do you have your own Disney World surprise story you’d like to share? Feel free to leave it in the comments.

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Heather Thomas


Wednesday 20th of June 2018

When I was really young I had my birthday in Disney World... or so I thought. I must have been in high school when I was talking about how fun it was that I was in Disney world for my birthday. My mom looks at me and goes we were never in Disney World for your birthday. I assured her yes we were, we had a character breakfast. My sister and I had matching outfits... it was great. My mom looks at me and goes no we just told you it was your birthday and you were too young to know any different, we were actually traveling home on your birthday. If your kids are young enough to do this it is a great way to create an amazing birthday memory from a little white lie. Just remember that little white lie so they can go their WHOLE lives thinking they spent their birthday in Disney World.


Saturday 16th of June 2018

Hoping someone will have an idea for a way to still do some sort of reveal after the "other" grandmother did something that leaked the secret while my granddaughter was with her. I have been planning this trip for over a year and we are FINALLY almost to the 90 day mark and I was deciding what the best way to tell her would be and she found out. There was some halfhearted attempt on their part to make it seem like we are going but not taking her. This was all through texting and I have not responded to her or the other grandmother. I am so upset because we were soooo looking forward to seeing her face when she found out. Any ideas from all of the Disney experts would be so welcome right now.

Becca P

Saturday 2nd of June 2018

My kids now think we are famous! hahahaha! Thanks, Shannon!