Next month our family is heading to Disney World for the Social Media Moms Celebration. I haven’t told the kids yet. I like to really build-up excitement about our vacations and announce them as a big surprise, but I also like to wait until just a couple weeks out. The concept of time is tough for kids and telling them too soon just means they are constantly asking and bummed it’s so far away.

Surprise are fun but they can also go really, really wrong. Last year I did a round-up of some of the most epic surprise fails:  footage of children who were surprisingly devastated instead of elated as their parents told them they were going to Disney World.  When I surprised my kids with our last Disney trip, I used these videos as a cautionary tale, and tried to avoid the aspects where most of these reveals went wrong. My experience this week taught me the good to a good surprise involves:

1. Give them time to process. It seemed like kids who freak out about a trip surprise did so because it was so abrupt and sudden.  I didn’t want to surprise them as we boarded the plane or as we entered the gates. I wanted to give them time to get comfortable (and more excited) about our plan.
2. Build anticipation. We did a slow reveal, with progressive clues, so that by the time we confirmed our destination, they already had a hunch. I think this contributed to their excitement once we told them, because they were HOPING it would be Disney World. 


3. Don’t create a story (lie) that you have to dismantle. This seemed to be the biggest common denominator for the videos that went wrong . . . kids could not seem to let go of the fiction the parents created, even though a Disney World trip was clearly  a better option. Children really do have a hard time switching gears and making transitions. I didn’t want to set mine up to believe one thing, when reality was another.
Our strategy was to do a progressive reveal, providing clues about our destination every day for a week.

The Clues:

To start our gradual reveal, I printed several images of clues that were progressively more specific about our destination. I placed the clues into 8 envelopes. Then I attached the clues onto twine using clothespins, and secured the twine to the wall using a thumbtack. It was simple, but they were so excited when they woke up and saw the hanging clues!

Our first clue: we’re going on a family trip!

Our second clue let them know we needed to take an airplane to get there.

Our third let them know our trip was in the United States.

Our fourth clue: somewhere warm!

The next clue was a picture of the state of Florida, but none of them recognized it. We consulted with a map. Once they realized we were going to Florida, they had a hunch it might be Disney World. I refused to tell, which just made the anticipation more fun,

The sixth clue was a picture of the Contemporary Hotel. They didn’t recognize the hotel so I think it threw them off the Disney trail.

Clue #7 showed the monorail inside the hotel. This got them excited that maybe it was Disney World again. Also . . . a hotel with a monorail inside? How could is that?

And the last picture . . . you’ll have to watch the video to see their reaction!

The kids are a bit older than this last trip, so I need to find a creative idea for the reveal that is a little more sophisticated. I don’t want them to guess too soon. Any ideas for me?