A Disney Surprise

On December 25, 2017, my husband and I decided that Christmas 2018 would be at Disney World. We’d both only been once, about seven years ago, when we took our oldest. That experience (during July 4th) was so fun, and we’d been itching to return. This time, though, we chose to keep it a secret. Both of us felt like the best Christmas surprise was for our children to find out we were going to Disney at the very last minute.

For 365 days, we managed to keep them completely in the dark about the trip. We did all the typical things in the weeks leading up to Christmas. We put up the tree, wrote letters to Santa, burned apple cinnamon wax in the warmers—all of it. We wanted no indication that Mom and Dad planned to be in sunny Orlando, screaming as we all raced down the 50-foot drop at Splash Mountain.

People sitting on an airplaneI’d tweeted about it a few times throughout 2018 because I needed to tell someone. This wasn’t the kind of secret for the grave, and I wanted other people to be excited about it too. For the most part, very few people knew. We couldn’t take the chance that someone else would slip up and ask my private-eye 11-year-old something to get his Sherlock wheels spinning.

About three days before departure, our four-year-old found a photo album of our first trip to Disney. Of course, she wasn’t in it, as our son was only three, and they’re seven years apart. She cried so hard, “Mommy, I told you I wanted to go with you!” It was cute and sad simultaneously. I sat her in my lap, wiped her tears, and promised that Mommy and Daddy would take her to Disney one day. It sort of felt like cheating, but a promise is a promise, right?

I must say that I was quite impressed with our stealth. We didn’t pack the suitcases until the night before our departure, and amazingly, we didn’t forget anything either! On the morning of the trip, we woke up the kids at 3:30 A.M. Our oldest was so disoriented (late night of video games) and couldn’t understand why we all had to go on Dad’s “emergency work trip” right before Christmas. I’m chuckling now at how unimpressed he was by our explanation. Apparently, preteens don’t care about spending time together when they just want to sleep.

After everyone piled into the Uber, we were on our way. I tweeted a photo of them with our “Operation Disney” caption and tried to give my timeline a play-by-play of the unveiling. You can read the whole thread here. We arrived at the airport in time to see the security check line extended into Terminal 2. People were everywhere! Had we not had global entry, we would’ve missed our flight. Everyone slept on the plane, which kept me from having to answer any of my son’s detective questions. It wasn’t until we made it to Orlando that we revealed the real reason for the trip. Both of them danced with excitement, which was the highlight of the day.

little girl and boy sleeping
Disneyworld Wasted

Over the next six days, we explored the parks, restaurants, and rides. We learned quickly that our four-year-old was the daredevil of the group. Her lack of reaction to the 50-foot drops and growling dinosaurs was quite impressive. She was fearless…until the fake spiders came down from the ceiling in “It’s Tough to Be a Bug”. That was over-the-top, and she was not amused! The best part about the whole experience was the joy both of our children felt. Each night, they’d scurry to bed without a fight. They were exhausted from all the fun. 

By the end of the trip, I needed a week to vacation from the vacation. The early planning had proved effective, and my husband and I are now concerned that the bar has been set a bit too high for future family trips. I hope we’re able to create even more amazing memories, but I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to top the 2018 surprise Disney World experience.


Chawanna is a native San Antonian enjoying being back home after living in other parts of the U.S., Brazil, and Switzerland. When she's not laughing and joking with her two awesome children and husband, Chawanna develops curriculum for a New England educational nonprofit and serves as Executive Director of Single Seed Enrichment School, Inc., a small local educational nonprofit she founded in 2016. Chawanna's passions span many areas, but K-12 education definitely rules all others. Known as Dr. Chae to her students, families, and colleagues, Chawanna splits her time between her supportive family, volunteering as a K-12 tutor, serving on the Board of Directors as the Curriculum Chair for New Leaders Council-San Antonio, and leading the new Single Seed Micro-school.


  1. This sounds amazing! We are doing the same thing for summer of 2020! We plan on not saying anything till we land in Orlando. Our little ones will be 5 & 6, it’s over a year away and I can’t wait see their faces! Thanks for posting this. It can be done!

    • Thank you for reading! It was a wonderful experience. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been before, but I highly recommend scheduling all or most of your meals ahead of time and checking out the Fast Passes early. Doing that saved us countless hours!

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