Telling Kids About A Disney Vacation: A Cheapskate Princess Guide

When do you tell kids you are going to Disney World?Updated for 2016!

Planning a Disney World vacation takes lots of time, and you’ll need to save lots of money, but when should you tell the kids about your plans? There are really two ways to do it – tell them way ahead of time or wait until the last-minute. They get the fun (or stress!) of planning the vacation with you, or they get the surprise of a lifetime. Is there a preferred choice?

We asked our  Cheapskate Princess Facebook Fans when they thought you should tell the kids about a trip to Disney, because they’ve been there with the kids and got the Mickey t-shirt to prove it. Their answers can help you determine a “Big Reveal” timetable for your next trip.

Ten and 1/2 Tips for 1st Time Walt Disney World Visitors

How to tell kids you are going to Disney World

Way Before

If you tell the kids before hand, they can help you

  • plan the vacation

  • pack their clothes

  • clean the house pre-departure (I can’t be the only parent that does this?!)

  • earn money for their own souvenirs and entertainment

  • save money for their own souvenirs (birthday $, Christmas $, allowance $)

  • lower your stress by helping with all of the above

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tell kids about Disney vacation

Alice, Way before, and whoever is not ready on time buys everyone going a churro!”

Καλλή, I think it is more fun to know about the trip and help plan. I do keep certain aspects a surprise like an upgraded room, upgraded flight, and events, etc.

Kara, I always thought it would be fun to surprise our kids, but when I think back to being a kid, a BIG part of the fun of WDW was the anticipation! I would never take that away from my kids. However, to tell them we were going one year, we put a slide show together. The first 20 pics or so were the most boring pictures we could find and then a slide that said, “We could spend our vacation doing THOSE things or….” and then we started showing pictures of WDW. It took them awhile, but once they got it, they started squealing. They still had a couple of months to be excited about the trip!

Charissa, Our first trip was when our daughter was eight. As she’s an only child and has always had her own opinion. We involved her with all the plans, including which resort we would all like, and whether we did character meals or not. With the help of a great travel agent, we managed to put together a fantastic vacation, and have been to WDW three more times, with two future trips planned.

Megan,Before! We even built the countdown chains!” Megan sent us a photo of that chain…

paper chain countdown to a Disney vacation

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So telling the kids way before the trip provides

  • extended child anticipation

  • planning participation

  • packing help

  • help with scheduling Fastpass+ rides

You certainly can take pictures and make videos of announcing the trip months beforehand, but there is a big difference in the level of excitement that “leaving 5 months from now” and “leaving in 30 minutes” provides. The Disney commercial where the kids open the pizza box? (My kids all look at me at that point because they know I’ll tear up every time we see it) Well, that pizza box doesn’t read “We’re going to Disney World next year.”

Really Close to Departure

And then you have those who wait until the last-minute. This provides

  • a feeling of spontaneity for the kids

  • fantastic pictures & videos of children freaking out with absolute glee

  • stories of aforementioned freakout re-told for years

  • parental anticipation of the surprise to come

What You Can NOT Wear to Walt Disney World Theme Parks

plan a trip to Disney World for kids

Michelle, “I am trying to keep it a secret until the morning of the flight in September. We are going to get in the car like we are going to school. I can’t wait!”

Nicole, “We’re going in October! I got my kids Jake and the Neverland Pirates treasure chest suitcases and cute parrot backpacks. ‘Tinker Bell’ is going to pack them and leave a note in the living room for the kids to find in the morning before we leave. I’m so excited –  the wait is killing me.”

Stephanie, “Our very first family trip to Disneyworld was in 2005. Our son was turning four a few days after we would return home. My husband and I were determined to keep it a secret and surprise him the morning we left for the airport. I stealthily planned and packed all the bags. When the morning arrived, we woke him up early to catch the flight. We both were in his room, and I asked him, “If you could go anywhere in the world today, where would you like to go?” He looked at us with shining eyes and said, “Chuck E. Cheese!”  I’m happy to report he was even more exited when we told him we were going to Disney World!”

That certainly may be the story retold for generations!

Kerryann,”I am loving this! We have three children. The boys are 12 and 10, and they don’t know they are going in August. My youngest is five, and she thinks were going Disney in two more years.  She doesn’t have a clue, and we even managed to book her in BBB as she is princess mad! I’m not sure when I’m going to tell them.”

Dana, “My sister and I (and hubbies) took our kids one year on their last day of school before Christmas vacation. We told them we were meeting at a coffee-house near school to have hot chocolate and celebrate school being out. When we got there, we told them we put together a little scavenger hunt to celebrate the holidays. As each child reached end of the hunt, they got to open a gift: a Disney ornament. Then we had them all reach in a bag and pull out a note telling them we were leaving right then for Disneyworld! Oh, now I have goosebumps from telling this story! Best trip ever – school was out early that year so we were able to spend six days at Walt Disney World and still get home a couple of days before Christmas. It was perfect!”

There is a lot to be said for holding out for the announcement until the last-minute, but you’ll be doing the packing and planning by yourself. But think of the video…

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tell Teens about vacations

Thoughts from Parents Who Have Done It Both Ways

Like my own family, many parents have told the kids way before AND on subsequent trips, just prior to departure, or reverse that order.

My middle child went to bed for, and this is not an exaggeration, 15 months declaring every single night, “When I wake up, I want to go to Disney World and ride Space Mountain.” And after some planning and sneaky packing, that’s exactly what we did; we hopped in the car and drove to Orlando to ride Space Mountain. Now, he helps us pick out the restaurants where we make our ADRs (Advanced Dining Reservations) and he helps choose the Fastpass+ rides, because what I want to ride is often not what he wants to ride.

April, “We go to Disney every year, and I wanted to surprise my kids once. Last year I had all the bags packed and taken to my parents house. I told the girls that we had to take Nana and Pay to the airport for their vacation. When we got into the airport to say our goodbyes, I pulled out two t-shirts that said ‘We are going to Disney!’ I think their screams broke some ear drums that morning!”

Melissa, “I’ve done both. In 1999 I surprised my hubby and daughter. We were on a road trip from Seattle to San Diego, and I said I would start the driving today. They never figured it out until we were almost in the parking lot of the Disneyland Resort. I heard hooplas in the front seat and in the back!”

Rachel, “We’ve done both. Our first trip, when our daughter was four, she knew the whole time. We did the cute countdown stuff and everything.
Our last trip, she was five, we surprised her the morning of. the trip. We had friends who went a month or so before us, and they got videos of the princesses telling her surprise, and how they couldn’t wait to see her. We took the videos, burned it on a DVD, and had a big surprise set out the morning we left! Both were good! I liked my daughter being involved in the planning, packing, and excitement leading up to the trip the first time. But I also loved the look of magic and shock when she got the surprise princess video!”

Rachel sent us photos of her little princess – how adorable is this?!

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How to surprise kids for a Disney World Disneyland vacation

when do you tell kids you are going on a Disney vacation

tell kids you are going on a Disney vacation

I fall into this category, and I have to admit, I like the  advance notice choice for practical financial reasons. We do not give a large amount of money to our children to buy souvenirs on vacations, so they are responsible for bringing their own money. If they don’t know about a trip, chances are they will have spent their money long before we arrive in Orlando. Space Mountain rider, the child in my previous story, will try to spend his money before we get there anyway, even if he had two years notice. So he needs some advanced warning.

Some of our readers left their stories, so we added them in, just in case you needed a push one way or another in your decision…

Jamie, “When I was 6 years old, my parents (little did I know) had been planning a trip to Disney World for me and my younger brother, who was 3. They had ordered this VHS tape that showed everything about WDW. I watched it obsessively, like When we finally left for our summer vacation (which was always an annual trip to Panama City Beach) they told me we were going somewhere else first. I was SO mad and determined to tell them wherever we were going, I hated it. When we finally got closer, I started seeing pictures of Mickey and friends, and I kept insisting that my dad pull over and ask for directions because I just knew we were close to WDW. I finally saw one of the slides from one of the water parks and remembered it from the VHS tape. Then my dad tried to play it off like he didn’t realize we were at Disney World, and he was going to stop in for directions to where we were really going.

It wasn’t until we were in our room that my parents finally admitted we were here to stay, and I went inside of the bathroom, hid behind the towel rack, and cried because I was so happy. Sorry for the long story, but out of personal experience, I love when it’s a surprise. I’m 24 years old now, and I still remember it like it was yesterday. It’s one of my favorite stories to tell!”

Christy, “We went in May and didn’t tell the kids, aged 9 and 5 at the time, until the morning we left. I had us packed – including special t-shirts and all their souvenirs bought at a huge discount – and all they had to do was dress, eat and get in the car. It was delightful, and we will do it again, but during the school year. I hope the teachers can keep the secret!

Robin, “We are taking our first family trip in April. Originally we were going to go to celebrate my birthday in May, but our son will be 10 in April, and it will save us quite a bit to go before his birthday. We have not told the kids we are going in April (we will be there for thier birthdays). I bought them t-shirts and we will tell them the morning of! So excited!!”

Kensi, “For me personally, it would depend on the age of the child. I’m planning a Disney vacation for the first week of December, and I’ll have an almost-4-year-old boy and a 4-month-old baby. I plan to tell my 4-year-old probably the day that we’re leaving or MAYBE a few days ahead of time for some kind of small countdown, but I think it would be hard for a child that young to wrap their minds around, ‘Surprise! We’re going to Disney… in 5 months…’ Hehe! If we’re able to go again when the kids are older, I’m all for telling them well in advance so they can earn and save souvenir money!”

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tell kids about a Disneyland vacation

Rich, “I’m on the side of ‘wait until the last moment.’ We took my sons, then ages 10 and 9, to their first Disney World vacation in 2008. They knew we were going on vacation, but thought we were just driving across the state. We stayed at a hotel near an airport for the night, then got up early for our morning flight. On the morning of the flight, we got them up, sat them at the foot of the bed, and told them our vacation plans had changed: We were going to Disney World! While I expected loud cheers from them, I was instead treated to stunned silence. The older boy finally said, ‘No we aren’t,’ to which we showed them the tickets. Then we told them that it was a long drive and that they were going to have to behave. Of course they agreed, and I then told them that I didn’t believe them, so instead we were flying (it was their first flight as well) and they we would be there in a matter of hours. At that point the laughing and cheering started! I can’t wait to share that experience with their little sister in a few years!”

So tell us YOUR story. Do you wait until the last-minute to tell the kids or are they helping you plan your trip?

Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see you writing “We’re Going to Disney!” on the inside of a pizza box.

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Amanda Major CheapskatePrincess.comAmanda Major is the creator of She remembers her first visit to Magic Kingdom like it was yesterday, because she had a ham sandwich tucked in her shorts pocket. The whole family snuck in their lunch; you can’t make that kinda stuff up. 40 years worth of trips to Orlando later, she is still trying to save money on vacations.

Amanda is a Disney Vacation Club Member and Annual Pass holder. Her amazing husband, band director Carl Major, plus three teen children and two dogs keep her busy. Amanda teaches Leadership to high school seniors in the almost-coastal town of Foley, Alabama. Read about her cheapskating local vacations with this link. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, walking somewhere, or paddling a kayak. Life is indeed a blast. 

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  1. Marissa says:

    When I was 4 my parents didn’t tell me until the day we left!

  2. Kelley says:

    We went last summer with my whole family and didn’t tell our daughters (2 & 4) until we had the car packed ready to go- we woke them up and said we were going to Grandma’s to swim so we had to get going early- lol- When they stepped outside there was a box with balloons and t-shirts and a letter from Mickey (we told her she had to be invited to Disneyland) inviting them to come and telling them what good girls they have been. Such a beautiful memory for us- brings tears to my eyes even now remembering our oldest daughter’s excitement and reaction. We are beginning to plan and save for a trip to Disneyworld and i am getting their input about where they would like to stay, what kind of room, places they most want to see…. But I will surprise them again when it’s time to get on the airplane. Lol
    Also, when we have gone on other vacations and tried to enlist their help, they’re not helpful- get too excited and don’t sleep. Then they’re super cranky on a travel day, and they’re not at their best. Surprise travel is definitely the way to go when you have littles that aren’t ready to be super helpful.

  3. Christina says:

    My vote is save the surprise until you’re ready to go! My daughter’s first trip was when she was six and we didn’t tell her until we were at our gate in the airport. She actually cried all the way to the airport because she had to leave her pumpkin patch school field trip early. Once she realized we were at the airport (an hour and a half from the pumpkin patch) she perked up but thought we were dropping Dad off for a business trip. Once we were finally at our gate, we asked her where she would go if she could go anywhere and she actually said Disney World. Thought tears, I replied with that’s where we’re going. Needless to say, the pumpkin patch was totally forgotten about. The trip was great but my favorite memory of the whole trip was that moment in the airport! Now we’re starting to plan our son’s first trip for next year and I know it will be a last minute surprise for him but I might let our daughter (now 10) help with the surprise this time.

  4. Leta West says:

    We didn’t tell our daughter until we were meeting up with her auntie at the Disneyland Grand Hotel (we stayed down the street). We drove down from Washington (day and a half, almost 2 day) Grandma had “run away” on a train and we had to go “pick her up”. Filmed the whole thing and instead of excited squeals of glee we got “oh darn it” Lol! We’re going again this year (a week and a half actually) and she is none the wiser! I don’t plan on telling her till the last minute again!

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