I started this post in mid-December, and a whole lot of life happened, and I haven’t posted in forever, so here we are. How’s it hanging, February?
Maybe you’ll recall that back in October, we decided to cancel Christmas as we know it and shift our resources to a trip to Disneyland in January. Well, we did it! We pulled the whole thing off! Short version of the story: it was the actual best.
Since this turned out to be a super long post, I’m going to make two parts: one for the surprise, and one for the budget-friendly Disneyland tips we used to make the magic happen.
Part One: Setting Them Up
Our kids were well aware that the holidays were going to look “different” than usual. They were totally into this! It became a bit of a game for them to throw out wild guesses and measure our reactions, so let me regale you with some of their theories:
- Visiting family on the opposite coast
- Getting a PS4/XBox/Nintendo Switch
- Getting a battery-operated car
- Building a treehouse (Editor’s note: We live in Phoenix, we literally have a palm tree and some scraggly bushes).
- Getting a(nother) pet of some kind. Guesses have ranged from another dog to one of those desert tortoises that live to be 300 years old.
They actually did guess a few theme parks, but never Disneyland. Not once. Why? We are master manipulators, that’s why. We built Disneyland up to be an impossible dream. So expensive! So crowded! Our youngest is only a year and a half, and what kind of self-hating rookie parent takes a baby to Disneyland, anyway?? And Dole Whips? Trash.
Part Two: Knocking Them Down
Now that we had them on the line, how to reel them in? I considered dozens of ways to drop this joy-bomb on their sweet little heads. There are so many great Disney reveals out there on the interwebs. People can be just amazingly creative about this.
Since it was our whole Christmas, I really didn’t want to have them open one present and be done with the surprise. I wanted to stretch it out and make the reveal an event in and of itself.
I also really enjoy elaborate wordplay and scavenger hunts.
First, I got a DIY puzzle kit. This happy little fella cost exactly .99 at Michael’s. Husbandman, who can draw significantly better than I can, sketched out an outline of the castle, complete with fireworks, and we added the words “You’re going to Disneyland in 26 sleeps!” to it.
But how to distribute the puzzle pieces?? Remember, this was in lieu of Christmas presents, so we wanted to milk this for all it’s worth. We couldn’t just throw them the puzzle pieces and be done. There were 48 pieces, and finding each one was an adventure. These adorable gift card envelopes, complete with Clue-style wrap-around closure, were on sale, 12 for $2.50 (also at Michael’s). I bought 3 packs. They are just the right size to hold 1-2 puzzle pieces each, along with a slip of paper with the next clue.
I even found these adorable 2×3” scraps of cardstock to write in the clues ($2.99 at–you guys, I super love Michael’s).
Thanks to stacking my festive holiday coupons, this whole undertaking cost about $8 total.
Once they collected all the pieces (numbered on the back, for my peace of mind), they assembled the puzzle. The last pieces were tucked inside one of Boy Marvel’s birthday balloons which, in hindsight, was a poor choice. Puzzle pieces really travel when they’re inside a popping balloon. #science
They got the word “Disneyland” assembled first, at which point, Husbandman and I made a tremendous show of how excited we (as in he and I) were to go to Disneyland…while the kids stayed with their grandparents. Because even when we are giving away trips to the Happiest Place on Earth, we are apparently still kind of assholes at heart. They know us too well, though, and were unperturbed. They flew through the rest of the puzzle and figured out they were going in a little over three weeks…which we were quickly informed was an actual eternity.
We did actually film this whole process, but honestly, it goes on for an eternity. At this time, I’m not narcissistic enough to think anyone besides us would enjoy watching a feature-length film about the whole procedure. Just trust me, it was a lot of fun.
Once the initial shock wore off, they were thoroughly excited and ready to open the rest of their gifts, which I’d held back, due to them being Disney/Marvel/Star Wars-related. I’ll get into more about some of those items (trading pins!) on the next post, because obviously, I budget-shopped the heck out of them. Mostly, they each got some themed items to entertain them on the six-hour road trip, like sticker books and mess-free coloring books, which I picked up at the area in Target where everything used to be a dollar (I don’t know what they call it now, but the prices went way up on the cheap junk and I’m still pretty salty about it).
They each got a clothing item to wear, like an Iron Spider sweatshirt for Boy Marvel, and an adorable unicorn Minnie sweatshirt for Wolf Girl; Senator Cutenoise got very practical and wearable versions of an Elsa dress and Minnie dress. Most of the clothes were bought on clearance throughout the fall, so the purchases were very spread out, and nothing cost more than $15.
I also had stalked the Disney Store’s Black Friday sale for fabulous Christmas ornaments. We love to collect ornaments from vacations, and I really wanted the kids to each have one to keep from the trip…but that stuff adds up fast when you multiply it times four! I found adorable matching ones for the boys and girls that line up with their current obsessions. They’re ordinarily about $20 apiece (please see above comment re: stuff adding up fast), but by stacking the sale (Black Friday sale, plus an additional 25% off, plus free shipping), I got them for about $6 each. Cheaper than at my local big-box stores, and much nicer quality. So we already had a major souvenir item checked off the list, for 75% less than I would have spent at the parks.
Serendipity: My uncle (who generously treated us to our park tickets) had the same brilliant idea. So the kids got not one, but two beautifully made Disney ornaments–one from each side of the family that made the trip possible. And, unlike me, he was smart enough to remember Husbandman and I, so we have a “family” ornament that no one will take when they grow up and abandon us forever for homes and trees of their own (rude).
As soon as Christmas dinner was eaten, the kids were on YouTube, watching park walkthroughs and learning everything they could about their big adventure. Nothing takes the sting out of being done opening Christmas presents like immediately plotting your upcoming trip to Disneyland!
All in all, it was an amazing surprise. It went off without a hitch (save that moment when the final puzzle pieces shot out of the balloons aimlessly enough to be Storm Trooper fire). Husbandman and I were thrilled to not have to find homes for 11,000 new pieces of plastic. The kids agreed that this was the best kind of Christmas. In conclusion, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Today, if possible. Pure magic.
The next post is going to be all about how this family of six straight-up rocked Disneyland on a budget, so stay tuned!