Sometimes The Actual Surprise Is A Surprise

Eleven years ago, Jim came home from work with the news that he was headed to Orlando, Florida for a conference. We decided that it would be fun if the boys and I tagged along and took advantage of the fact that his company was providing a stipend for Jim’s accommodations and flight: the trip as a whole would be less expensive for us personally. The plan was that I would take the boys to the Disney parks during the day and Jim would join us there in the late afternoons when his sessions were complete.

We decided to surprise the boys and not tell them about the trip until the morning of departure, and when Jim got his flight information from the travel department of his company, I excitedly purchased identical plane tickets for the three of us so we could all fly together.

It was all we could do to not tell the boys what was coming up. And then, we discovered that the surprise was on us.

Just a couple of weeks before the trip, Jim was informed that his company was making drastic budget cuts. They were cancelling his conference trip. We were shocked. Furthermore, he would not be able to take vacation time to accompany us.

Rather than postpone the trip until the four of us could go together, we decided that we would still surprise the boys, and I would travel to Florida with them alone, leaving Jim behind.

The morning of our flight out of Chicago, we had to wake the boys at four o’clock. This was the moment we had been waiting for: we had fantasized about how they would react for two months, and completely expected them to bound out of bed raring to go, screaming and hugging us.

Naturally, that didn’t happen. We woke up two very sleepy boys who sat on their beds rubbing their eyes, not completely comprehending what was going on. We got tired smiles–and that’s it–as they climbed out of bed and got dressed. In fact, they didn’t begin to show much excitement about what was going on until we were at the airport.

We said goodbye to Jim and took off, Disney-bound. It was a little daunting at first, being the only adult on a trip to Disney World, but the boys–who were normally well-behaved anyway–were total angels and made my life very, very easy. I let them completely take the lead on our activities: we ate when they were hungry, we skipped long lines when they didn’t want to wait, and we went back to the hotel for a nap when they got tired. We could not have enjoyed Disney World any more than we did.

Because I was so concerned with making sure we all stayed together, pulling out my camera on that trip was a rarity. The boys picked up the slack in their own way, capturing our magic moments on film with the disposable cameras I purchased before we left.

Even though most of the pictures look like this,





I have found that my vivid memories of that trip supercede all pictures. Well, all except for this one, which is one of my lifetime favorites.


Although there’s a lot to be said for family vacations that include the entire family, I wouldn’t trade this surprise for the world.


I am BEYOND thrilled to be partnering with Hallmark on their “Life Is A Special Occasion” campaign for 2012. I am being compensated to write about every day moments of all sizes, family traditions, the relationships I cherish the most, and much more. All words, opinions, and photos are mine. Thanks so much to the folks at Hallmark for selecting me for this campaign: it’s an honor for me to be a part of it.


  • Liz

    Oh, how I love this post AND you for making me feel cool because I not only do I know what a disposable camera is, we actually owned about a bazillion of them, albeit briefly 🙂 Kudos to you for tripping with 2 young boys on your own, well-behaved and all!

  • Niri

    You sound so much like my husband and I. It was exactly how we tackled Disney on our 1st trip last year – skipping long waits and just enjoying the moment. I am so happy you still made the most of the experience and have happy memories to boot!

  • Heather

    My parents did that kind of stuff for my brother & I when we were kids, and I have such awesome memories of that. Someday, I hope I can do that for mine. 🙂

  • Taryn

    I love the pictures! What an awesome family memory. I love those YouTube videos where parents surprise kids with a trip to Disney World. Some of the reactions aren’t what Mom and Dad were expecting at all.

  • As Cape Cod Turns

    That is such a cute story!! We surprised the girls one year and K burst into tears because she was missing a field trip to a Children’s Museum. Hmmm, Disney or the Children’s Museum?