How We Surprised Our Kids with a Disney Cruise

(read all the way through – video embedded and link at the end)….

After much indecision and changing of minds, we finally settled on surprising the kids with a Disney Cruise for their Christmas present this year.  We found options for shorter cruises (3 or 4 days), for cruises on the older Disney boats (the Magic and the Wonder) and cruises leaving from inconvenient ports (Galveston, TX and San Juan, PR).  In the end, I pushed hard for a longer cruise (5-7 nights) on one of the newer boats (the Fantasy or the Dream) and from a convenient port (Cape Canaveral or Miami).  There is a separation created from real-life that fully occurs on a Disney Cruise around day 4 or 5 that is worth taking the longer itinerary.  And, while the Magic and the Wonder are awesome, the Fantasy and the Dream are AWESOME and well worth holding out for the right deal.

Finally, a very good deal for Florida residents came across for a 7 night Western Caribbean cruise on the Disney Fantasy and we booked with a travel agent to earn some extra on board credits.  We quickly booked, confirming with both Disney and the travel agency that if the price dropped they would re-book and refund us the difference.  Now, our biggest challenges would be keeping it a secret from the kids and finding a cool way to surprise them with it on Christmas day.  We used discipline to refrain from spilling the beans and primarily Google for coming up with a good way to give them this gift.

I began by searching for others who had surprised their kids with Disney Cruises, especially on Christmas, for idea starters.  This led me to hone on in doing a scavenger / treasure hunt with a big reveal after the last clue.  To start, I would need clues and treasure boxes in which to place the clues.  I found these Dozen Mini Pirate Gold Treasure Chests on Amazon and they seemed to fit the bill.treasure_boxes

Next, I needed to pen the clues and print them out.  I was able to craft the collection of riddles in pretty short order using “hiding” spots throughout our downstairs and back patio area.  I then did a quick search for a treasure map background image free to use, combined those items in Google Docs and printed it out on card stock.


I cut the clues out and rolled them up like scrolls, secured them with rubber hair ties (having three daughters came in handy there) and numbered them so that I knew the order in which to hide them come late Christmas Eve.  Except for the very first one, I placed the clues inside their own treasure box.

Earlier in the week, I had lucked upon a treasure map canvass picture at TJ Maxx for only three dollars, and this quickly became the launching mechanism for the treasure / scavenger hunt on Christmas morning.

I affixed the first clue to the back of the treasure map and wrapped it up like a Christmas present.  My plan was to withhold this present in our bedroom until the kids had opened their other presents and then bring it out.  For the big reveal at the end of the treasure hunt, I planned on buying some helium balloons and stuffing them into a box, wrapping that box and placing a “ticket” to the Disney Cruise inside.  So, on Christmas Eve, I stopped by the local Dollar Store to pick up some balloons.  I couldn’t buy the balloons too early, else the helium might dissipate, but I also had to call the store to check the hours on Christmas Eve.  It took some coordination and planning to make sure I could swing by there before they closed, yet after church, and without the kids seeing the balloons along the way.

The last step in preparation was to create the ticket.  I found a few templates and ultimately just created something freehand on Google Slides, knowing that the audience wouldn’t require highly professionalized end product.  I added a few elements on the ticket, like the itinerary and the Star Wars Day at Sea, and Brooke cut out the half circles for full effect.


We tied the ticket to the balloon strings and placed it all inside the box to be wrapped.  After the kids had fallen asleep on Christmas Eve, I placed all the clues (in the right order because of the numbering I had used before) and wrapped up the map and the balloon box to prep for the morning.

The first clue placement

And, after opening their other presents on Christmas morning, I brought out the last gift to be opened by all of them and set off the treasure hunt.  Watch the results below!

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