We made our first family trip to Disney World in October 2010 for my son's 8th birthday. We had been planning a big trip with extended family for a couple years but it hadn't happened yet. Because of a change in plans we suddenly had plane tickets to Orlando and time on our hands, so 5 days out we booked a hotel on property and planned two days at the Magic Kingdom.
Because it was my son's birthday and his first trip, we wanted to surprise him with something special. We ordered a gift basket from Disney Floral & Gifts. It was a Star Wars themed basket with a Jedi Mickey plush, a Storm Trooper bobble head, an autograph book and crispy rice treats. It was delivered to our room after we arrived and my son loved it.
The whole family caught the Disney bug on that trip and we wanted to go back. We immediately started planning a 10-day trip to see all 4 parks for late January 2011. After a few weeks we had rooms booked and meals planned. We had a park itinerary and basic touring plans for each park. We even had a tour planned and we still had two months to go. I decided to use my time and creative skills to make another gift bag for my son.
Because we were planning a long trip, and because I was having so much fun, one bag quickly turned into four, one themed for each park. Then I started adding gifts for other family members. I called the series of goody bags the “Park Explorer's Kit”.
Once I had a theme I had to decide how I wanted these gifts to be “delivered”. I wanted to balance the Disney magic vs the anticipation time. I wanted all the gifts to be from Mickey and friends but I wanted my son to have some time to absorb the content of each bag before we hit the parks. I decided that the first bag would “arrive” in a package from Mickey a couple days before we left. The second one would be in the room “on arrival” and the other ones would arrive on our off days. My son was only 8 and easily distracted, so I could manage the sleight of hand required to make these appear at the appropriate time.
The first gift was our Magic Kingdom Pre-Arrival Package. I used a Disney Store box that I had leftover from Christmas, put a WDW mailing label on it and left it on the front porch for my son to find. Because we had just done two full days at MK we were only doing a half day reprise on our our arrival day. So for this bag I focused less on the park and more on general things he would need for the trip – pajamas, sunglasses, water bottle, Hidden Mickey book and snacks.
For the other gifts I used baskets and gift bags. Once I started looking, I realized Disney-themed gift bags and wrapping paper are available just about everywhere.
As I started to look for toys and gifts to put in the bag I was surprised by how many stores carry inexpensive Disney-themed items. The big box craft stores (i.e., Michaels, JoAnns, etc.), Target and the dollar stores often carry inexpensive note pads and small toys perfect for this kind of gift. I decided to put one larger toy in each bag. The first package had a Toy Story View Master; an inexpensive toy I bought from Amazon. The Buzz Light Year pajamas I bought on sale at the Disney Store. The sunglasses came from Target. The snacks were Toy Story fruit snacks from the grocery store. I had also planned to include a disposable camera in here. We ended up getting him a real camera for Christmas, but I still think a disposable camera can be a great idea for kids.
The other gift bags contained things tied to each park. Epcot had CARS binoculars, a light-up spinning Mickey head from the Disney Store and a Kim Possible DS game. (This was back before Agent P replaced Kim Possible as the interactive game in the park.) I wasn't able to buy a Kidcot Passport in advance of our trip so I used a “coupon” instead.
For Disney's Animal Kingdom I used a basket with a Safari Mickey plush, a puzzle, more coupons for items that could be collected in the park and some books. I picked up a great find on eBay – a Cast Member “Field Guide to Wildlife at Disney's Animal Kingdom”. eBay is a great source for more obscure themes, older Disney merchandise and collectibles.
I also put together a hat with Disney's Animal Kingdom pins that I bought on eBay. Lesson learned – although it looks cute, he couldn't wear the hat this way because the pin backs poked into his head. If you're planning to try something like this I recommend a hat that would support the pins on the brim. Disney sells a similar hat in the park.
I struggled with ideas for a Disney's Hollywood Studios bag until a friend suggested that I focus on the animation aspect. I found a book on Disney animation and a drawing book with Disney characters. I filled the bag out with items themed to Toy Story and CARS.
In retrospect, I really overdid the content. There was so much stuff and very little time to examine it during the trip. I definitely could have gone with fewer bags or less stuff in each.
I wanted all of these gifts to be from Mickey and his pals so I needed cards to go along with each package. As with the presents, I chose different characters to represent each park. The DISBoards has a special thread called Creative DISigners where generous people spend their time designing and customizing Disney-themed items for personal use. This is a great resource, particularly if you're not skilled in this kind of digital crafting. The cards, mailing labels and coupons that I used all came from the wonderful DISigners there. If you do want to design your own cards, Spoonful.com is a great resource for Disney character stickers to decorate your designs.
The card for the first package set the theme for the gifts and the other cards continued from there.Alex, I just heard that you're coming back to visit us. This time I thought you might want to explore the four Walt Disney World parks in more depth. Enclosed are some of the things you'll need from our Park Explorer's Kit. See you at the Magic Kingdom on Saturday. Your Pal, Mickey Mouse
Before our first trip I explained to my son the idea of “pixie dust” – those magical surprises that can only happen at Disney. We taught him to value every instance of pixie dust – from the smallest Disney bus trading card to being Family of the Day at Animal Kingdom Lodge. But our family has also made it a tradition to arrange surprises for each other so that pixie dust abounds on every trip. Sometimes it's from a Disney Cast Member, sometimes it's from one of us and sometimes it's just magic. (Really, it took me 10 minutes to convince my husband that I had nothing to do with being Family of the Day.) But I know our trips just wouldn't be the same without some kind of creative pixie dust.