Veterans vs. First-Timers: Which Magic Kingdom Attractions Do We Come Back To?

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Over the past month or so we’ve been looking at how what returning visitors choose to ride differs from those who are experiencing a park for the first time.  We’ve looked at Animal Kingdom, at Hollywood Studios, and at EPCOT.  Today we’ll be taking a look at the oldest park, the Magic Kingdom!

About the Numbers

For complete coverage of the ins and outs of the analysis, see the first post in this series (Animal Kingdom).  If you’re fine with a quick recap, here it is:

  • The entire set of survey data was divided into two pools: first-timers who said they had no previous trips, and veterans or re-riders who had one or more previous trips under their belt.
  • I generated a list of attractions, eliminating all those that had been open fewer than two years and all those that are permanently closed.
  • For each attraction, I calculated the percentage of the first-timer surveys where the attraction had been rated and this is the “First-Timer” percentage.  Similarly, I calculated the percentage of the veterans’ surveys where the attraction had been rated and called this the “Re-Rider” percentage.
  • I did some statistical tests to see if these numbers were significantly different.

As always, as we review the results I’d like you to keep in mind that any speculation about the cause of what we see is based solely on my knowledge of general Disney World stuff and my anecdotal experience as a visitor.  It might be that I’m a good guesser and I’ve hit on the actual reasons, but we don’t know that for sure.

The Top Five

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad comes out on top of a very impressive lineup, with 72.5% of re-riders and 70.3% of first-timers, a difference that is not statistically significant.  This is the only ride in any park to crack the 70% mark in either category without rounding up, and it’s the only “Mountain” to make the top five.

Picture of train car climbing the track on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
BTMRR’s landscape resonates with how we feel, baking in the Florida sun

I was pretty surprised to see the number two spot —  I would never have guessed it would go to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, with 69.9 / 66.0% (re-rider numbers will always be first).  The opportunity for friendly competition attracts many?  It has a pretty decent length of air-conditioned queue? Same-day FastPasses were often available late into the day?  It’s just plain good fun?  Any of these could contribute to Buzz’s placement, and quite possibly all of them do.

A Buzz Lightyear score I can only dream of, despite reading up on tips for the unskilled.

In third place is Pirates of the Caribbean with 69.6 / 66.2%, which you could argue is tied with Buzz in the second spot.  It’s followed closely by Haunted Mansion at 69.2 / 62.4%.  Haunted Mansion is so iconic and has such a big fanbase that I was actually a tiny bit expecting to find it in the top spot, especially since there are a lot of people who don’t do coasters.  Then again, my first several tries at riding HM ended in a bailout at the Stretching Room with two terrified kids pulling me outdoors “to the light” as fast as possible, so perhaps that plays into the dynamic here.

Ride picture from Pirates of the Caribbean
Please pretty please? Good doggie?

Bringing up the rear is Seven Dwarfs Mine Train with 68.5 / 69.6%.  This drop-off with re-riders is not statistically significant, and this relative latecomer to the parks gives each of the five lands a ride in the top 5.  That’s a pattern that we see across the top 10, with Fantasyland and Liberty Sq. as the only two lands not to have exactly proportionate representation. This seems like something that probably helps to distribute crowds.

Here’s the full list of everything that more than 25% of repeat visitors are doing. Attractions that have statistically significant differences between re-riders and first-timers are highlighted in gray.

A chart showing the top rides in the MK
Favorite attractions in Magic Kingdom

Noteworthy Notes

Magic Kingdom has the most attractions of any of the parks by a good margin.  This means there are a lot of ways to build a set of attractions around some common feature.  Let’s look at a few of them, starting with the “Mountains” (including the honorary 7 Dwarfs Mountain).

When looking over all the parks at rides with high wait times, usually I’ve seen one of two outcomes.  Either they have a higher percentage of re-riders because returning visitors are (presumably) choosing to prioritize those attractions, or they have a drop-off with returning visitors who (presumably) decide that having done the ride once, it doesn’t justify the wait.  Here we have four attractions that routinely have some of the highest wait times in the Magic Kingdom, all with no real difference between the groups. I’m not entirely sure what it means, but I’m pretty sure it means something.

I thought it would be fun to take a look at “OG” Magic Kingdom — attractions that opened within 5 years of the park itself.

chart of rides from the MK open within five years of the park opening
“OG” Magic Kingdom attractions

I think OG Magic Kingdom can hold its head high; with 23 of the 62 ranked attractions (37%), a little under two thirds see over 25% of repeat visitors returning. To be fair, the ones that didn’t stand the test of time aren’t on this list because they closed. Something that really stands out to me is the lack of IP-associated attractions.  The animatronic shows (Carousel of Progress, Country Bears, Tiki Room, Hall of Presidents) all put in a good showing with returning visitors (see what I did there?), and in fact Carousel of Progress makes the biggest gain of any attraction in the Magic Kingdom.

The last group is rides with what I will call “youth appeal”, defined as being markedly more popular with youth than with adults. To get the ratings, I averaged the Preschool and Grade-School ratings as Youth, and the Young Adult, Over Thirty, and Seniors ratings as Adult.  I excluded the Teens because on any given day they can be more like a grade-schooler or more like an adult, depending on which side of the bed they woke up on.

Chart of attractions that appeal more to youth than adults
Attractions with youth appeal – greater than 0.5 points higher rating with Youth than with Adults

Of the 21 attractions on this list that have statistically significant differences between first-time and returning visitors, every last one sees a drop off among the veterans.  Although it’s (still!) only speculation, this would appear to be evidence of the Circle of Life playing out among Disney World visitors.  It’s not perfect, of course, because many people make multiple trips with kids of the appropriate age, but it’s not hard to see a story where guests come for the first time with their young children, they do these attractions for their young children’s benefit, and then once their young children are older they bid a not-at-all-tearful adieu to the fumes of the Tomorrowland Speedway.

Are you surprised by Buzz Lightyear’s #2 showing? How many tries did it take to get your kids past the Stretching Room?  What rides do you look forward to skipping when your kids are older? Let us know in the comments!

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Jennifer Heymont

Jennifer Heymont has a background in math and biology, but since she couldn't pick between the two she ended up in Data Science where she gets to do both. She lives just north of Boston with her husband, kids, and assorted animal members of the family. Although it took three visits for the Disney bug to "take", she now really wishes she lived a lot closer to the Parks.

3 thoughts on “Veterans vs. First-Timers: Which Magic Kingdom Attractions Do We Come Back To?

  • July 21, 2021 at 7:57 am
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    Love your reasoning for leaving teen ratings out just this once. So true!

    Reply
  • July 26, 2021 at 11:35 am
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    I love that each land has one ride in the top 5!

    Reply
    • July 26, 2021 at 12:27 pm
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      Me too! I think it’s even more impressive when you consider that some lands (like Fantasyland and Tomorrowland) are so much larger than, say, Liberty Square.

      Reply

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