You’re planning your first Walt Disney World vacation, and you want to make it the best ever. So you’re doing your research, finding all of the must-do lists for attractions, dining and resorts. But there is one problem – all of those videos, blogs and social media posts are almost certainly written by WDW veterans. They’ve been to the parks repeatedly. Potentially more times than they can count. And that means, by definition, they’re different than you. And in some cases, repeat visitors and first-time visitors have significantly different tastes.
But how do you know when to trust the advice and when to apply a filter? Thankfully, we have the data to help you out. All types of visitors fill out our post-visit survey when they return from their vacation. And they tell us how many trips they’ve taken to Walt Disney World before. That means we can pull the data to see where repeat and first-time visitors agree (that’s where you can listen to their advice) … and where they disagree. These are the pieces of advice that you may want to think through carefully.
Explain the Math
For resorts and attractions, everyone that fills out the post-visit survey scores on a scale from 1 (Very Dissatisfied) to 5 (Very Satisfied). I average all of these scores together to come up with one satisfaction score. The closer that score is to 5, the better.
For dining locations, survey-takers give each location they visited a thumbs up or thumbs down. To get satisfactions scores for dining, I calculate the percentage of visits that earned a thumbs up. 100% means that everyone gave the location a thumbs up, and 0% means that no one did.
No matter the category, we get many tens of thousands of survey results every year, so even small differences tend to be statistically significant. All of the differences in today’s post meet that qualification.
First-Time Visitor Resort Preferences
Resorts First-Time Visitors Love More
- Port Orleans – Riverside: 4.6 from First-Time Visitors, 4.4 from Repeat Visitors
First-time visitors are most likely to choose a value resort, so for those that upgrade to a moderate resort, Port Orleans – Riverside performs remarkably well. Repeat visitors get frustrated with the large internal bus loop and the potential for being far away from food. But first-time visitors that aren’t used to something different are fussed by the distances, and enjoy the quiet and theming.
- Contemporary Resort: 4.8 from First-Time Visitors, 4.6 from Repeat Visitors
A difference of 0.2 might seem like nit-picking, but it’s statistically significant. Repeat visitors have come to expect more for the very high prices that the Contemporary charges, but first-timers are enamored by having the easiest access to the Magic Kingdom. They’re also more likely to favorably mention the Incredibles theming.
- Polynesian Resort: 4.9 from First-Time Visitors, 4.7 from Repeat Visitors
Almost every adores the Polynesian. But first-time visitors find it to be very very close to perfect. Prices are high, and repeat visitors are more off-put by the recent construction, but none of that seems to matter to first-timers who love the theme and location.
Resorts First-Time Visitors Love Less
- All-Star Movies: 4.0 from First-Time Visitors, 4.5 from Repeat Visitors
Interestingly, after refurbishments, repeat visitors are more likely to appreciate the All-Star resorts compared to first-time visitors. Perhaps they remember what the rooms were like before the sweeping redesigns, and score the rooms more highly for the clean floors, straight-forward decoration and better use of space. But first-time visitors don’t have that context and are rating the rooms based on what they are now, not giving any bump in scores for “but it’s better than it was.”
- Yacht Club: 4.5 from First-Time Visitors, 4.8 from Repeat Visitors
This one comes down to FOMO and food. First-time visitors to Yacht Club mention walking past or through Beach Club and Boardwalk and appreciating their seemingly more “fun” themes and decorations, compared to the subdued feel of the Yacht Club. They’re also more likely to struggle with the inability to find good quick-service food nearby. Repeat visitors like the subdued feel, and know how to get the food that they want.
First-Time Visitor Attraction Preferences
Attractions First-Time Visitors Love More
- Journey of Water: 4.9 from First-Time Visitors, 4.4 from Repeat Visitors
Journey of Water shows up on the top-ten lists for every age group this year at EPCOT. It doesn’t have lines or the hassle of a virtual queue, it’s interactive and fun, beautiful, and anyone can experience it. No limitations of height or motion sickness or whatever else may be holding you back from participating in other attractions. First-time visitors are delighted by the little pieces of magic baked into this attraction by Imagineering. Repeat visitors mention wishing for something “more” after a large pit of dirt dominated this area for so long.
- Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along: 3.9 from First-Time Visitors, 3.4 from Repeat Visitors
Count me with the haters in the Repeat Visitor group here. Like others who commented on it, I just want Impressions de France back full-time. And I can’t buy into the story that LeFou really was a good guy all along. Beauty and the Beast already has solid representation in two parks. Leave France alone! But first-timers aren’t caught up in all of that drama. And while they don’t score this among their top EPCOT attractions, they enjoy it much more than repeat visitors.
- Adventurers Outpost: 4.6 from First-Time Visitors, 4.2 from Repeat Visitors
Mickey and Minnie in a two-for-the-wait-of-one meet and greet, in cute outfits themed to the park around them! What’s not to love? Repeat visitors say it’s the wait. They’d rather get around the wait by meeting Mickey and Minnie separately in shorter lines elsewhere at Walt Disney World. But first-timers are willing to wait to see both stars at once.
Attractions First-Time Visitors Love Less
- WDW Railroad: 3.4 from First-Time Visitors, 4.2 from Repeat Visitors
This is the biggest difference we’re going to see in any category. Walt Disney World regulars love our railroad. It’s the most Walt-iest part of the whole park. But all first-timers see is long lines for transportation to another part of the park that is slower than walking. Most also mention expecting to see more of the park from the train.
- Carousel of Progress: 3.2 from First-Time Visitors, 3.9 from Repeat Visitors
Look, I get it. But also I’m the old lady in my yard shaking my fist at you for not appreciating the Carousel of Progress and memorizing its song. This is another classic that is outdated (despite several attempts at refreshing the last “modern” scene) and just doesn’t make sense to first-time visitors who don’t understand the history of the attraction. Those first-timers who do rate it highly usually do so more for the rest their feet get, and the air-conditioning, than the attraction itself.
- The American Adventure: 3.3 from First-Time Visitors, 3.8 from Repeat Visitors
There are three things we should all be able to agree on. First, The American Adventure is more worthwhile than Hall of Presidents. But watching Voices of Liberty is better than either of them. Second, The American Adventure is, to this day, a technological marvel. That many moving parts to create a full show is impressive. Third, the material in The American Adventure comes across as very idealistic, to the point where it feels outdated. First-timers are more likely to not let the technology outweigh the outdated messaging.
- Electric Water Pageant: 3.5 from First-Time Visitors, 4.0 from Repeat Visitors
Old school Disney fans hype up the Electric Water Pageant a lot. Enough that during one of my first trips as an adult I made sure we got to see it from the shores of the Polynesian. But that required a special trip and a dinner reservation that we may not have otherwise done. Is Electric Water Pageant a national treasure that should never stop showing? Yes. Is it worth a special trip to see during your first trip? Probably not.
First-Time Visitor Dining Preferences
Dining Locations First-Time Visitors Love More
- Coral Reef: 99% from First-Time Visitors, 79% from Repeat Visitors
Ask anyone who has been to Walt Disney World 5+ times since the 1990s to list a disappointing restaurant, and at least half of them will mention Coral Reef. It feels like it’s still stuck in the 90s, and its menu was reliably unreliable. That’s past tense, though – Coral Reef got a new chef in the past year (the former chef at Takumi Tei), and the menu is suddenly reliable. Not exciting, but reliable. Pair that with the unique experience of dining “underwater”, and first-time visitors are charmed. As they should be.
- Chef Mickey’s: 99% from First-Time Visitors, 84% from Repeat Visitors
The facts are these – Chef Mickey’s is always expensive, and is almost always excessively loud. The food is plentiful, but won’t make your “best bites” list from your trip. Repeat visitors have found other character meals that are less expensive, quieter, and have more character interaction. But Chef Mickey’s is the character meal experience for many first-time visitors. It has all of the big names and it’s in an iconic location. As long as you go in knowing that it will be loud and you know what you’ll be paying, you should still have a good time.
- ‘Ohana: 99% from First-Time Visitors, 85% from Repeat Visitors
‘Ohana is one of those dining locations that has been around a long time, and it has a menu that has gone through several evolutions. Some are great and some have been disappointing. Repeat visitors are more prone to having a favorite dish that disappears or changes from the way they loved it. But first-time visitors go in with fresh eyes (and taste buds) and reliably have a great experience.
Dining Locations First-Time Visitors Love Less
- La Cava del Tequila: 50% from First-Time Visitors, 96% from Repeat Visitors
I will be disappointed if there aren’t at least 5 comments on this article expressing shock and dismay over this La Cava score … or saying something along the lines of “good – more for me”. La Cava has an almost cult-like fan club, especially in the Touring Plans community. But first-time visitors are not fans of the regular long lines to even get in, and the drink menu can be difficult to navigate. The staff is incredibly friendly and helpful, but many first-timers don’t want to bother them for assistance or recommendations.
- The BOATHOUSE: 65% from First-Time Visitors, 96% from Repeat Visitors
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the menu at the BOATHOUSE – where options abound, but you can quickly focus on only the most expensive items. It’s also a sprawling location, where some tables are better than others for people- and boat-watching. Still, it’s surprising to see first-time visitors rating this one as low as they have over the past year!
- Boma: 77% from First-Time Visitors, 95% from Repeat Visitors
Boma has struggled in the past year, especially with logistics like reservations staying on time and buffet items staying fully stocked and available. Still, what’s there is always excellent and unique. But first-time visitors are less willing to overlook operational issues than repeat fans. And it shows in the score.
What Does This Mean For You?
- Just because someone put something on their must-do or must-avoid list doesn’t mean that you will absolutely love or despise it. Especially if it’s your first visit, you will have a different point of view and experience than many repeat visitors who are writing these lists (me included!)
- First-time Walt Disney World visitors are much more likely to enjoy resorts, attractions, and dining locations where repeat visitor opinions are impacted by “what once was” or “what could have been”. Fresh perspectives differ from nostalgia.
- First-time visitors are almost much less likely to enjoy attractions that are considered to be classics that haven’t necessarily aged well. Just because something has strong ties to Walt Disney himself doesn’t mean you’ll love it like the Disney diehards do.
- You know what you like and don’t like better than anyone else. Read all reviews and recommendations through that filter!
Do you remember something you were very excited about from your first Walt Disney World trip that ended up being disappointing? Or something you weren’t very excited about that ended up blowing you away? Let me know in the comments!