Disney World review for family first visit

2024 Disney World REVIEW: My Family’s First Visit

Are you planning your family’s first visit to Disney World in Orlando, Florida? Sooo exciting!! We just got back and I want to share all I learned with you. Not only was this our family’s first visit, by mine, too.Family first visit to Disney World review

My 2024 Disney World review for a family first visit includes:

  • WHO: Best ages to visit Disney World
  • WHAT: Best parks to visit as a family and how to order them 
  • WHEN: Best time to go and how many days
  • WHERE: Best Disney World resort hotel for families
  • HOW: Tips for family first visits to Disney World (including Genie+, PhotoPass and dining plans)

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links to excellent travel-related products. If you use the links below to make a purchase, we’ll receive a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

WHO: Best ages to visit Disney World

For our family’s first visit to Disney World, our kids were aged 9, 8 and 5. My husband was the only one who’d been to Disney World before, but as a 4 year old.

What is the best age to visit Disney World? I’d argue that HEIGHT is more important than age. Ideally, wait to visit Disney World for the first time when your youngest is more than 44 inches tall.

At 45 inches tall, my youngest was able to go on most rides. At 5 years old, some rides were quite intense but he handled them all.

TIP: If both adults want to go on the bigger rides, consider bringing along a babysitter or getting to know the Rider Switch program before you need to use it. It’s only offered on certain rides and I still can’t find this online or in the app. Check at the entrance before you tackle the long lines.

Virtual queues filled up SUPER fast (like, seconds, fast) and I didn’t know how the Rider Switch program worked so I didn’t book myself on the rides. In hindsight, I should’ve just booked the virtual queue to give me the option, as you can always cancel.

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WHAT: Best Disney World parks for first visit 

Which Disney World parks are best for a family’s first visit? Each Disney World park is VERY unique. Magic Kingdom is best for Disney nostalgia. Animal Kingdom for nature lovers. EPCOT for culture buffs and Hollywood Studios for movie buffs.

Below is our favorite experiences at each park for family first visits to Disney World.

TIP: Visiting all four parks is very tiring, especially with kids. Let yourself breathe – choose your top three priority experiences for each park, and let everything else be a bonus.

Note: We didn’t prioritize any shows at Disney World, as we booked a Disney cruise for the week after. Watch for another post on that!

Favorite experiences at Hollywood Studios

For our family’s first visit to Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, we prioritized the Star Wars area. We expected rain on and off, so didn’t plan to do much more than this. (Weather turned out to be decent, so we could wander a bit.)

In hindsight, we’re a bit disappointed that we didn’t prioritize some of the shows. Like the Indiana Jones stunt show and Beauty and the Beast live show.

Disney World Hollywood Studios Star Wars area
Hollywood Studios’ Star Wars area (Photo credit: Steven Beyer from Unsplash)

Favorite rides at Hollywood Studios:

  • Star Wars rides: We loved all three Star Wars rides. None were two people side-by-side, so each of our kids had a parent with them, and none were too scary for young kids. They each had enough story and fun to keep us entertained, too.
  • Slinky Dog: A fellow traveler recommended we start with the Slinky Dog rollercoaster, which we did. Pros: It’s a fun ride, and the line only got worse during the day. Cons: The line was already long when we got there, and the ride was a bit intense to start with for my five year old. (But now he says it was his favorite.)

The Aerosmith rollercoaster was closed when we were there and we decided not to do the Tower of Terror. Instead, we had (amazing) ice cream while watching the tower windows open and hearing the screams. No thank you!

Favorite places to eat at Hollywood Studios:

We bought Disney’s quick dining plan and felt we got great value here:

  • Docking Bay 7: Decent food and fun Star Wars theming. Use the mobile ordering option to avoid the lineup.
  • Hollywood Scoops: Delicious creamy ice cream sundaes and Mickey brownies. Entertainment courtesy of the Tower of Terror screams.

Favorite experiences at EPCOT

EPCOT is a fun park to explore, with shops and restaurants you won’t find anywhere else in Disney World. It has a few decent rides but is better for culture enthusiasts versus thrill seekers.

Favorite rides at EPCOT:

  • Guardians of the Galaxy: My husband and daughter (8 years) went on this and loved it. My husband says it’s the “next-level” technology of rollercoasters – really smooth and pretty intense.
  • Soarin’: This was a really fun hang-gliding simulation that we all enjoyed.
  • Frozen Ever After: We were surprised by how enjoyable this ride was. Disney’s classic log ride with a twist. The line can get long so we did this one first.
  • Other attractions: The new Moana exhibit is very cool (the water responds to you!) and my favorite area at EPCOT. The Canada and China 360 films and SeaBase aquarium are short and enjoyable if you’re looking for something to do.

Notes: We didn’t bother with the long lines at Ratatouille Adventure, given that our kids are unfamiliar with the show.

Favorite places to eat at EPCOT:

On Disney’s quick dining plan, we found good value at these EPCOT restaurants:

  • Katsura Grill (Japan): A treat from typical quick dining restaurants, with good sushi and noodle bowls. Its ambiance and garden setting is also lovely.
  • La Cantina de San Angel (Mexico): Also a nice variety of Mexican dishes, including for kids. The setting is nice, right on the water overlooking the park.

Note: If you’re looking for Pokemon cards at Disney World, there’s a store in the Japan area with a small and expensive selection but no Japanese language cards. (My husband’s addition to this review.)

Favorite experiences at MAGIC KINGDOM

Disney World Magic Kingdom fireworks
Magic Kingdom fireworks show (Photo credit: Sean Nufer from Unsplash)

Magic Kingdom is nostalgic Disney World and a must-visit for families visiting for their first time. Simply walking around the park is a lot of fun. Be sure to stay for sundown, as it takes on a new magic, especially in front of Cinderella’s castle. And the fireworks show is incredible.

However, Disney’s Magic Kingdom was my least favorite for rides. Most Magic Kingdom rides are animatronic log rides (excellent animatronics but pretty boring as rides go) or typical carnival rides with a Disney theme (e.g. Aladdin Magic Carpets and Dumbo). The exceptions are TRON and Space Mountain.

TIP: Given the quantity of nostalgic must-do rides and long lines, this is a good park for Genie+. See the Tips section below for more details on how to maximize it.

Favorite rides at Magic Kingdom:

  • TRON: Lots of fun, unique because of the bike configuration. It has a 48 inch minimum height and size restrictions, given how it locks you in. If you’re unsure about it, still book the virtual queue and then try the sample set-up at the entrance.
  • Space Mountain: We all did Space Mountain and had fun, even my timid child (it was intense for her but she did fine). Seats are individual (i.e. not two people side-by-side). BUT this line is ridiculous and boring, and definitely worth using Genie+ or individual Lightning Lane for.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: A classic Disney World log ride, with impressive and fun animatronics. I wouldn’t say it’s worth the long line (as with all Disney World animatronic log rides), so use the Genie+ if you have it.
  • Peter Pan’s Flight: Another classic Disney World ride but you’re flying instead of floating. I enjoyed the standby wait through the house almost as much as the ride, so ideally tackle this line when the wait is about 30 minutes versus using Genie+.
  • Barnstormer: A fun little rollercoaster to build kids’ confidence. Our 8 and 9 year old kids sat together and felt brave and independent!
  • Other attractions: Wander through the Swiss Family Treehouse (super cool for anyone who loves treehouses!). The parade was fun but short. Definitely stay for the fireworks show, as it’s pretty awesome and worth the wait.

Unfortunately, Big Thunder Mountain and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train were both out of service on our first visit to Disney World.

Favorite places to eat at Magic Kingdom:

On Disney’s quick dining plan, we found good value at these Magic Kingdom restaurants:

  • Pecos Bill Tall Tale: Lots of seating, fun ambiance and decent selection of Mexican and typical American food options. It’s also conveniently on the parade route.
  • Columbia Harbour House: Good seafood options in a nice location near the Riverboat ride, adding to its ambiance and charm. Upstairs seating is quieter.

Favorite experiences at ANIMAL KINGDOM

Animal Kingdom feels like you’re wandering through a lush garden, which makes it a more relaxing park to wind down your family’s first visit to Disney World. If your family enjoys zoos, this is one of the best out there. We weren’t interested in that part of it but still enjoyed it.

Disney World Animal Kingdom Everest rollercoaster, Disney World best rides
Animal Kingdom’s Everest ride – sooo fun! (Photo credit: Sean Nufer from Unsplash)

Favorite rides at Animal Kingdom:

  • Avatar Flight of Passage: Wow, this ride was SO fun! It’s the next-level 3D ride compared to EPCOT’s Soarin’ ride (so ideally do Soarin’ first). But wow, the line was sooo long. Disney does a great job of immersing you in the theme while waiting, but 90 minutes was painful with three young kids. Be prepared.
  • Expedition Everest: A super-fun rollercoaster! My timid child waited at the exit for us, which was probably a good idea, as the ride was intense. But I loved it. My 5 year old wasn’t sure at first but now says he liked it.
  • Kilimanjaro Safari: Quite a fun safari experience. Ideally visit the park on a cooler, non-rainy day so the animals are out and active.
  • Other attractions: Just wandering through the Pandora and Asia areas is fun. Disney does a great job of immersing you in these themes.

Note: We took the train to the Affection Station (i.e. petting zoo) but it wasn’t nearly as good as other petting zoos we’ve been to. I’d say not to waste your time unless you really want to pet a goat.

Favorite places to eat at Animal Kingdom:

On Disney’s quick dining plan, we found good value at these Animal Kingdom restaurants:

  • Flame Tree BBQ: Pretty great BBQ food options, with covered seating surrounded by lush vegetation.
  • Satu’li Canteen: A decent variety of food options in the Pandora area.

HOW: Best order to visit the Disney parks

Which order should you visit the Disney World parks? In my reading, bloggers generally recommend visiting Magic Kingdom first, but I think I disagree. Magic Kingdom was the most exhausting day and I was glad we eased into it.

I was happy with our order for visiting the Disney World parks: 

  1. Hollywood Studios (Monday): We cared most about the Star Wars area, which was fantastic and the perfect way to ease into the Disney World fun. Our most timid child went on (and enjoyed) all three Star Wars rides. None of these rides were limited to two people side-by-side, so it was great for families with more than two kids. (And they were all really fun for young and old!)
  2. EPCOT (Tuesday): Since we had few must-do rides here, we had more flexibility to figure out the Guardians of the Galaxy virtual queue. Our first attempt (at 7 a.m.) failed – it filled up in seconds. Having fewer must-dos made it less stressful at the second attempt (at 1 p.m.).
  3. Magic Kingdom (Wednesday): Fun, but long and exhausting. It had most of our must-do rides, including an early virtual queue for Tron, and we stayed for the fireworks. The benefit: By the third day, we were pretty comfortable with the Disney Experience app and how to use it for lightning lanes. (That’s a whole other blog post, to come.)
  4. Animal Kingdom (Thursday): Between the lush vegetation and animals, this park was a soothing end to the Disney World experience. And the Everest roller-coaster was a super fun ending and the Avatar Flight best experienced after EPCOR’s Soarin’ ride.

TIP: Give yourself some flexibility on your first visit to Disney World. I changed my initial order last-minute due to the weather forecast (to have the least chance of rain at Magic Kingdom), and was happy for it.

Disney World Animal Kingdom Pandora area
Animal Kingdom’s Pandora area (Photo credit: Hansun Kim from Unsplash)

WHEN: Best time to go and number of days

When should families take their first visit to Disney World? I was (mostly) happy with visiting in January and during the week. Crowds were minimal and lines were doable.

That said, January had mixed weather you need to be ready for. We were prepared for cool mornings (bring a hat and thin gloves) and rain on and off (bring ponchos), which weren’t a big deal. BUT we weren’t prepared for how much colder it was for the Magic Kingdom fireworks after sundown – bring a blanket or warm jackets.

How many days should you spend on your family’s first visit to Disney World? I echo most bloggers in saying to plan for four days, or one park per day.

That said, if you have less time and your kids (and you!) can handle the parks from sunup to sundown, you could combine them into fewer days. Pick maximum two things per park (so you can still enjoy walking around) and buy park hopper passes. If you do this, save Magic Kingdom as one of your second parks so you can enjoy the fireworks show. 

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WHERE: Best Disney World resort for family first visits

Which Disney World resort is best for family first visits? I whole-heartedly recommend the Disney’s New Orleans Riverside resort.

We were VERY happy with our family stay at the Disney World New Orleans Riverside resort. It’s one of the few resorts with the 5th sleeper option, has reasonable prices, excellent amenities, and beautiful grounds. It felt classy and timeless.

In the picture below you can get a sense of it’s vibe. There are two areas: Mongolia Bend with mansions  among manicured gardens and Alligator Bayou with cottages among lush ponds. Ol’ Man Island in the middle houses the pool, playground and group firepit.

Disney World New Orleans Riverside resort, best Disney World resort hotels
Disney World New Orleans Riverside resort (Photo credit: me!)

Why visit Disney Springs

I also enjoyed the boat ferry to Disney Springs and the shared amenities with the New Orleans French Quarter resort.

  • Disney Springs is a great activity if you’re spending a relaxing day at the resort, with good restaurants (The Polite Pig was delish and had table service even for the quick dining plan) and shops (including the big World of Disney store, perfect for picking your keepsakes).
  • French Quarter has a colorful jazzy vibe and a fun waterpark. That said, I preferred the more timeless classy vibe of Riverside as my home resort.
Disney Springs at Disney World
Boat ferry view of Disney Springs (Photo credit: Colin Lloyd from Unsplash)

Why stay at a Disney World resort hotel?

There are a few great perks of staying at a Disney World resort hotel.

  • Regular shuttles to and from the parks (get on at the stop near your room versus the last pickup at the resort entrance, as shuttles fill up).
  • Early ride booking and park entry (we overslept every morning but I DID make use of the early lightning lane bookings).
  • Dining plans with momento cup refills.
  • Excellent Disney standards for onsite activities, service and cleanliness.

Plus, it was easy booking our shuttle to Disney Cruise Lines (more posts to come on that).

FINAL TIPS for family first visits to Disney World

Genie+ and Lightning Lane entries

Should a family buy Genie+ on their first visit to Disney World? I recommend it for Magic Kingdom.

Visiting Disney World is super expensive, so I didn’t want to buy Genie+ if I didn’t have to. But we decided to get it for Magic Kingdom because of the quantity of rides we wanted to try and how long those lines always seemed to be. And I’m glad we did, but I wished I maximized it better. I waited to see if the lines were bad, and by then, we only got three lightning lane uses.

An added benefit of Genie+ is that it includes photos of you on the ride you used it for.

Note: If only one of you wants to go on a popular ride, you might be better off buying an individual lightning lane pass.

TIPS: Decide by 7 a.m. which park you’re visiting that day and if you want Genie+ buy it and book your first ride right away. Genie+ only lets you book a ride every two hours, and the virtual line was often comparable to the standby line. I.e. You still had to wait the same amount of time, but just not in line.

Even then, the Peter Pan virtual queue with Genie+ was five hours versus a 30-minute standby wait. So, Genie+ is a tool but don’t expect it to bypass all the lines whenever you want. 

Memory Maker PhotoPass Service

Should a family buy Disney World Memory Maker PhotoPass Service for their first visit? I say yes, and regret we didn’t. Even on a tight budget.

I didn’t even consider Memory Maker PhotoPass Service and didn’t investigate it, expecting it not to be worth the additional cost. BUT Disney World photographers were everywhere in the parks, at the best locations, and it would’ve been much easier getting great photos of everyone in our family.

As of writing this post (February 2024), buying Memory Maker in advance is $185USD and includes downloads of ALL your photos. Or, one day at $75USD.

(In comparison, we purchased 10 photo downloads for $150USD on the Disney cruise, without nearly the same variety as you’d get at the parks; separate post to come on this.)

Disney World Dining Plans

Should a family buy a dining plan on their first visit to Disney World? This answer depends. You can definitely eat cheaper if you pack granola bars and sandwiches, even if you buy one meal each day. This also gives you more flexibility to choose a quick-service or special sit-down restaurant.

We were glad we got the quick-service dining plan because my husband would ALWAYS be complaining about the cost of meals. Instead, we maximized the plan as much as we could and were (mostly) happy. Mostly, except that my husband got tired of the cafeteria-style dining of the quick-service plan. But, the alternative was committing to a sit-down meal each day, which wasn’t a priority with our limited time.

For example, every meal includes a beverage. You could use this for bottled water to get you through the day, or guests 21 years and older could get an alcoholic drink (often quite expensive).

Each Disney World dining plan includes two meals, one snack and one refillable mug to use at your Disney World resort. This ended up being more than enough for us. The refillable mug is worth about $20USD, plus the actual drinks.

TIPS: Before you go, research menus and ambience so you know your favorites. And whenever you can, use mobile ordering to avoid more lines. 

Note: You have to purchase the dining plan for the entire stay at a Disney World resort hotel. The good thing about this is that meals and snacks carry over.

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Summary REVIEW of first visit to Disney World

I hope you found some useful tips for your family’s first visit to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Ultimately, the best tip I have for your family is to pick your top three things per day and decide what’s worth your limited budget. As fun as a Disney World trip is, it’s also exhausting even without kids. Don’t expect to see and do everything and keep it magical!

Has your family been to Disney World? Leave your tips for other families below!

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