Harmony at Sea: Disney’s Racially Inclusive Voyage

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As a Black girl growing up in a predominantly Caucasian suburb, it was clear that I was different. None of my teachers or friends looked like me, and when choosing a doll at the store, none shared my brown hue. Commercials, television shows, and magazine photos lacked diversity, and I had to seek racial representation. Never shy, I proudly expressed myself and made my voice heard in the crowd. Still, I longed to see myself in America’s version of beauty and goodness.

Fast-forward to the present day. My career as an educator is largely focused on diversity and inclusion. I actively seek equity in my personal and professional life. So, when my family of five decided to go on a cruise this year, I did my research. What cruise lines made people of color feel included? Which ones have the best reviews for honoring diversity?

For the most part, there was neutrality, but Disney Cruise Line stood out to me. Roughly half of their employees are people of color, and their website reflects their commitment to racial and cultural inclusion. There were hair salons and boutiques for adults and children that showcased various hairstyles, including Black customers rocking braids and twists. “This looks promising,” I thought.

With my little ones, enjoying being on the high seas

Y’all, DCL did not disappoint.

From the moment we stepped on the ship, we were greeted by Disney employees from all around the world. Their name badges included their country of origin, and so many of them shared stories, taught us phrases in their native language, and gave us a glimpse of places we’d never been. Eating with others at dinner, standing in line to meet Disney characters, and interacting during the many cruise activities, we met guests from many different cultures. It was easy for our kids (and us) to find cruise buddies to hang with as we soaked up all the Disney magic.

My daughter meeting her favorite princess, Tiana

Diversity was reflected in the artwork, movies, princes, and princesses. My children saw themselves in the beauty, brightness, and magic of Disney. One of our servers at dinner was from my parents’ homeland, Jamaica, and it was so heart-warming hearing her familiar accent. My inner-child was cheering and jumping for joy!

My younger two rocking the 1923 theme in front of a portrait on the ship

At the end of the cruise, I told my husband, “This is the first time in my life that I wasn’t hyper-aware of how people treated me. We weren’t treated like Black people; we were just treated like people.” Sadly, in America, this isn’t always the case. But on our magical Disney cruise ship, it felt like a whole new world (pun intended).

As corny as it sounds, I was racially at rest. Usually, I have to embed diversity in activities so my children feel included. On this cruise ship, the work was already done for me. It exceeded my expectations and surprised me in the best way. I jokingly called our vacation “racial harmony on the high seas,” but there’s always truth in jest. I’ve never felt more connected to strangers in my whole life. Everyone was pleasant, and the positive vibes permeated the air.

Our family on Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay

We breathed those vibes in as the ocean breeze tickled our faces. The magic of Disney became a part of us that never left. I understand why Peter Pan never wanted to grow up, but I believe there’s a child who lives in all of us. DCL brought the magic of childhood back to my life. It helped to heal that little girl who longed for positive racial representation and gave her hope for future generations.

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