If you have ever been to the Disneyland Resort, you already know the exhilaration that can overcome you as soon as you step through the gates. There’s no other feeling quite like it, and while the park welcomes visitors of all ages and from all over the world, there is a group working diligently behind the scenes to make sure that people of all races and backgrounds can also feel at home through initiatives like Celebrate Soulfully, which aims to highlight Black heritage and culture throughout the park.
The Disneyland Resort encompasses stories, movies, and characters from various cultures, countries, and people, but there’s no denying that Black visitors may not have seen themselves widely represented at the park in the past. It wasn’t until 2009 that fans got their first Black Disney Princess with The Princess and the Frog (A new ride called Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is coming to Magic Kingdom in Florida and Disneyland park in California in place of Splash Mountain in late 2024), and now the parks are also aiming to catch up by celebrating the soul and the magic that represents Black culture through new experiences, shows, and food and lives music.
The Disneyland Resort team invited a group of multicultural journalists to experience the park and its new offerings in the spring, and we got to see firsthand all the efforts that they are putting together so that parkgoers can feel included during their visit—which is important, especially after other amusements parks recently landed in hot water for seemingly making Black children feel excluded. Disneyland Resort’s Vice President of Marketing and Commercial Strategy Sybil Crum shared the importance of making the parks more inclusive and the inspiration for creating Celebrate Soulfully to make the Disneyland Resort feel like the happiest place on earth—for everyone.
“Celebrate Soulfully is a collaboration across Cast Members at Disney Parks, Experiences and Products to develop ways we could present authentic celebrations that represent Black culture,” Crum tells Complex. “We drew inspiration from soul being an integral part of Black culture, as well as the connecting spirit across family, friends and loved ones. That is a universal theme everyone can relate to, and Celebrate Soulfully invites all guests to enjoy delicious food, amazing live music, and more.”
Through Celebrate Soulfully, the Disneyland also ushered in Black Music Month in June with performances and live music, highlighting genres such as doo-wop, Motown, funk, reggae, and more, including “The Soul of Jazz: An American Adventure” presentation. They also featured dining options with delicious offerings from Black-owned food trucks like Bred Nashville Hot Chicken and Happy Ice. During our stay, we had dinner at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen in the Downtown Disney District, which features dining options inspired by New Orleans cuisine and has the charm and ambiance of the French Quarter, where the team arranged a special visit from Princess Tiana for us.
The group of journalists also attended a special viewing of Tale of the Lion King, a new addition that takes place at the Fantasyland Theatre. The show is an original, story-theatre adaptation of Disney’s The Lion King, which showcases incredible performances from a talented cast, as well as outstanding costume designs, original musical arrangements, and stunning choreography. “At Disneyland Resort, we seek to create experiences and products that reflect the diverse backgrounds, traditions, and stories of our guests, fans, and Cast Members,” Crum says. “We are so proud of these offerings and what they mean to our guests who visit us from all over the world.”
The group was also able to be fast tracked to go on popular rides like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Jungle Cruise, WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! (which took the place of the iconic Tower of Terror) and more. The latter two are part of the Avengers Campus, which opened in June 2021, making the park even more appealing for Marvel fans and the grown-up crowd. Inside the campus, fans might see Black Panther walking around and learn the wisdom of Wakanda as they train for battle with his royal guard General Okoye and the Dora Milaje. (Ed note: Being escorted through the park like a Kardashian is an experience I wish everyone could have at least once. You truly feel like royalty.)
I didn’t get a chance to experience Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance during my visit due to a deadline I had to complete when the rest of the group went on the ride, but they all agreed that was the best ride the park has to offer currently. I tried to go back later that day, but the ride closed for repair as soon as I got to the front of the line. I skipped to the front, but those waiting behind me told me they’d been waiting for nearly two hours. This seemed like a recurring theme, especially for those who aren’t willing to shell out the extra cash that it takes to purchase Lightning Lane passes. In my previous visits, you were available to get some option to skip the long lines for free. Prices for individual Lightning Lane now range from $7 to $20 per ticket, and it’s only applicable on select rides. (I used a Lightning Lane pass to go on the Guardians of the Galaxy ride a second time, and it was definitely worth it.) The Disney Genie+ service is also available for $20 per ticket per day, which also gives you the option to avoid wait times for eligible attractions.
The park tickets alone also come at a hefty price tag. The amount for a single day, one park ticket for anyone 10 and up is currently $164 and $155 for children ages 3-9. Those figures might not be affordable for some families, especially those with multiple children. So when speaking about inclusion, affordability also ensures that everyone can attend, regardless of their financial situation. With that in mind, Crum says there are ways that families can save.
“There’s never been a better time to visit and we are consistently working to make sure that guests have a range of ticket options when they visit with us, and this includes special ticket offers throughout the year,” she says. “When guests have more flexibility with their plans, they will find lower priced options. For example, guests can visit with ticket options for as little as $104 per day and with our current limited-time ticket offer, all California residents can visit for as little as $83 per day.”
Entering the Disney parks should take you away from the realities of life, even if it’s for one day, while also inspiring parkgoers to dream bigger by making them feel seen. Celebrate Soulfully is a solid effort from the team to create an ambiance where Black visitors feel represented, appreciated, welcomed, and like they also have a part in creating that incomparable Disney magic.