Seeing Rey, Moana, and Tiana at Disney World Is So Important — For Both Boys and Girls

Disney World has changed a lot since I first visited as a young girl, and one of the things that has definitely changed for the better (aside from the over-the-top delicious treats) is that you can now run into strong female characters around practically every corner, largely because we're finally seeing more diversity and representation in Disney films than ever before. (I can't wait to see Halle Bailey in the live-action Little Mermaid film!) I knew I wasn't alone on this one, so I reached out to a few of my fellow Disney fans to hear their stories. What struck me the most was how differently they were all affected by this female empowerment revolution.

"My daughters love that Moana has brown skin and big curly hair, just like them."

Growing up in Hong Kong, Carmen Sognonvi (@topflightmagic) didn't visit the Disney parks until she was a teen, nor was she ever drawn to the Disney princesses she saw in films and on TV. "I was much more drawn to Japanese cartoons like Creamy Mami, where there was less of an emphasis on romantic relationships and more of a focus on the adventures that the main female character experienced."

Carmen's appreciation for Disney really developed when she became a parent. "I've been seriously impressed by how different the female characters are in today's Disney movies compared to the movies from my childhood. Not only is it wonderful to see so much more ethnic diversity portrayed in the characters (my daughters love that Moana has brown skin and big curly hair, just like them), but I love that today's female Disney characters show leadership, strength, compassion, and determination."

Carmen pointed out that Jasmine from the live-action Aladdin film is a great example of that: "Not only does she question why she can't be the Sultan just because she's female, she wins the Sultan role not by having it handed to her by her father, but by actually being the leader who averts a crisis. My daughters love the new Jasmine for this, and also 'because she's the only princess who wears pants.'" By the way, you can meet the Sultan herself at both Magic Kingdom and Epcot.

"I want [my 4-year-old son] to know it's OK and for him to see a girl as a superhero."

As a child, Melissa Maroney (@ohmymmmelissa), another lifelong Disney-goer, wasn't enchanted by the princesses, either. "I was more of a tomboy growing up, so meeting the Disney princesses was not at the top of my list when visiting the parks." Now, as a mom of two young boys, Melissa loves seeing strong female characters like Rey, Moana, Tiana, Mrs. Incredible, and especially Elsa roaming throughout the parks. "My 4-year-old son loves Elsa and even has an Elsa Barbie. We were recently in one of the gift shops at Hollywood Studios, and I couldn't resist getting it for him when he wouldn't stop asking for it. He loves her strength and story; he sees her as a superhero. I want him to play with an Elsa Barbie. I want him to know it's OK and for him to see a girl as a superhero," Melissa told me. I think she's right — kids need to know that boys and girls can be superheroes. Overall, Melissa is "thankful that Disney is being part of this change and showcasing more strong, independent women for all kids to look up to."

"I love that my daughter gets to see women in these strong roles."

Carly Anderson (@lipglossandcrayons) recognizes this importance, too. "As a huge Disney fan, I love how their characters have evolved. Besides the classic princesses we all know and love, you can see the amazing new female role models that our daughters and sons are learning important personality traits from. From Tiana's work ethic and commitment to her dream, to Moana's mission to save her people on her own (take that, Maui), I love that my daughter gets to see women in these strong roles."

"Getting to watch my nieces interact with the princesses was so special."

Eryka Cazanave (@erykas_endless_magic) felt much the same way when she took her nieces to Walt Disney World. "I remember when I was growing up, I had strong female leads like Esmeralda, Kida, and Meg to look up to but did not have the opportunity to interact with them in the parks the way children do now." Her recent trip "was the first time I was able to watch the magic through their eyes, and it truly changed the experience for me," Eryka said. "Getting to watch my nieces interact with the princesses and actually recognize them was so special."

"These interactions help our children begin to understand that they really are capable of anything."

It also seems that the more our children get to meet and talk with their heroes, the more they can relate to them. Jay Ratner (@jayratner81), a graphic designer at Walt Disney World who basically eats, sleeps, and breathes Disney, is appreciative of the traditional princesses and their more progressive counterparts. He told me, "Anytime we visit the parks (which is very often) and we can make time to meet any of the princesses, it always adds a really special feeling to our day. Our daughter is growing so fast and her interests are constantly evolving. I find that the more we take her, the more she loves to share her interests with the characters she meets. It really is magical." These interactions help our children begin to understand that they, too, embody the characteristics of a hero and that they really are capable of anything.

"Kids need to realize that no one has to wait around for somebody else to solve their problems."

Look, I love my girls Cinderella and Snow White. Their messages of courage and kindness are special in their own right. Jay's daughter "had a really sweet conversation with Cinderella on our last Disney cruise. They were comparing glass slippers since my daughter was also wearing a pair." I love that children can meet princesses from all walks of life and know that they can accomplish anything . . . all while wearing a pair of sparkling glass slippers, no less.

More than anything, though, kids need to realize that no one, royalty or not, has to wait around for somebody else to come along and solve all their problems. I think Carly said it better than I ever could: "Strong women are the best role models because they teach our children that anyone can change the world. That's Disney magic at its best."