The reality of traveling while Black on Royal Caribbean’s 9-month Ultimate World Cruise

Travelers are reporting back from Royal Caribbean’s 9-month cruise — with at least one Black passenger recounting micro-aggressions onboard.

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The world of travel continually offers surprises, and the recent surge in popularity of global cruises is causing quite a stir on social media. Specifically, Royal Caribbean’s Ultimate World Cruise, spanning 274 nights, embarked on its inaugural journey on Dec. 10, 2023, with an expected return on Sept. 10, 2024. Soon after its launch, the cruise gained traction on platforms like TikTok, with passengers likening the voyage to a real-life reality show — and like reality shows, there have been less favorable aspects, particularly for Black passengers. 

Even on a voyage that promises “bonding with like-minded explorers over global discoveries across all seven continents” — and where every passenger has presumably made a considerable investment — issues such as racial profiling and micro-aggressions surfaced quickly and prominently, highlighting undeniably significant concerns that warrant attention.

When Royal Caribbean unveiled the Ultimate World Cruise aboard its Serenade of the Seas craft in late 2021 and began bookings in early 2022, travel enthusiasts viewed it as a dream opportunity. The prospect of exploring 11 world wonders while visiting over 60 countries across a nine-month voyage with all accommodations, meals, and beverages included seemed like an unparalleled adventure. However, before boarding even commenced, the pre-cruise gala signaled to one passenger, Brandee Lake, that it might not be an entirely smooth ride. 

 In a less-than-enthused video uploaded to her TikTok just seven days into the cruise, Lake shared an update:

 “If I get asked if I work on this ship one more time… It started at the pre-cruise gala. It was assumed that I must be working,” she expressed. “After I said I was not working, then I was asked was I independently wealthy. Like, basically, ‘How did you afford this?’”

Lake further remarked, “Now, one of the crew members assumed that I was not a guest when getting back on the ship from an excursion. It’s gonna be a long nine months,” she added, nodding in apparent acknowledgment of the complexities she may or may not have anticipated as a Black woman on this adventure.

Since then, individuals have been captivated by the #ultimateworldcruise “series,” which initially began as an informative hashtag offering a comprehensive look into ship life, complete with insights into onboard drama and the genuine experience of a nine-month voyage — that includes several stops with a strong history in the transatlantic slave trade. However, due to insights like Lake’s, some commenters are now leveraging the hashtag to monitor the safety, well-being, and mental and emotional health of the cruise’s Black passengers, raising concerns that Royal Caribbean may not have adequately anticipated or addressed their needs.

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While it’s understood that cruise operators can’t control every interaction among passengers, including potential microaggressions or overtly racist behaviors toward Black travelers who’ve paid the same $53,999 to $117,599 fee per person — depending on the stateroom booked— as their white counterparts, there’s a reasonable expectation of awareness and sensitivity among the crew. Ideally, crew members should be educated and trained both before and during such voyages —  and certain behaviors should be unequivocally unacceptable.

Even under normal circumstances, repeated experiences of racial bias can profoundly affect those targeted, leading to feelings of exclusion, invalidation, and other psychological distress. Given that this is a nine-month-long cruise, individuals might find it challenging, if not near impossible, to distance themselves from such situations, given limited spaces to escape onboard, rightly intensifying concerns about what should be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Obviously, the issues aren’t exclusive to ship life. “[Along] with those interactions comes a new set of excuses that are already in Lake’s comments but are also across multiple videos on this app,” points out TikTok user @culturework. “For the pictures, it’s just like, ‘Oh, they were just admiring your beauty or loved your outfit.’ For the cruise, it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s just day 3, wait until they get to know you, you have 9 months.’ No! How about that girl gets to enjoy her trip without having to build anti-racist defective strategies as part of it.”

Is that too much to ask? 

In our contemporary era, numerous diversity officers, departments, and organizations exist to guide companies in ensuring inclusivity and working against micro- and macro-aggressive tones and behaviors. For an endeavor as extensive as a nine-month cruise, it’s essential to have established protocols in place to ensure that all guests are treated with respect and equality, particularly by the crew members. (In fact, how about including a braider among the ship’s salon services?)

Since the incident, Lake — who previously posted that she’d taken a break from corporate life to “[prioritize] self-care and quality time with loved ones” and is traveling with her sister Shannon Marie (also documenting her experience via TikTok) and their parents — has been contacted by a staff member. 

“I think (TikTok users who watched the post) were tagging Royal Caribbean like, ‘You need to fix this,'” Brandee Lake told “They did at least take the time to come to me and you know, ask how everything’s going now.”

As reported by NBC News, Lake has since praised the staff and passengers for being “so friendly, so kind, [and having] so much energy.” Royal Caribbean could not immediately be reached for comment, as their offices are closed during this holiday week, but along with TikTok, theGrio will anticipate additional updates regarding the overall #ultimateworldcruise experience.

Noel Cymone Walker is an NYC-based writer specializing in beauty, fashion, music, travel, and cultural anthropology. She has written and produced visuals for several notable publications such as The Recording Academy/The Grammys, The Fader, Billboard, OkayPlayer, Marie Claire, Glamour, Allure, Essence, Ebony, and more.

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