Cruise lines have long provided additional perks to certain guests that are not offered to other guests. Guests staying in suites usually receive additional services and amenities. Along the same lines , guests in the upper levels of the cruise line's loyalty program often receive exclusive perks. Now, Royal Caribbean has created a program in which any guest, no matter what the cabin category or how many times the guest has sailed with the line, can receive a set of premium perks.
The name of the program is The Key. While it does not give you all of the perks of a suites guest or of a guest who has sailed with Royal multiple times, it does give you a taste of what it is like to be part of a special elite group. To test it out, I purchased the Key for a cruise on Royal's Quantum-class ship Anthem of the Seas.
Purchasing the Key program was easy. After I booked the cruise, I went to the Royal Caribbean website and clicked on “Already Booked”. It took me to the “Cruise Planner” page. After entering some information about the booking, it took me to a page that showed various extras that passengers could buy for the cruise such as shore excursions and specialty restaurant reservations. One of the things available to purchase was the Key.
Unlike shore excursions and specialty restaurant dinners, however, you can only purchase the Key online before the cruise. You cannot purchase it onboard once the cruise has started.
The price for the Key is set forth as a per day rate. To find out the total cost, you multiply the per day rate times the number of days of the cruise. Each passenger staying in the cabin who is older than six years must purchase the program. Thus, if two adults are traveling in the same cabin, both must purchase the Key.
Just like purchasing a shore excursion online, you use a credit card to pay for the Key. If you have an onboard credit (“OBC”), you can have that applied to your purchase.
Royal then sends you a confirmation of your purchase by e-mail. In addition, a small key symbol appears on your boarding pass. Therefore, you should print your boarding pass after you purchase the Key.
The reason you need to have the key symbol on your boarding pass is to be able to show it to the staff at the cruise terminal when you are embarking on the cruise. For my cruise, guests had to go through security prior to checking in. There were two lines. One line was for guests who were staying in certain suites, were Pinnacle level members of the Crown & Anchor loyalty program or who were Key guests. The other line was for everybody else. While both lines moved swiftly, it is not rocket science to figure out which line was preferable.
After going through security, guests had to check-in. Here, there was more differentiation with certain counters dedicated to guests who were Diamond Plus and Diamond level members of the Crown & Anchor Society. However, the counters dedicated to suites, Pinnacle and Key guests seemed to move faster.
A woman holding a paddle marked “Key” was standing just beyond the entrance to the ship. After I identified myself as a Key guest, she escorted me down to one of the main dining rooms. There, just outside the door, was a table with a number of staff. They gave me an envelope containing a letter and the key card for my stateroom. On the card was a Key symbol.
The staff also offered to take my carry-on baggage up to my stateroom. As I had breakable items and valuables in my carry-on, I declined this offer.
Anthem has four main dining rooms and on this day, the Grande was reserved for a welcome lunch for Key guests. This was an attractive aspect of the Key program for two reasons.
First, on most ships, boarding begins before the staterooms are ready to be occupied. Consequently, guests have to amuse themselves in the public areas until the staterooms are ready. It is not the most enjoyable part of the cruise experience. As a Key guest, I was able to relax in a quiet, uncrowded place and have lunch.
Second, this is a premium meal. (See menu). The menu is taken from Royal Caribbean's flagship specialty restaurant Chops Grille. I had an excellent three course meal with a filet mignon main course. By the time it was over, the staterooms were ready and I proceeded directly up to my cabin.
A letter outlining some of the perks that Key guests have while onboard was waiting in my stateroom.
One perk that I thought would be very useful was priority departure in the ports of call. There can be a long wait to leave some ships, particularly when a ship is tendering.
o enable Key guests to skip such waits, staff members would be available in the Boleros lounge during certain hours to escort Key guests directly to the exits.
As it turned out, this was not as useful as I had anticipated. The departure process on Anthem was so efficient that all guests were able to exit pretty much at will. Thus, even in the one tender port that was included in the itinerary, there was no line to skip. For a ship that carries over 4,000 guests, this was quite amazing.
Key guests also are entitled to priority with regard to the production shows and various entertainment features such as the North Star. There is a VIP seating section for the shows and private hours for the entertainment features. However, you must make advance reservations to participate.
I have been a frequent cruiser on Anthem and so I have seen the shows and done the entertainment features that are of interest to me. Thus, this perk was not that attractive to me. However, these shows and the entertainment features are quite popular and so if I were sailing on Anthem for the first time, this would be quite useful.
One onboard perk that I found very valuable was the internet package that is included in the Key program. Key guests are entitled to the “Surf and Stream” package for one device for the entire voyage. Anthem has a very good internet connection and so I was able not just to check e-mails but to do some work while aboard as well as to stream movies.
There are also perks for Key guests on disembarkation. One perk that does not receive much attention in the literature about the Key program is the special breakfast on disembarkation day. One of the four main dining rooms (Silk) was reserved for Key guests for this meal. The menu was not the general menu being served in the neighboring dining room but a special premium menu. It was an excellent meal with very good service. (See menu).
When a guest is ready to leave the ship, he or she can go down to Boleros where a staff member will escort them off the ship. Once again, Key guests are able to skip the line. This can be a real time saver and exasperation preventer on most ships. However, once again Anthem's efficiency caused the general disembarkation to move quite quickly and so the Key advantage was not as great as it might be on some other ship.
Overall, I was impressed by the Key program. It provided a number of special experiences and the price was not unreasonable.
Above: A Key welcome lunch.
Below: A Key farewell breakfast.
Cruise ship article - - Royal Caribbean - -The Key