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Counterpoint: why we love The Key

In:
29 Nov 2021

Is The Key worth it? Matt recently did an updated review of The Key, in our post-Covid cruising world. From his perspective, The Key is not worth it.

However, I’d like to present a counter argument, as Mr. Mills and I love The Key, and have purchased it on every cruise since it debuted!

Early Arrival

Royal Caribbean offering guest expedited arrival options to speed up check-in process | Royal Caribbean Blog

The first benefit is the early arrival, and we take full advantage of that.

We always fly in the night before, since we live in the Midwest, where weather is unpredictable. Since we can’t stay at our lodgings past morning anyway, we want to get on the ship as early as possible. With The Key, we are usually some of the first people on board.

This was especially helpful when, on our latest cruise, Symphony of the Seas, the check in lines were atrocious. We were on board by 11:15, but the regular guests stood in line for hours, as no one was paying attention to the assigned times. From what we heard later, it was one of the worst check-ins our fellow cruisers had experienced. We were very glad to not have to go through that!

Embarkation day lunch

Spotted: Chops Grille lunch on Harmony of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

We also love the Chops Grille lunch in the Main Dining Room. Sure, there are other options, like the Windjammer and Park Cafe, but they are always so crowded

That sit down lunch, after a whirlwind of travel, gives us a chance to breathe and relax before moving on with the rest of our embarkation day to-do list.

And with only one exception, our room is always ready with luggage at the door when we are finished! That’s the only reason we don’t take advantage of the carry-on luggage drop off. We haven’t needed it yet!

Room service

Navigator of the Seas Live Blog - Day 2 - Ensenada | Royal Caribbean Blog

This most recent cruise was the first time we’ve taken advantage of the free room service, but it certainly won’t be the last. Like Matt, we’ve always been Windjammer folks in the morning--Mr. Mills is an early riser for his workouts, so we’d just get our own breakfast before whatever activity was planned for the day. But, since tables were tough to find this time, that room service came in handy!

And, it was so easy (as long as we remembered to put the request out the night before). I recommend the blueberry pancakes.

Disembarkation

10 things to know about Sky Class suites on Royal Caribbean | Royal Caribbean Blog

The debarkation breakfast is nice for similar reasons to the Chops Grille lunch.

We can take our time in the morning, have one final relaxing meal before we are evicted, and we don’t have to stress about what order we are getting off the ship. Our luggage is also placed in one special Key area, so no hunting for our baggage. Just grab and go, straight through security.

Other benefits

10 free activities on Symphony of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

One more benefit that we took advantage of this trip, was the added 25% off specialty dining.

This was originally added because the Chops lunch had been taken away due to Covid protocols. It was added back to our sailing, but they kept the 25% off too! I hope they keep that on the list for future Key benefits, as it was nice to get a little extra off of dinner. 

I will agree with Matt about the reserved seats for shows--there really aren’t any bad seats in the house, and having to show up so early kind of takes away the point. We aren’t big FlowRiders or Rock Climbers, either, so we haven’t taken advantage of those benefits. 

The Key | Royal Caribbean Blog

Since we aren’t top tier members yet, and we don’t stay in suites, we find that The Key just makes some things easier for us during the cruise.

We are going to pay for the internet anyway, so for the two of us, it isn’t much more expensive to upgrade.

Having The Key takes a lot of anxiety and stress away at the beginning and end of the cruise, especially, and for us, that makes the additional cost well worth it!

Royal Caribbean’s The Key review

In:
22 Nov 2021

Royal Caribbean's VIP-access program, The Key, is being offered again on cruise ships and you might be wondering if it's worth it.

The Key advertises as offering guests that purchase special perks and access while onboard that would otherwise not be available to them.

Internet access, early check-in, special times at signature attractions and more are included with The Key.

Does this extra cost amenity make sense to get for your family? I tried The Key out again on an Odyssey of the Seas cruise in 2021 to get a sense of what to expect for anyone sailing in 2022 and beyond.

What is The Key?

The Key is an optional add-on anyone can purchase for their Royal Caribbean cruise that includes special access and perks.

Think of it like a way to pay extra to get VIP treatment, faster access, or otherwise nice to have extras.

Royal Caribbean offered The Key for a few years, but then suspended it as cruise ships began restart in 2021.  The cruise line has brought back The Key for sailings, albeit with some notable changes.

Guests need to purchase The Key before the cruise begins on Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner website.

Here is a list of the benefits you get with The Key:

  • Early access at the terminal.
  • Drop off your carry-on luggage in the Main Dining Room on Deck 3 by 2:00 PM - your carry-on luggage will be hand delivered to your stateroom.
  • Exclusive welcome lunch in the Main Dining Room featuring the Chops Grille menu (open from 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM). Royal Caribbean recommends arriving to the terminal no later than 11:30 AM for you to have enough time to enjoy lunch with us!
  • Complimentary room service for your entire cruise, along with 25% off all onboard dining purchases
  • Private time at some of our onboard activities such as rock climbing, FlowRider, etc.
  • Priority departure from ship-to-shore at tender ports.
  • Early access at shows in the Main Theater on Deck 4, however a reservation is needed so don't forget to book once you're onboard.
  • VOOM Surf & Stream package, now including high speed internet, for one device (1 package per guest).
  • On debarkation day, enjoy a private á la carte breakfast and choice departure.

The early check-in is between 11:00 AM - 11:30 AM. If guests are not able to make the early access window, Royal Caribbean says they should arrive within their appointment time and will receive priority access into the terminal.

A full list of benefits will be given to you once you board the ship with ship-specific benefits.

How much is The Key?

The price of The Key varies, and starts at $25.99 per day, per person, although there can be discounts available to bring that price down.

All guests over the age of 6 in the same room must purchase The Key.

When you get to the cruise terminal, and subsequently onboard the ship, there will be special signs to indicate where guests with The Key can go.  In addition, your SeaPass card will have a special sticker to easily identify yourself as having The Key.

Is The Key worth it?

Here's what 'The Key' is (and why some cruisers like it) | Royal Caribbean Blog

The Key certainly sounds like a good investment for a lot of cruises, especially those new to Royal Caribbean, because it offers benefits and access that might not otherwise be available to them at all.

In my experience, I found the benefits sound a lot better on the surface than they really are.

The things I haven't done on a Royal Caribbean cruise yet | Royal Caribbean Blog

Many benefits can be obtained in a different way, but without having to spend extra for it. Or the benefits are simply not as lucrative as it sounds. Here are some examples:

  • Getting an early check-in time is easy (and free) if you just watch the Royal Caribbean app for when check-in windows will become available to book, and then book a time as soon as possible.
  • Welcome lunch with Chops Grille menu can be bought separately at the restaurant or at a different restaurant.  Dining packages offer a good discount on how much lunch will cost.
  • Private time at onboard activities tends to be very few (just two times on our Odyssey of the Seas cruise), and at less than ideal times.
  • Reservations for shows can be made on your own via the Royal Caribbean app

The only perk that is truly unobtainable on your own is the ability to drop off your carry-on luggage on embarkation day.  Of course, this benefit lasts just 2 hours on the first day of the cruise, so the value is quite limited.

Spotted: Royal Caribbean brings back early check-in and welcome lunch to The Key | Royal Caribbean Blog

Unfortunately, the private times at attractions were limited and at inconvenient times.  A 9am Flowrider time and a 4pm rock wall session are both times of the day where competition for these venues is less to begin with.

I would also argue both attractions on Odyssey of the Seas with special times for guests with The Key have a limited appeal than other activities where it would be far more useful. 

Free room service is indeed a very nice benefit, but I question how often anyone will order room service to truly take advantage of it.  Breakfast room service is likely the most beneficial time to use room service, but there are so many easy grab and go breakfast options that I think in general, the idea of having room service is better than the actual thing.

The priority for tendering is largely useless since Royal Caribbean ships rarely ever tender, thanks to more and more ports having piers.

Royal Caribbean announces entertainment for Spectrum of the Seas | Royal Caribbean Blog

The Key could be better in certain situations, such as when sailing on Oasis or Quantum Class ships, which have more entertainment venues where the Key can help with seating.  Then again, Royal Caribbean wants you to arrive 45 minutes early to the theater, which seems to negate the point of having a reserved seat, in my opinion. That is a very long time to wait for a show.

While the check-in time advantage could be helpful to ensure you are among the first to board, Royal Caribbean says if you miss the 30 minute window of arrival right at the beginning, you will not be able to use this benefit.

The Key includes Voom Surf and Stream access for each person, which arguably makes up the bulk of the daily cost. Internet access on Royal Caribbean is not cheap, and if you were already going to buy a wifi package, sometimes the additional cost to get The Key is not much more. Other times, it is notably higher. In addition, with multi-device internet plans, the Key doesn't scale to families or larger groups if internet is always purchased. 

Voom | Royal Caribbean Blog

The Key may be a good choice for someone who is going to buy internet access no matter what, and is sailing on a ship with a lot of shows they want to see.

But having tried The Key before and after the cruise industry shutdown of 2020/2021, I do not think it is worthwhile for most people simply because the benefits look better on paper than they are in practice.

If you are Diamond or higher in Royal Caribbean's Crown and Anchor Society and/or a suite guest, some benefits overlap with The Key, further reducing The Key's value.

Don't forget you have to buy The Key for all guests in the room over the age of 6, whether they will use all the benefits or not.

I think with a little bit of footwork, you can get similar results on your own and save money on your cruise vacation. Skip The Key, and instead focus on how to get an early check-in time, buy a dining package, pre-purchase wifi, and I think you will find yourself still having a great time onboard.

Spotted: Royal Caribbean brings back early check-in and welcome lunch to The Key

In:
28 Oct 2021

Royal Caribbean is bringing back some of the perks it had previously altered for its VIP treatment program guests can purchase.

RoyalCaribbeanBlog reader, Teresa McChane, received an email from Royal Caribbean before her Freedom of the Seas cruise this coming weekend with a look at her benefits for purchasing The Key, and there are two notable changes.

First and foremost, the option for early check-in at the cruise terminal has returned.

According to the email, guests who bought The Key can arrive to the cruise terminal between 11:00am - 11:30am instead of at the appointment time they received after checking in for their cruise online.

If passengers that purchased The Key are not able to make the early access window, they should arrive within their appointment time and will receive priority access into the terminal.

There will be a signage for guests who bought The Key at the cruise terminal so they can get their priority access.

In addition, the embarkation day meal is back in the Main Dining Room, which features a welcome lunch provided by Chops Grille.

The embarkation day lunch is available between 12:00pm - 1:30pm.

Finally, Royal Caribbean has also brought back the private debarkation á la carte breakfast, replacing the "grab and go" breakfast option.

A few weeks ago, Royal Caribbean brought back The Key to its ships, but with more restrictive changes than what is shown for this upcoming sailing.

Instead of true early access, guests still had to arrive at their booked arrival time.

Royal Caribbean had also swapped the embarkation day welcome lunch in the main dining room for complimentary room service for the duration of the cruise and 25% off onboard dining purchases.

The complimentary room service  and 25% off onboard dining purchases benefit still remains, even with the welcome aboard lunch offered again.

The price of The Key varies, and starts at $25.99 per day, per person, although there can be discounts available to bring that price down.

All guests over the age of 6 in the same room must purchase The Key.

Royal Caribbean changes benefits of The Key on its cruise ships

In:
08 Oct 2021

Royal Caribbean's priority access program that anyone can buy, The Key, is coming back, and already many guests are reporting changes to the program on various ships.

Is Royal Caribbean's The Key worth it? | Royal Caribbean Blog

Last week, RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com reported on changes to The Key on Symphony of the Seas, and those same changes are being done on many other ships in the coming weeks.

RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com readers have reported getting emails from the cruise line informing them of new policy changes to The Key, primarily a result of Covid-19 protocols.

The Key is an optional add-on you can purchase to get VIP treatment in certain situations onboard Royal Caribbean cruise ships.

Emails sent to guests that purchased The Key list the same changes as a result of Royal Caribbean's need to maintain healthy protocols onboard.

Here is a list of the changes to the program:

  • Priority access in the terminal (within booked arrival time) on Day 1
    • Priority access will not be offered in Vancouver, Canada or any Australia ports
  • Carry-on luggage drop-off in the Main Dining Room with stateroom delivery
    • Carry-on luggage is limited to two pieces per guest cannot weigh more than 25 pounds per carry-on.
  • Complimentary room service for the duration of the cruise and 25% off onboard dining purchases
  • Private time at onboard activities including Rock Climbing, FlowRider and more
  • Priority departure at tender ports of call from ship-to-shore
  • Early access at shows in the Main theater, Aqua Theater, Studio B, and Two70 (all guests must have a reservation to qualify)
  • VOOM Surf & Stream 1-Device high speed internet — 1 package per paying guest
  • On debarkation day, a special "grab and go" breakfast bag and choice departure 

Here's what 'The Key' is (and why some cruisers like it) | Royal Caribbean Blog

The changes to The Key began with Symphony of the Seas on the October 2 sailing, and will fleetwide (excluding China sailings) as Royal Caribbean begins to roll out the changes across the ships.

The price of The Key varies, and starts at $25.99 per day, per person, although there can be discounts available to bring that price down.

All guests over the age of 6 in the same room must purchase The Key.

Guest reaction

Is Royal Caribbean's The Key worth it? | Royal Caribbean Blog

Over at the Royal Caribbean Information Facebook page, there were plenty of comments about the changes.

Most of the comments seemed to be in favor of the changes.

Melanie Harris simply said, "I really like the changes, glad we have it."

Erin Berton Baker added, "If that is permanent I’d seriously consider. Love the free room service!"

Susan Christmas bought The Key after reading about the changes, "I think it's better. After I saw this post, I went and booked it."

Yvonne P. Dumont did not like the change to the boarding day lunch, "I’m disappointed about the amazing lunch not offered anymore on boarding day anymore."

Spotted: The Key will restart being offered on Symphony of the Seas

In:
01 Oct 2021

It looks like Royal Caribbean may start offering guests the opportunity to use The Key priority access program again.

Best things to do on Royal Caribbean while there is limited capacity onboard | Royal Caribbean Blog

The Key is an optional add-on guests can purchase to get them select VIP benefits.

An email sent to guests who have The Key booked on Symphony of the Seas next week have an update that lists some of the changes to expect to the program, at least in the interim.

RoyalCaribbeanBlog reader DanielB shared the email that lists the changes Royal Caribbean has planned for someone who purchases The Key on their ship.

  • Enjoy priority access at the terminal within your arrival time. 
  • Drop off your carry-on luggage in the Main Dining Room on Deck 3 by 2:00 PM - your carry-on luggage will be hand delivered to your stateroom. 
  • Instead of a complimentary embarkation lunch, we'll provide you with complimentary room service for your entire cruise, along with 25% off all onboard dining purchases! 
  • Enjoy exclusive time at some of our onboard activities such as rock climbing, FlowRider, etc. 
  • Priority departure from ship-to-shore at tender ports. 
  • Take advantage of early access at shows in the Main Theater, however a reservation is needed so don't forget to book in advance! 
  • Enjoy our VOOM Surf & Stream package, now including high speed internet, for one device (1 package per guest). 
  • On debarkation day, along with choice departure, you'll now have a special "grab and go" bag that includes goodies to enjoy as you may your way back home. 

It sounds as though guests who purchased The Key will still have to adhere to their check-in time selected via the Royal Caribbean app, but will have the chance to board quicker than others in that same time slot.

Read moreHere’s what ‘The Key’ is (and why some cruisers like it)

It is not clear if this arrangement of benefits will be offered on other ships yet.

The price of The Key varies, and starts at $25.99 per day, per person, although there can be discounts available to bring that price down.

All guests over the age of 6 in the same room must purchase The Key.

Here’s what ‘The Key’ is (and why some cruisers like it)

In:
07 Dec 2020

If you have a Royal Caribbean cruise booked, then you probably have logged into the Cruise Planner website to peruse the different things you can pre-purchase for the cruise. There are drink packages, shore excursions, and something that promises to save you lots of time, called The Key.

The Key was introduced in 2018 and it is essentially a way to pay to get priority access to select services and benefits. It is a way for a cruise guest to pay to get VIP treatment onboard and save some time.

Since its inception, a lot of people have wondered if The Key is worth the price, and if it is as good as it sounds. Essentially, does paying extra get you enough to justify the price?

What is The Key?

The Key is a an optional program that you can purchase for your family to enjoy exclusive benefits and priority access on your cruise.

There is a daily fee that you have to pay for you and everyone in your stateroom above the age of 5 that can make the entire cruise experience a little bit easier by saving you time waiting later.

The appeal is you can book a cabin that is not a suite, but still get VIP benefits that give you an edge over other guests.

After you purchase it, your SeaPass card will have a sticker on it to indicate to other crew members you are entitled to its benefits.

What are the benefits of The Key?

Included in the daily cost of The Key are these opportunities:

  • Priority check-in and boarding on Day 1 
  • Carry-on bag drop off in the Main Dining Room with stateroom delivery
  • Exclusive welcome lunch in the Main Dining Room with a delicious menu featuring Chops Grille on embarkation day
  • Private hours at onboard activities, such as Rock Climbing, FlowRider and more
  • Priority departure at ports of call from ship-to-shore
  • Seats in the exclusive VIP seating section at shows in the Main theater, Aqua Theater, Studio B, and Two70
  • VOOM Surf & Stream 1 Device high speed internet – 1 package per paying guest
  • On debarkation day, an exclusive a la carte breakfast and choice departure

There are a few limitations to some of the benefits:

  • Priority check-in and boarding will not be offered in Vancouver, Canada or at any ports in Australia.
  • Carry-on luggage drop-off service is limited to two pieces per guest and can weigh no more than 25 pounds per carry-on.
  • Onboard activities included in private hours vary by ship and sailing. Private hour schedule will be delivered onboard with welcome letter on Day 1.

You should also know that the VIP seating for The Key may not be exactly where you prefer to sit in the theater, and private hours for onboard activities are limited opportunities that may or may not work with your schedule.

How much does The Key cost?

Just like the drink packages, the cost of the Key depends on your sailing.

The price can range between $19.99 to $29.99 to even as much as $37.99 per person, per day. You must purchase it for everyone who is at least six years old in your stateroom.

The Key must be purchased before the cruise begins on Royal Caribbean's website and cannot be purchased on the cruise ship.

Furthermore, it is a limited quantity option, which means it could sell out if enough people choose to buy it.

Should you buy The Key?

Cruise fans have varying opinions of if The Key is worth the money or not, because it boils down to the extra costs and how much you value the added benefits.

If you are already booked in a suite, there are too many benefits that are shared between Royal Caribbean's suites and The Key to make the program beneficial.

Likewise, if you are at least Diamond in the Crown and Anchor Society customer loyalty program, you get a few of these benefits for no additional cost, so you can skip The Key as well.

The appeal of the Key is for people that answer yes to these important considerations:

  • You are going to purchase onboard internet for everyone in your stateroom anyway. The daily cost of WiFi access is a big part of The Key cost, and if you subtract the cost of WiFi from The Key, you are left with a few extra dollars per day for the added benefits.
  • You hate waiting in lines. No one likes waiting in lines, but some people absolutely cannot stand it and paying extra to bypass lines is worth every penny. If this describes someone in your family, then The Key delivers on that promise.
  • You want to try a lot of the signature activities. If you definitely want to go up the Rock Climbing wall, or bounce on the Sky Pad, then the benefits of the Key can save a lot of time during your cruise (especially on longer sailings).

Ultimately, The Key is an option to buy into exclusive access, but the daily cost may be too much for some to spend.

If you have the money for it, and you really want to get a VIP treatment, then The Key can make a lot of sense.

Video: Why you don't need to buy Royal Caribbean's The Key

In:
21 Jan 2020

Does Royal Caribbean's The Key program sound like a great way to get extra benefits and perks? 

While it may sound like a good idea, our newest video looks at why the perks are not as great as it seems, and how to get similar benefits without the extra cost!

And if you love this video, we have lots of other great cruise videos to watch on our Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube Channel!

By the way, have you subscribed yet? Be sure to subscribe to our channel and never miss a single video!

So check out the video and then let us know: Do you think The Key is worth the cost? Which benefits stand out as the best? Let us know in the comments!

Reader finds: Update to The Key, Enchantment of the Seas propulsion issues and more

In:
27 Aug 2019

Our community of readers share news and changes with us all the time, we have a new lot of reader finds to share this week.

Enchantment of the Seas propulsion issue

Some guests with an upcoming Enchantment of the Seas cruise planned received an email from Royal Caribbean informing them, "to maintain a safe and comfortable journey, we must lower our maximum speed due to a technical limitation with one of the ship's propulsion pods."

The Key embarkation day lunch venue change

We have received numerous reports similar to this, where the embarkation day lunch perk that comes as part of The Key has moved from Chops Grille to the Main Dining Room. In fact, Timothy Krietemeyer spotted that Royal Caribbean has updated its website to list the venue change.

Despite the change in location, food from Chops Grille is still served to guests.  Moving to the main dining room allows for more efficient service, while still offering the Chops Grille menu.

New screens added to Allure of the Seas AquaTheater

A reader who did not share their name snapped this photo of new video screens added to the AquaTheater on Allure of the Seas.

Got at tip for us?

If you noticed something new or different on your Royal Caribbean cruise, you can always share it with us by emailing it over!

Spotted: Fast Track priority boarding

In:
31 Jul 2019

Guests sailing on Symphony of the Seas this week noticed a new option to allow select guests faster boarding back onboard their Royal Caribbean ship.

Known as Fast Track, the program is available in the ports of call the ship visits and allows for expedited boarding for guests who are in any of these groups:

  • Star and Sky Class Guests
  • Pinnacle Members in Crown and Anchor Society
  • The Key guests
  • Assistance Needs
  • Families with infant strollers

RoyalCaribbeanBlog reader Lovetocruise2002 spotted this on the current Symphony of the Seas sailing.

Fast Track was advertised in the Concierge Lounge on Symphony of the Seas, as well as on the front page of the Cruise Compass.

Video: Is Royal Caribbean's The Key worth it?

In:
02 Apr 2019

We have a RoyalCaribbeanBlog video today, discussing the merits of if The Key program is worth the money!

The Key offers guests premier access to unique experiences and special amenities during your vacation.  It includes a welcome lunch at Chops Grille, Jamie’s Italian or Giovanni’s Table; private hours at onboard activities like the Flowrider, Rock Climbing Wall; access to VIP seating section at shows and more.

Of course, The Key comes with a daily cost and we are discussing if The Key is worth it for your family to buy in our latest video!

If you love this video, we have lots of other great cruise videos to watch on our Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube Channel!

By the way, have you subscribed yet? Be sure to subscribe to our channel and never miss a single episode!

So check out the video and then let us know: What is your best advice for someone planning a Royal Caribbean cruise?

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