Is it worth the money? Royal Caribbean’s Key Program

This morning we finished our cruise- the Harmony of the Seas- at Port Canaveral. Since the topic is fresh, I wanted to quickly share the run down on our experience with Royal Caribbean’s Key Program. We decided to take a chance and invest in this experience. Here’s the question: would we do it again and was the experience worth the extra cost?  Overall, my response would be- we would not sign-up again and the benefits aren’t really worth it when you look at the big picture.

For $24.99 per day, RCI offers their Key program guests:

  • Priority check-in and boarding
  • Exclusive carry-on luggage service with stateroom delivery
  • Private lunch at Chops Grille®, Jamie’s Italian, or Giovanni’s Table on embarkation day
  • Private hours on marquee activities like FlowRider, Rock Climbing wall, Ripcord by iFly.
  • Priority port of call debarkation
  • VIP seating area at Main theater, Aqua Theater, Studio B, etc.
  • VOOM ® Surf & Stream (1 Device per each paying guest)
  • Priority treatment at debarkation with an exclusive a la carte breakfast

Here’s the rundown on what our experience was like:

  • Priority check-in and boarding was a decent experience, but to be honest, the wait times to board were already so short, I’m not sure it made a big difference.  With Key, we were able to be 1st in line versus 4th in line, but everyone except for suite guests, must go through the same security lines before this, so it really didn’t make a difference in the end. There’s no special line for Key guests at security.
  • We didn’t have a need to use the special carry-on privilege since we left everything with the Porter to deliver to our room later in the day. We simply had a backpack and needed access to it to swim and do other things. This is usually the case with carry-ons, so this benefit is just okay.
  • The private lunch at Chops was nice, but we boarded close to 1 p.m., so there were other lunch options and the crowds weren’t bad. I’m not sure this is a big enough benefit to pay the additional charge. It actually may have been better to invest in a special meal package and gain access to many restaurants.
  • Private access to the special marquee activities was the benefit I was most excited about, but the promise that didn’t deliver and frustrated me the most. Out of 7 days, we were given one hour assigned to four different days to try each activity privately (four hours total on the full cruise). We only used this benefit once. They also assigned us two activity times that were during our port of call times, which made it almost impossible to use this unique benefit. The lines to most activities were not too long, so I could easily forgo this benefit.
  • They only offered the Priority port of call benefit once and it wasn’t necessary, as some of the other guests made it out even faster than us. This might be a good benefit when a tender is required, but was a bit useless, almost silly to have for our cruise.
  • VIP seating wasn’t really necessary. At every show, if you arrive early enough, there are plenty of open seats. I liked the access, but I believe we could have lived without it.
  • Voom Surf and Stream- the connection was great, much better than other cruise lines, and we had a strong stream most of the time. We would have purchased this separately without the Key, as it was much needed for us to chat with our kiddos at home. However, if you aren’t going to capitalize on the other benefits here, probably not worth purchasing the Key, simply spend your money on the internet package.
  • The most frustrating and confusing part of this experience was debarkation. The letter they leave in your room is very misleading. We thought we were purchasing an easier debarkation experience, but we were muddled in the same lines as everyone else once we exited the ship. Note, there was no wait to get off the ship for any guests, only as we waited to enter the luggage area. Our luggage made it out at the same pace as the rest of the ship and we did not have access to priority lines. We decide not to do the private breakfast as we wanted to move faster to get off (wanted to self serve) and opted for the buffet. The buffet was not crazy as expected and a smooth experience.

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Overall, my advice would be to not invest in Key program for your next vacation with Royal Caribbean. It is tough to make the case on the value it will offer versus money spent, at least it is for us.

It also amazed me that every RCI employee on and off the ship had a different version of what the program was and the benefits. A few were kind, a few confused and others not very nice in their interactions with us. One very nice team member said “Every day they are re-briefing us on the Key program, what it means, and how the benefits and access have changed. It can be tough to keep up with the latest with it changing so rapidly.”

My advice to Royal Caribbean is to finishing piloting this program with guests at a lower price rate or offer it in a very targeted complementary way until you figure out what the recipe for success looks like. The experiences are so different, benefits confusing and misleading. Most importantly, your employees, especially those interacting with guests on the front lines, should be able to talk about it accurately and understand the benefits of the program with confidence. If RCI can correct some of this and re-launch the program in a more consistent way, I believe cruise goers will be happy vacationers and embrace this unique program and feel a little less like guinea pigs.

 

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