Is Royal Caribbean’s ‘The Key’ Worth Your Money? My Review

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I’ll never forget the look from fellow passengers as I breezed past the long boarding queue on my last Royal Caribbean cruise. That’s the magic of ‘The Key’ – Royal Caribbean’s programme designed to enhance your cruise experience. But here’s the question: Is ‘The Key’ actually worth it?

The Brilliance of the Seas cruise ship, a part of the Royal Caribbean fleet, glides across calm ocean waters under a clear blue sky, reflecting the sunlight off its many windows and balconies.

As someone who’s spent countless days cruising, I’ve got a pretty good handle on what makes a cruise experience special. So, let’s go into the details of ‘The Key’. I’ll share its perks, weigh up the costs, and I’ll share my opinion on whether this VIP treatment is a cruise game-changer or just an overpriced pass.

This is What ‘The Key’ Is

‘The Key’ is a programme offered by Royal Caribbean that promises to enhance the cruising experience through various benefits. It is designed to provide guests with added convenience and a sense of exclusivity during their cruise. 

Your SeaPass card will display a key symbol in the bottom right corner to signify your status as a Key holder.

The programme includes several features that aim to elevate the overall cruise experience.

Benefits of The Key

Guests who opt for ‘The Key’ will enjoy a range of benefits during their cruise, including:

  • Priority Access: Guests have priority during the designated arrival time for embarkation, which is communicated via email. This also extends to priority departure at tender ports of call.
  • Carry-On Bag Drop-Off: This service includes delivery of carry-on bags directly to the guest’s stateroom (two pieces per guest and can weigh no more than 25 pounds per carry-on).
  • Welcome Lunch: On the first day, guests can enjoy a welcome lunch in the Main Dining Room featuring a signature menu from The Key (12-1.30 pm).
  • Activity Access: There’s access to a fast lane for onboard activities (which vary by ship) and private time at certain attractions like the Flowrider.
  • Dedicated Seating at Shows: This includes shows in the Main Theater, Aqua Theater, Studio B, and Two70.
  • VOOM® Surf & Stream Internet: One high-speed internet package per person who purchases The Key.
  • Exclusive Breakfast and Departure: On the debarkation day, guests enjoy an exclusive à la carte breakfast and choice departure.

Cost of The Key

The price of The Key varies, starting at $25.99 per day per person. Discounts may occasionally be available. However, I’ve seen the price as high as $35 per day. 

It’s important to note that if one guest in a room wants to purchase The Key, all other guests over the age of 6 staying in the same stateroom must purchase The Key.

Only a Select Number of Passengers Can Buy the Key

The number of guests permitted to purchase The Key on Royal Caribbean varies and is not unlimited. Each cruise has a set limit, ensuring that not every guest can access it. Consider the logistical challenge of managing numerous carry-on bags if it was open to all!

The availability of The Key depends on factors such as the ship’s capacity and the specific journey’s itinerary.

Important Note: The Key programme does reach its capacity on Royal Caribbean cruises. The number of passes is limited, ensuring that the benefits of The Key remain manageable. Should it be fully booked, you’ll find yourself unable to add it to your cruise booking.

If you’re keen on having The Key, booking it as early as possible is advisable. Access the Cruise Planner immediately after booking your cruise. Be prepared to pay for it upfront.

For those booking a cruise at the last minute, there’s a chance that The Key may already be sold out, even before you have the opportunity to purchase it.

Is ‘The Key’ Worth It?

Opinions are decidedly mixed when determining if ‘The Key’ is worth it on Royal Caribbean. Some guests feel it’s too expensive for the benefits provided, suggesting it’s more appealing in theory than in practice. 

Others, however, find value in the convenience and exclusivity it offers. A cost-benefit analysis by a guest revealed that for two people, the total cost of ‘The Key’ was $349, contrasting with $236 for a two-device internet package, making the additional benefits seem reasonably priced.

Unpacking the Value

1. Priority and Convenience: ‘The Key’ kicks off with a flourish, offering priority check-in that lets you skip the long queues. This not only saves time but also starts your holiday on a relaxed note. Once onboard, the convenience of having your carry-on bags directly delivered to your stateroom cannot be overstated – it’s a relief not to lug around heavy bags while exploring the ship.

2. Exclusive Experiences: The welcome lunch from the Chops Grille menu in the Main Dining Room is a delightful touch, offering a taste of luxury from the get-go. For those who relish onboard entertainment, the VIP seating at shows ensures a premium experience without the hassle of securing a good seat.

3. Internet Access: A major chunk of ‘The Key’s’ appeal lies in the inclusion of the VOOM Surf & Stream internet package. For guests who plan on staying digitally connected, this inclusion could justify the cost of ‘The Key’ by itself, considering the standalone price of the internet package.

4. Activities and Departures: The private hours at popular activities like the FlowRider and rock climbing wall are a boon for adventure enthusiasts. The priority tender service at select ports and a tranquil, exclusive breakfast on the final day adds an extra layer of comfort to your cruise.

Weighing the Costs

The programme, however, is not without its drawbacks. The most significant is the cost – if one person in a stateroom opts for ‘The Key’, all guests over the age of 6 in the same room must also purchase it. This can make it an expensive addition for families. 

Moreover, the value of ‘The Key’ can be diminished for guests who are already entitled to similar perks through the Crown and Anchor loyalty program or suite bookings.

My Experience with ‘The Key’

A woman in a black dress and sunglasses stands on the deck of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, holding a wine glass and smiling, with the multi-storied ship's exterior and clear blue sky in the background.

As a regular cruiser, my curiosity about ‘The Key’ led me to try it out on my last Royal Caribbean cruise. 

The immediate difference was noticeable from the moment I stepped onto the ship. Priority check-in was a breeze, and the convenience of having my carry-on bag taken care of was a pleasant start to the journey. 

The welcome lunch offered was a great start to the trip. However, I found that some of the benefits, such as the priority seating at shows and private activity hours, were less impactful, mainly due to my preference for exploring at my own pace.

Feedback from Other Cruisers

I have also had a look at reviews across social media and forums. Feedback from other cruisers paints a varied picture:

  1. Positive Responses: Many appreciate ‘The Key’ for its ability to smooth out some of the common pain points of cruising, such as long waits during embarkation or for activities. For first-time cruisers or those who value convenience highly, ‘The Key’ has been a game-changer.
  2. Mixed Reviews: Some guests feel that while the program sounds appealing on paper, the benefits are not as substantial in practice. For instance, the private time for onboard activities is often limited and scheduled at less convenient times. The priority for tendering is also seen as a minimal benefit, given the rarity of tendering on many itineraries.
  3. Cost Considerations: A common thread in the feedback is the consideration of cost versus value. While some find the price justifiable for the perks offered, others believe the cost is too high for what is essentially a convenience package.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, opting for ‘The Key’ can substantially elevate the cruising experience for those who value convenience and exclusive perks. However, its value greatly depends on your cruising preferences. If you enjoy hassle-free experiences, dislike queuing, and seek an added layer of luxury in your journey, ‘The Key’ might be transformative. Conversely, the cost may outweigh the benefits for budget-conscious travellers or those who don’t mind the occasional wait.

Deciding to purchase The Key is a personal choice. It might not be cost-effective if you had no intention of buying the VOOM internet package, as the additional benefits may not justify the expense, particularly for groups larger than two.

If internet access is important to you, then The Key could be a more advantageous choice than just the WiFi package. Yet, it’s crucial to consider how much you’ll utilise the offered benefits.

Also, consider your preferences: does carrying luggage onboard bother you? Do you dislike queuing for meals on the first and last days? These might be minor inconveniences for many.

However, if you’re enthusiastic about live theatre shows or eager to make the most of activities like the FlowRider, then The Key can significantly streamline your experience.

There’s no definitive answer – it’s essential to reflect on these aspects before investing in The Key.

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I'm Hannah and I've been cruising for as long as I can remember.

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