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Is Royal Caribbean’s “priority access” package worth the price? TPG experts weigh in.

Oct. 14, 2020
7 min read
Royal Caribbean pool deck
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In 2018, Royal Caribbean rolled out "The Key." It was a new "guest priority" package available to all cruisers who were willing to pay for it. The intent was to give travelers VIP or suite-style benefits while on board. It's available for a small additional cost without the need of booking the type of suite that offers similar perks.

The only other way to get some of these amenities is to earn a high status tier in Royal Caribbean's Crown & Anchor Society loyalty program. With The Key, you don't need to splurge on a suite or have Royal Caribbean status in order to get these perks. It's strictly a pay-to-play situation.

During our cruise with Royal Caribbean this past December, we decided to purchase The Key package to determine if it's really worth the price. Here's our take on this extra-fee package.

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What is The Key program?

The Key program is Royal Caribbean's initiative to give guests access to premier and exclusive cruise services and activities while on board for a small additional fee. Basically, it’s your chance to get to the fun faster and receive VIP access to certain activities.

If you’re anything like us, we have a small family and always intend to spend 95% of our time out of our room. Booking a suite on any cruise doesn't make sense for us. However, the suite amenities -- such as priority embarkation/debarkation, departure breakfast and reserved theater seating -- are pretty sweet (pun intended). Buying The Key package instead of booking a suite is an awesome way to receive some VIP benefits at a more affordable price.

What does it include?

The FlowRider aboard Allure of the Seas. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

The Key benefits are:

  • Priority check-in and boarding on embarkation day*
  • Carry-on bag drop off in the Main Dining Room with stateroom delivery**
  • Exclusive welcome lunch in the Main Dining Room with a menu featuring Chops Grille on embarkation day
  • Private hours for guests to partake in certain on board activities, such as the FlowRider and rock climbing, without a wait
  • 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 for one device with high-speed internet (one package per paying guest)
  • Exclusive a la carte breakfast on disembarkation day
  • Pick your departure time on disembarkation day

*with the exception of Vancouver, Canada and any Australian ports
**limited to two pieces of luggage per guest; each bag must weigh less than 25 pounds

How much does it cost?

So, now that you’ve got all the facts, you’re probably wondering how much these benefits cost. The per-person cost varies based on your ship and the time that you choose to purchase the package. At the time of our purchase, The Key package cost $19.99 per guest per day (that included a discount; it typically starts around $24.99) and children under age 6 do not need to purchase a Key package to partake in the benefits. Note that The Key is not offered on all Royal Caribbean ships.

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For our four-day itinerary out of Miami on Navigator of the Seas and a family of three, the total cost for our package (two adults) was around $159.

Tip: When you receive your SeaPass card on board, there will be a small sticker on the card to verify your status. Just present your SeaPass card as usual to have access to these amenities.

How can I buy the package?

You must purchase The Key package online in advance of your sailing. Once you've booked a cruise, go to Royal Caribbean's site, log in to your account and click on "Cruise Planner." The Key is not sold on board the ship.

Is it worth it?

In my opinion, this is not a one-size-fits-all package. Whether The Key package is worth it depends on the type of traveler you are.

The Key program is worth it if...

  • You plan to purchase the onboard VOOM Wi-Fi. Onboard Wi-Fi can be quite expensive. Royal Caribbean's Voom Wi-Fi starts at $13.99 per day, per device. If you were already planning to get Wi-Fi to stay connected back home, stream or use social media and you snagged The Key package for $19.99, then you receive all the additional Key program benefits for just $6 extra per day.
  • You enjoy a structured and planned cruise vacation. The Key program does allow you to skip the line by accessing attractions at a certain time per day for Key members only. However, those days and times are not flexible. If you want to take advantage of the activities, you have to be available at the specified date and time.
  • You are returning to a port that you have already explored. Unfortunately, some of The Key activities on the ship take place while the ship is in various ports of call. For example: If you have traveled to Nassau, Bahamas, before and are willing to stay on board during that port of call, this could be the perfect time to take advantage of some onboard opportunities -- like testing out the FlowRider or going rock climbing with basically no wait.

The Key program package is not worth it if...

A Royal Loft Suite on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)
  • You are staying in a suite. Royal Caribbean's suite accommodations include a variety of VIP perks, some of which overlap with The Key. If you're in a suite, you don't need to pay extra for this package too.
  • You don’t plan to take advantage of its offerings. During our trip, we did not take advantage of some of the benefits we paid for. Due to time constraints, we missed our special boarding day lunch. For us, that was one of the most important perks because boarding day is always busy for the buffet, which is where most other passengers end up for the midday meal. If you don’t take advantage of at least three Key benefits, this package may not be economical.
  • You are traveling during off-peak dates. One of the best benefits of The Key program is designated seating for shows and activities. However, in general, there is more than enough seating for everyone -- especially if you choose to view a show during dinnertime or early in the day. We found that designated seating was not necessary and we got some pretty great seats for shows even without using our Key status.
  • You don’t enjoy cruise ship Wi-Fi. Believe it or not, some people see cruising as the perfect time to unplug and unwind. They'd rather post pictures after returning from their cruise than waste precious vacation time glued to their smartphone. On our first cruise, this was us. We discovered that we loved cruising without Wi-Fi. If you feel the same way and know that you won’t use the Wi-Fi one way or another, then I believe The Key package would be unnecessary because Wi-Fi is one of the key benefits.

Bottom line

In short, purchasing The Key package comes down to your budget and desire for some exclusive benefits. The Key package is a great way to feel like a VIP on your next Royal Caribbean cruise without busting the budget. Sure, it's not a must-purchase program but it is a fantastic option to have.

Featured image by Featured image by Sierra Redmond

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  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
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  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

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    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023