Royal Caribbean International is testing a package of
for-purchase amenities intended to upgrade the passenger experience with features
such as a steak lunch at embarkation and VIP show seating.
The Key, as the package is branded, is one of a growing
number of such programs by cruise lines trying to bridge the gap between one
cabin category and another or to sell perquisites once reserved for a
Holland America Line (HAL) recently launched Club Orange,
with somewhat different benefits but the same general concept. Club Class at
Princess Cruises spans the gap between its mini-suite and full-suite
categories. And Carnival Cruise Line has Faster to the Fun, which is mainly a
way to jump the line on many Carnival experiences.
All of the programs offer an "in-between" level of
amenities for guests who seek more than the basic cabin accommodation but can't
afford or don't want a premium cabin category.
"We believe there are guests who maybe can't afford a
Neptune Suite experience with a larger suite that would like to have an
upgraded experience in the dining and onboard experience," said Michael J.
Smith, senior vice president of guest experience and product development at
Club Orange is being tested on the Koningsdam and Nieuw
Statendam for potential rollout fleetwide.
Privileges attached to The Key start with a personal
drop-off service that delivers carry-on bags directly to the guest's stateroom.
Next up is an embarkation lunch at Chops Grille. Key holders get private hours
at crowded attractions such as the FlowRider and zipline, and they sit in the
VIP section at show performances.
They also get priority disembarkation at ports of call and
at the end of the cruise, where an a la carte breakfast will be available in a
full-service venue. The Key also comes with one Surf and Stream high-speed
The Key is being tested on several ships, including the
Oasis of the Seas and the Liberty of the Seas, with price points varying from
$14.99 to $24.99 per person, per day, depending on the ship and the itinerary.
Rules stipulate that if one person (age 6 or over) in a cabin buys the Key, all
must do so, making it up to a $700 buy for a family of four on a seven-day
"My instinct is that my clients would say no to it,"
said Barb Artel, a cruise specialist at All Travel Co. in Indianapolis. Artel
said she considers the package expensive. "I think the only thing of value
would be the private lunch when they board and then some of the priority
seating or private times they can enjoy."
Artel added that for families, beating the lines on some
popular attractions on big ships such as the Oasis could make sense. "On
some of these megaships, you just don't get to do things, because there's only
so much time."
HAL's Club Orange features a dedicated restaurant in what
used to be the Culinary Arts Center on Pinnacle-class ships. Smith said the
food is similar to what's served in the main dining room, with some specials
made in the on-site kitchen, but the atmosphere is much more intimate.
The name comes from the House of Orange, "a play on our
Dutch heritage," Smith said. Members also get priority embarkation and disembarkation,
tender service and alternate restaurant reservations as well as a dedicated
concierge hotline and upgraded bathrobes. Club memberships will be limited in
number on each cruise and cost $50 per person, per day.
"This is a test," Smith said. "We're seeing
the interest in it."
Princess Cruises' Club Class and Carnival's Faster to the
Fun have been around longer and are a little different. Club Class is an
upgraded type of mini-suite and can't be bought without the accommodation.
Faster to the Fun is another pay-for-privilege product. It includes luggage
priority, a dedicated guest-services line and other perks.
Marcia Finkelstein, owner of Cruises & Tours Worldwide
in Boynton Beach, Fla., said that programs like the Key have ruffled some feathers
among those with elite status in Royal's Crown & Anchor loyalty program.
"The clients who don't have as much loyalty, they're
going to be able to pay for it," Finkelstein said. "They're going to
like it. The clients who have all the loyalty toward that cruise line, they're
going to be a bit perturbed about it."