When booking a Royal Caribbean cruise, you may have the option of purchasing The Key – a special benefits program that adds a few key perks to your cruise.
It’s completely optional, and most people will have just as good a cruise if they don’t buy The Key, but for some cruisers, these benefits may make the upgrade price worthwhile.
So, what is The Key, what do you get, and is it worth it? Let’s find out…
What Is The Key on Royal Caribbean?
The Key is a special package of benefits that Royal Caribbean guests can pay for before they cruise. It includes priority arrivals on embarkation day, an internet package, VIP access to theatre shows and select exclusive meals onboard.
The Key must be purchased by all guests in a stateroom aged 6 or over – you can’t just pay for it for some guests. So if you’re travelling with your family, it can get quite expensive.
Is Royal Caribbean Still Offering The Key?
Royal Caribbean has re-introduced The Key program. It was paused during the quieter cruising years caused by the global shutdown but was later brought back, and is now available on most Royal Caribbean sailings, in limited numbers.
Considering the nature of The Key’s benefits, it’s no surprise that it was paused back when distancing measures were in place. Royal Caribbean has tweaked the list of included Key benefits since it returned, so if you’ve bought it previously, make sure you check the up-to-date list so you know what you get now.
How Does The Key Work on Royal Caribbean?
With Royal Caribbean, The Key is a package that you need to pay for in advance. It’s only available in limited numbers, so may not be available on your cruise.
Once booked, you’ll be able to enjoy a selection of benefits during your cruise. Your SeaPass card will have a key icon on the bottom right to indicate your Key status.
So, what do you get if you book The Key?
Full list of The Key benefits:
- Priority access into the terminal on embarkation day
- Carry-on bag drop-off with stateroom delivery
- Exclusive welcome lunch
- Private time at onboard activities
- Priority departure at tender ports
- VIP access to live shows
- VOOM Surf & Stream internet
- Exclusive breakfast on departure day
Priority access to the terminal on embarkation day means that you’ll be given an early time in which to arrive and be one of the first groups called to board the ship.
The time you’ll be given will usually be 11 am, but may vary. If you can’t make it to the terminal by 11 am, you’ll still be prioritised when you arrive at the terminal but you may not get the early boarding.
Depending on your cruise, you may have a quieter waiting area away from everyone else, or you may be mingling with all guests while you wait to get onto your ship. The actual process of checking in isn’t much faster either, just that you’ll beat most of the queues by having your own priority line. You still need to go through all the same checks as everyone else.
Carry-on Bag Drop-off
Once you get onto the ship, guests with The Key are welcome to drop their carry-on bags off in the Main Dining Room, instead of taking them around with them all day until staterooms are ready. The bags will be dropped off in your stateroom, so it does make things much easier if you’re carrying a bulky bag.
This per is limited to two bags per guest, with no bag weighing more than 25lb.
The Key guests can enjoy an exclusive lunch in the Main Dining Room, with menu options taken from Chops Grille, the onboard steakhouse.
You won’t have a full menu available but there’ll be a few choices for starter, main course, side and dessert, so it won’t be a light meal either!
It’s nice to be able to get a taster of a speciality restaurant, but it isn’t the same as experiencing the full menu. Still, it’s a quieter lunch than you would otherwise have if boarding with the rest of the ship, who are likely all headed to the Windjammer buffet restaurant together.
Private Time for Activities
Guests with The Key will be invited to some private sessions at the onboard activities. “Private” only means that these sessions are for The Key guests, you don’t get to book time just for yourself. So you will still have to wait your turn with other guests of The Key.
The activities this applies to will of course depend on your ship and the features she has, but examples include the rock-climbing wall, the FlowRider and more.
Generally, most people on The Key program don’t take advantage of these, so if you want to, you should get plenty of time with the attraction, beating the typically long queues.
You just need to make sure you pay attention to your cruise schedule as there may only be one private hour per attraction, per cruise. Miss it, and you’ll have to queue alongside everyone else.
Priority Tender Departure
The Key guests can get priority departure on tender boats for ports where the ship can’t dock.
This is a nice benefit to have, except for the fact that the vast majority of ports that Royal ships visit can be docked at. Tender ports for the cruise line are pretty rare. I can honestly say that I’ve never had to take a tender boat on a Royal Caribbean cruise!
So if you think this sounds like a valuable perk, make sure you check your itinerary, to see if you’ll actually get to use it.
VIP Access to Shows
Depending on your ship, you will have some great venues for live shows, including the theatre, the AquaTheater, Two70 and Studio B. And during the most popular performances, queues for the events can be pretty long, and seating isn’t guaranteed.
Anyone on The Key program can take advantage of VIP seating with early access. This will either take the form of guests having a special reserved area, or just being granted early access to the theatre to pick from all the available seats.
It’s a great benefit if you plan on watching a lot of shows, but reviews are mixed due to the times you’re expected to show up. If there’s a reserved seating area, you should only need to arrive 15 minutes early. But for early access to the general seating, some people have said they were asked to show up 45 minutes before the show started. That’s quite the wait.
Every guest on The Key program gets a VOOM Surf & Stream internet package for one device. This is the more premium of the internet packages, which Royal say is suitable for video calls and streaming services.
Whether you’ll get the reliable speed for those demanding tasks is questionable, but it should at least be quick enough that checking social media or reading emails isn’t painfully slow.
The included VOOM internet is one of the best reasons to consider The Key, since it often makes up the majority of the cost of the package alone. Continue reading for details of the pricing…
Departure Day Breakfast
On the final day of your cruise, guests on The Key program can enjoy an exclusive a la carte breakfast in the Main Dining Room, with a selection of options. Other guests will be limited to buffet breakfasts, so it’s nice to have the chance for one last sit-down meal before you leave.
How to Purchase The Key With Royal Caribbean
To purchase The Key program on a Royal Caribbean cruise, guests must first complete their cruise booking and then access the Cruise Planner on the Royal Caribbean website. They can then add The Key to their booking, paying in full for everyone in their party.
The Key can’t be bought at the same time as booking your cruise, and it can’t be bought on board either. You have to pre-book it, but only once you’ve secured your cruise.
How Much Is The Key Program on Royal Caribbean?
The price of The Key program varies depending on your particular cruise. Officially it starts at $25.99 per person, per day but sometimes there are discounts which make it a lower price. It can also be higher depending on demand and your sailing.
You have to pay for The Key for everyone in your stateroom aged six or over, and you can’t part-pay – you have to take it out for the entire cruise.
So, if it does cost $26 for your sailing, and you’re travelling with a partner and two kids, that’s $104 per day, and for a 7-night cruise, it means it’s an extra $728 on top of your cruise fare!
As The Key is so expensive, you’ll want to consider carefully whether it’s worth it. And I’m here to help you with that.
How Many People Can Buy the Key on Royal Caribbean?
There is no fixed number for the amount of people who can buy The Key on Royal Caribbean but each sailing will have a limit. It is not open to every guest – imagine trying to deliver all those carry-on bags if it was available to everyone!
The number of people able to buy The Key will vary depending on the ship size and the itinerary.
Does The Key Sell Out on Royal Caribbean?
Yes, The Key program does sell out on Royal Caribbean cruises. The number of passes available is limited to make sure that the benefits of The Key are manageable. If it has sold out, you won’t be able to add it to your own cruise booking.
If you want The Key, it’s best to book it early. Log onto the Cruise Planner as soon as you’ve booked your cruise. Remember that you’ll need to pay for it upfront, and also bear in mind the fact that everyone books their cruises at different times.
So, if you’re booking a last-minute cruise, it might already be sold out before you even have a chance to try to buy it.
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What Is a Good Price for The Key on Royal Caribbean?
The best way to determine a good price for The Key is to look at the cost of The Key and the cost of a VOOM Surf & Stream internet package on your cruise. If there isn’t much difference between the prices, it’s good value and more likely to be worth buying.
Typically a VOOM Surf & Stream package will cost around $18 per person, per day for a single device. Just like The Key, this price will fluctuate depending on your ship and sailing.
Read more: Royal Caribbean Wifi Package Prices
So if the WiFi package is $18 per day, and The Key is $26, and you were going to get the internet anyway, ask yourself if the extra $8 is justified with all the other benefits you get.
Remember though that you can buy individual plans for VOOM – you don’t need to pay for everyone in your stateroom. But you do need to pay for everyone for The Key.
If you only want internet on one device, it’s much cheaper to get VOOM separately than it is to pay for The Key for everyone in your stateroom.
Is The Key Available on All Royal Caribbean Ships?
The Key is available on all Royal Caribbean ships, but not necessarily all sailings. Royal Caribbean hasn’t stipulated where it wouldn’t be available, but there may be some sailings where it just isn’t viable.
The benefits can also vary depending on your ship, so make sure you check when you pay for it, as they might not include everything on this list.
Is It Worth Getting The Key on Royal Caribbean?
Whether The Key is worth it or not depends on a few different things – how much it costs for your sailing (and travelling part), how much you’ll use the benefits, and whether you’re already getting some of the benefits through other means.
There are two other ways you can enjoy a selection of perks when you book a Royal Caribbean cruise. Either you’ll be a member of the Crown and Anchor loyalty program, or you may have booked a suite.
Crown and Anchor guests don’t get a lot of cross-over with the perks, but depending on your level, you will get:
- Priority check-in before your cruise for Gold level
- Priority departure on your last day for Diamond level
- Priority seating at theatre shows for Diamond Plus level
There are, of course, a huge amount of other benefits but these are the ones that closest match those offered by The Key.
When it comes to suite perks, it’s a little less clear because it depends on the age of your ship, and the specific suite you book. Older Royal Caribbean ships use the Suites Program, while newer ships use the Royal Suite Class.
With the Suites Program, the benefits change depending on whether you’ve booked a Junior Suite, a Grand Suite or Panoramic Suite or Owner’s Suite, or a Royal Suite or Villa Suite.
Guests in a Grand Suite above get a lot of benefits, including these which cross over with The Key:
- Priority departure on disembarkation day
- Priority tendering for shore excursions
- A departure breakfast
- Access to reserved theatre seating
- Officer escort on-board (Royal or Villa Suite only)
And then within the Royal Suite Class, it depends on whether you’re booked in a Sea Class, Sky Class or Star Class suite. Star Class suite guests get these same perks as The Key:
- Flexible arrival times and priority departure
- Early access to theatre seats
- Complimentary VOOM internet access
- Expedited boarding
- Priority entrance to on-board activities
So depending on whether you’re a Crown and Anchor member, or you’ve booked a suite for your cruise, The Key might not be worth it. Especially if you’re in a Star Class suite on a ship with the Royal Suite Class – you get all the most expensive benefits already included as a suite perk!
Should I Buy The Key on a Royal Caribbean Cruise?
Because there’s not a clear answer to the question “Is The Key worth it on Royal Caribbean?”, then whether or not you should buy The Key is a personal decision. It’s probably not worth it if you weren’t going to pay for the VOOM internet package anyway, as it is quite expensive for the rest of the benefits that it comes with, especially if you’re travelling with more than two people.
If you did want the internet access, then The Key might be a better option than just paying for WiFi alone. But again, think about whether you’ll use the benefits.
Do you get annoyed having to carry around your bags when you get on board? Do you hate the buffet queues for lunch on day one, or for breakfast on your last day? These are minor concerns for most people.
But, if you love the live theatre shows, or really want to make the most of your time on the FlowRider, for example, then The Key could be really useful for making your cruise run a lot more smoothly.
There’s no right answer – but make sure you bear these questions in mind before you pay for The Key.
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Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.