This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at using THE KEY program on Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas. Last week gave a “big picture” look at the largest cruise ship in the world, Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, and today we are back with a deep dive into using The Key program while on the ship.
What is The Key?
The Key is an upcharge option available for guests that allows them to have a more VIP-like experience while on the ship. The Key program gives you perks and benefits which are generally reserved for people who have spent a lot more money on their room, or have been on a whole bunch of previous cruises with Royal.
Let’s backtrack for just a bit … one thing that theme park fans might not be used to seeing is a company having a great loyalty program for repeat customers, and Royal Caribbean has one of the best with its Crown & Anchor Society. The upper-end Crown & Anchor tiers include some pretty amazing benefits. Meanwhile, guests staying in suites while onboard the ship are given some nice benefits as well. I’m currently at the lower end of the Crown & Anchor Society tiers (Gold) and – as mentioned in our article last week – have always stayed in “regular” rooms, not a suite. So, The Key program gives people like me a chance to experience a taste of the high-end benefits that come with premium cabins or high-level loyalty tiers. Only a limited number of The Key passes are sold per sailing. Royal Caribbean doesn’t say exactly how many, but I’ve seen estimates of about 200-250 and that seems right in my experience.
How Much Does The Key Cost?
The price for The Key program varies from ship to ship and from sailing to sailing. Generally speaking though, you are looking at somewhere in the ballpark of $20 to $45 per person/per day of your sailing, and the Key program must be purchased for the entire length of your sailing. For our particular sailing, the original cost of The Key was $42.99 per person. Once you have a cruise booked, the option to purchase The Key will be available through your Cruise Planner. One of the great things about the Cruise Planner is that if you check it often enough you’ll see that Royal Caribbean often has sales on pretty much everything for your cruise. This includes discounts on The Key, but also on drink packages, massages, and stateroom gifts. I bought The Key on sale for $32.99 a day for a total of $230.93.
It is important to remember that EVERY purchase of The Key comes with access to Royal Caribbean’s Voom Surf & Stream high-speed internet package. Like many reading this, I was going to buy the internet package no matter what, which would have been about $20 per day. Taking all that into consideration, the extra benefits for The Key came at a cost of about $13 per day. Was it worth it? Well, let’s check out how The Key program worked on our sailing, starting with …
# 6 – Embarkation at Port Canaveral
One of the biggest draws to The Key program to me personally is that I hate lines. Being in lines at the airport … being in lines at the hotels … being in lines at the theme parks … it has become my number one pet peeve. Like Disney’s Lightning Lane and Universal’s Express Pass, The Key program allows guests to basically skip the lines at Port Canaveral security. When you first walk into the building, you’ll see a huge room with a whole bunch of stanchions set up for people to queue for security screening. The Key has a dedicated line that goes right past all of this security, straight to a dedicated security screening at the very front of the room. While there is signage, feel free to ask anyone working there where to go as everyone we came across knew what The Key program was and directed us exactly where to go.
Definitely one of the most jaw-dropping things about cruise lines is their ability to get large amounts of people off the ship and then immediately get large amounts of people onto the very same ship, all in a relatively short time frame. The amount of coordination and efficiency needed for this is mind-boggling. I encourage everyone reading this to watch the documentary The Secret Life of the Cruise to get an idea of just how massive the scale is on these large ships and see exactly what it takes for them to operate as smoothly as they do. One thing Royal Caribbean does to help efficiency is to stagger the check-in times for guests at the port. 45 days before you set sail, Royal Caribbean asks you to go online and get an assigned time to check in at the port. You are given time slots such as 10:30 a.m.-11:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m., and so on until the afternoon with times like 1:30 p.m.-2:0o p.m.
Now then, in my experience, it’s always better to get on the ship as early as possible. By 11:00 a.m. many of the bars on board the ship are open, the main buffet is open, and you have free use of many of the ship’s amenities (such as the various pools) with almost no other guests around. It’s awesome. Having The Key allows you to get to the port and check in at 10:30 a.m. regardless of what time you were assigned online. You are guaranteed the opportunity to be some of the first guests on the ship.
Ok, so after the security area at the port we immediately got on an escalator up to level two of the building where we were officially checked in for the cruise. After check-in you will be directed to an area to be seated and wait for your group to be called onto the ship. This room is separated into three sections. There is one very large area that theme park fans can think of as “the Standby line.” This is for regular cruise passengers waiting to get called onto the ship at their assigned time. In the photo below, this group is that large collection of people right behind that blue Priority Seating sign. On the left-hand side of the picture below is a small area that is dedicated to guests at the Pinnacle and Diamond Plus level of Crown & Anchor along with concierge suite guests. The last section was us, in The Key Priority Seating area.
The first people called to get onto the ship were the Pinnacle and Diamond Plus Crown & Anchor members. After them were the guests who were doing “back to back” sailings, meaning they had just sailed on the Wonder of the Seas – had to get off the ship while it was being cleared – and are now getting back onto the ship for a new sailing. The Key guests followed that group onto the ship. How fast did we get on the ship? We checked into the cruise at 10:10 a.m. We walked over to The Key Priority Seating area, and by 10:13 a.m. Royal Caribbean was already starting the boarding process. We were on the Wonder of the Seas by 10:15 a.m. To me, that was incredible.
# 5 – Embarkation – Luggage Drop-Off and Lunch
Generally speaking, rooms on the cruise ship are unavailable to guests until about 2:00 p.m. on embarkation day. The rooms are all going through a massive cleaning and turnover by room stewards. What this means for guests who get on the ship early: there’s nowhere to put your stuff. You’ll see plenty of people walking around the pool deck and other areas of the ship loaded down with all their carry-on luggage. For people who have The Key, once you get onto the ship you can immediately go to the Main Dining Room and drop off your carry-ons.
At the luggage drop-off, they put luggage tags on every bag we were checking and also gave us welcome letters that explained all the benefits we would receive as holders of The Key. The bags that we dropped off here were inside our rooms when they were available, whereas all the larger luggage that everyone checked in outside the port was in the hallways.
One benefit that The Key program offers is an exclusive Welcome Lunch featuring menu items from Chops Grill (a higher-end dining venue on the ship.) The lunch takes place from 11:00 a.m.-1:30 p.m. in the Main Dining Room … the same place where we just dropped off our carry-on luggage. However, it wasn’t even 10:30 a.m. yet, so we decided to explore the ship and enjoy the pools (we kept a beach bag with us that had swimsuits). This time was great because all the areas of the ship were pretty much empty. We had every pool and hot tub we went to completely to ourselves. We even went down all the pool slides multiple times with no wait.
The pools are located on Deck 15, along with the Windjammer buffet, so I figured we would just skip The Key lunch and get food at the Windjammer. Well, the Windjammer was a madhouse at 12:30 p.m., so we decided to head back down to Deck 4 and get The Key Lunch instead at the Main Dining Room. This ended up being one of our best decisions on the cruise as we had a nice relaxing lunch rather than starting off the cruise in a packed buffet. (Which, let me remind you, was packed not just with people but with bags, as most of the guests on the ship were also carrying around a bunch of luggage until their rooms were ready.)
Here is the menu for The Key guests.
The service we received was top notch and all the food was terrific. Just a great experience overall.
The menu says that vegetarian options are available. We explained that a vegan was dining at the table and they said a special dish would be created. They came back with a portobello mushroom-based dish served with couscous and asparagus. This dish was fantastic.
Right as we were finishing lunch, the captain of the ship announced over the loudspeakers that the cabins were available to all guests. This was at 1:30 p.m., so we went straight to our room. Our carry-on luggage that we dropped off earlier was inside the room. At this point we also got our SeaPass card, along with a welcome fruit plate. The SeaPass card itself is used for EVERYTHING on the cruise ship, from getting in and out of your room, to purchasing drinks at the bar, to checking in for the various shows and everything in between. For guests who have The Key program, you will see an actual Key logo printed on your SeaPass card (if you do not see this logo, let your room steward know or head down to Guest Services on Deck 5.)
Let’s go back a bit to when we first boarded the ship and dropped off our carry-on luggage. One of the papers they gave us included all the private times for The Key members for various activities on the ship, which leads us to …
# 4 – Private Times
In our experience on this sailing, and on a previous pre-pandemic sailing we took with The Key, not many people actually show up for the Private Times. We went to almost all the Private Time activities during our sailing and the most people we ever saw show up beside us was 6 other guests, for the FlowRider. Our first Private Time activity was on Day Two for the Zipline, and you will see signage posted alerting other guests to the Private Time.
I think one of the best parts of the Private Times was that – for the most part – you could immediately go back and do something again rather than get into another line. This allowed me to take a picture of a Zipline traveler on Deck 16…
…and then run down to Deck 6 to get a photo of them as well on their next flight through the air.
Immediately after our Private Time ended for the Zipline, the Private Time for the Ultimate Abyss started.
For those who don’t know, The Ultimate Abyss is a 10-story side-by-side slide that starts at Deck 16 and goes all the way down to Deck 6. It looks super intimidating, but the actual slide itself isn’t that scary at all.
I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but The Ultimate Abyss actually has probably the best view on the entire ship for those about to get onto the slides. You have to see this loading area to believe it. The slides themselves also have lighting features built inside the tubes for those nervous about some sort of claustrophobic nightmare. Don’t worry, it’s over pretty fast (but not too fast) and you’re not in a dark enclosed space the entire time thanks to the lighting.
Later that afternoon we had Private Time for the Rock Climbing wall. I’m not even a fan of climbing stairs if I don’t have to, so rock climbing ain’t my jam, but it was a huge hit for everyone else in my party. The fun part for me was seeing people reach the various bells at the top of the rock wall and ringing them before rappelling down.
Day 3 of our sailing had two Private Time activities: ice skating and the iconic Flowrider. For whatever reason, Royal Caribbean scheduled these times to pretty much overlap (which is next-level bonkers) and we chose to do the FlowRider over ice skating. The FlowRider is a surfing simulator that is just a pure blast.
Everyone who wants to do the FlowRider has to fill out a safety waiver. For this Private Time we were also given wristbands.
One of the things we purchased before the cruise was a Photo Package. Several packages were available, including ones offering anything from 10 photos up to 100 photos. We chose the 20-photo package. I went on the lower end because the “fine print” on the photo package made it seem like a lot of the photo ops on the ship weren’t included in the package. Either it was poorly communicated, or I completely misread it (heavy odds on the latter) because by the end of the cruise we had a TON of photos that we could choose our favorite 20 from. In fact, there wasn’t a single photo-op that we took during the entire week which wasn’t included with the photo package. Unrelated to The Key, I was shocked at just how many photographers and photo-ops that Royal Caribbean had throughout the sailing. The photo ops started literally before we even stepped onto the ship and continued every single day. All of the photo ops are optional, and it was terrific seeing photographers make random stops in various restaurants (for example) to take family photos.
Anyway, for the FlowRider Private Time, Royal Caribbean has a professional photographer out taking photos of everyone who partook in the activity.
# 3 – Priority Seating for Shows
Another benefit of The Key that I enjoyed on my previous use of the program was Priority Seating for Shows. The Key guests had a reserved seating area at the Main Theater, Studio B (the ice rink,) and the Aqua Theater. It’s important to know that you still had to have a reservation for any particular show in order to take advantage of this Priority Seating. This particular caveat would only apply to the larger Oasis Class ships, as when we used The Key on smaller ships such as the Freedom of the Seas or the Mariner of the Seas, we did not have to make reservations for the shows ahead of time. At about 15 minutes or so before every show Royal Caribbean opens up all seating to people who don’t have reservations.
Unrelated to the Key: one of the things I noticed when booking reservations for various shows before the cruise on our Cruise Planner was that many shows “Sold Out” weeks before the sailing. DON’T WORRY ABOUT THAT. Once we got onto the boat a whole bunch of reservations opened up for every single show on the ship that needed one. For example, we couldn’t book a reservation for the Adult Comedy Show which takes place multiple times per night every night of the sailing. They were all “Sold Out” a month before we set foot on the ship. Once we actually boarded the ship we had the opportunity to book any of the Adult Comedy Shows we wanted as they were all available. It’s also important to note that if you don’t end up with any reservations for any show DON’T WORRY ABOUT THAT EITHER. Just show up before the show and get into the “Standby” line and you’ll get into the show. You may not get the best seat in the house, but you’ll be able to see the show.
Priority Seating for the Main Theater was on the upper level of this two-story theater, in the direct center. This Priority Seating area is reserved for people with The Key, Concierge Suite guests, and Pinnacle/Diamond Plus Crown & Anchor Society members. We took advantage of this area for both The Effectors II: Crash & Burn, and Tap Factory.
For Studio B, home of 365: The Seasons on Ice show, the Priority Seating area was at one corner of the U-shaped theater. These seats were fantastic and you are literally right next to these world-class skaters performing an awesome show. Kiddos will love the fact that at times the skaters will quickly interact with them, including handing out high fives.
For the Aqua Theater, the seats are in the direct middle of the theater and give you an absolutely perfect viewing of the must-see show InTENse.
# 2 – Debarkation – The Key Breakfast
On the very last morning of the sailing, the Windjammer is open for breakfast. but after our great experience with The Key Welcome Lunch, we decided to try The Key Breakfast. Once again this took place down in the Main Dining Room on Deck 4.
Similar to The Key lunch, we enjoyed everything at this breakfast and it was nice not having to go from station to station to collect our food like at the Windjammer. This was a relaxing way to end a hectic week of nearly non-stop activities. (Not that I’m complaining. This cruise wasn’t just a 10/10 it was an 11/10.)
# 1 – Debarkation – Off the ship and luggage pick up
A final benefit of The Key (both in this article and on the ship) takes place on debarkation day. Earlier in the week a letter is delivered to your stateroom along with The Key luggage tags. These tags are for ALL the bags you don’t want to carry off the ship. If you remember, we took several carry-on bags onboard the ship.
For Debarkation we asked our room steward for more luggage tags and checked all of our larger bags along with the smaller carry-on bags. We wouldn’t be carrying anything off the ship.
When leaving the Wonder of the Seas you have two options. 1) If you are personally taking ALL your bags off the ship (self-assist), your group will start disembarkation at 6:30 a.m. If you are worried about catching an early flight, this is the way to go. It may be a pain having to haul all your luggage around, but you will be guaranteed to get off the ship early and there will be minimal traffic that time on a drive to MCO in Orlando.
2) Everyone else on the ship is assigned a group that is let off the ship at a specific time. There were a total of 55 groups and they were called in order starting at 7:30 a.m. and finishing up at 8:50 a.m.
HOWEVER … guests with The Key can choose to leave any time they want between 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. We made a last-minute decision to take a drive to Walt Disney World after the cruise, so we wanted to get off the ship early. We finished The Key breakfast at around 7:15 a.m. We walked over to leave the ship and were told they were only letting off self-assist people at that time. At 7:20 a.m. they announced that members of The Key could also start leaving the ship. We quickly got off the ship and made our way to the luggage area downstairs. Bags for all The Key members were already in the room, right at the front next to security. We checked out with security (which took a FRACTION of the time it took on all of our previous cruises), got a porter to put all of our bags on a cart, and made our way to the car. We were out of the terminal and on our way to Disney at 7:30 a.m. exactly. It couldn’t have gone faster or more easily. I’m still in awe at the speed in which we got onto the ship earlier in the week and how fast we got off the ship. That was a very nice surprise.
On our way to the car, we passed by The Table of Confiscated Items. These are items that people tried to take onto the ship a week earlier that weren’t allowed (such as irons and knives) along with items bought at various ports during the cruise that also weren’t allowed. Unlike theme park and airport security – who just throw the items away – Royal Caribbean allows you to pick up your items at the end of the sailing.
Benefits of The Key That We Didn’t Use
There were two benefits we did not take advantage of during our sailing.
- 20% off at all specialty restaurants, when you make the reservation on Day 1 of the sailing. We did not use this because I booked all of our specialty dining (including The Mason Jar and Wonderland) long before we ever sailed. I liked having the peace of mind of knowing exactly when these meals would be, and allowing me to pay them off before the cruise rather than getting a bill at the end of my vacation. Generally speaking, you’ll find 10-20% discounts for each restaurant pre-cruise in your Cruise Planner as well (I believe my discount was 15% for all three meals that I pre-booked.)
- Priority departure at tender ports of call from ship to shore. The only reason we didn’t take advantage of this benefit is that all the ports we visited during the sailing (St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Perfect Day at CocoCay) had traditional docks and didn’t use tenders. On a previous Southern Caribbean sailing we did go to islands that used tenders and this was a good benefit to have.
Questions about The Key?
On several Facebook groups, I posted that I would be writing about The Key and asked if people had specific questions. Many of those questions I directly answered in the article above, but here are others that were asked:
Can I get on and off the ship faster than others, with The Key for all ports? No. The Key has no priority access to any of the ports we went to in our sailing. We got on and off the ship with everyone else at St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Perfect Day at CocoCay.
Does The Key include room service? No. On previous sailings, room service was included as a benefit for us as Key holders. That is no longer one of the included benefits. We ordered room service three times on the ship and each order was a total of $7.95 along with an added 18% gratuity for a total of $9.38. We also tipped (with cash) the person who came to the room with each order.
Can I purchase The Key for just myself? No, if a guest would like The Key everyone assigned to their stateroom 6 years of age or older must purchase The Key.
If you have any questions about The Key, post in the comments and I will update this article with the answers.
So, is The Key worth it?
Certainly a subjective question, but for us? Yes. This is especially because each purchase of The Key comes with a VOOM Surf & Stream high-speed internet package. We were going to be buying that package no matter what. So for us the value of The Key resided in the difference between the $20 a day we’d pay for high-speed internet and the $32.99 we’d pay for The Key. Because I love reserved seating in general and we knew that we’d be doing the Private Times for various activities, I would have got The Key just for those. After experiencing the Welcome Lunch, the Disembarkation Breakfast, and the Priority Boarding and Choose-Your-Own-Disembarkation-Time this became a no-brainer to me. I would purchase it for a future sailing in a heartbeat. Years ago I felt like I had all the time in the world, and something like The Key would seem like a needless expense to me when I could use that money to buy “stuff.” Now I’m at a point where time on my vacation is the most precious commodity I have, and the extra time that The Key gave us to enjoy every aspect of this cruise paid for itself and then some.
If you’re interested in sailing on the Wonder of the Seas, or thinking about any cruise, be sure to reach out to the TouringPlans Travel Agency and ask for a quote. It costs you *nothing*, will surely save you money compared to a sailing you book on your own, and they’ll be the ones who handle any problems that may arise before or during your sailing.
So there you have it: The SATURDAY SIX uses THE KEY on Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out the THEME PARK ENJOYMENT INDEX, giving a monthly recap of all the theme park news you need to know (and a lot more you don’t need to know, but we’re gonna tell you anyway). You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, Digital Maestro Scott Walker, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, artist @SonderQuest, the mighty maven of merchandise Hedgehog’s Corner, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, the permit princess Alicia Stella, master cartographer Tommy Hawkins, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Absolutely no help was added by SeaWorld Influencer @SuperWeenieHtJr. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.