So you queued with your kids for the ship’s blockbuster ride and, just as you reach the front of the line, a group swoops past and takes your place. You’ve just met a new class of VIP on your ship.
They are guests who have bought the line’s priority access program, which features perks usually reserved for cruisers who have climbed the ranks of the loyalty program and sometimes even more.
There are currently four lines that offer priority access programs: Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line.
And Royal Caribbean’s program, called The Key, is packed with the most perks. With The Key, you get to pretty much dodge every queue onboard except at the buffet. And perhaps the most controversial perk of all, you can jump the queue at popular attractions.
“It was a bit uncomfortable though standing next to people who had waited a long time and we got straight on,” says Karen Polkinghorne, who used her Key to jump to the front of the queue at the bumper cars on Ovation of the Seas.
Turns out Mrs Polkinghorne’s gut feeling was right. A Cruise Passenger poll reveals that 74 per cent of cruisers feel that you should not be able to pay to jump the lines.
The Key holders are entitled to enjoy one priority ride per open session on rides and attractions like Bumper Cars, Rock Wall and the Flowrider. All you have to do is see the staff at the front of the line and present your SeaPass card with the Key logo. Key holders also get to enjoy scheduled private sessions at popular attractions throughout the sailing.
“I paid extra to have a private small session. I would hate to wait for a ride and have someone just walk up and get in first,” says Caroline Wickham.
After all, popular rides on Royal Caribbean are free and found in the public spaces onboard. As a paying customer, you’d think that all guests would be able to enjoy the attractions equally.
But there is also another camp of cruisers who are cool with queue jumpers if they’ve paid for the perk.
“If you are prepared to pay the extra money then I don’t see why you shouldn’t benefit from the perks such as jumping the line. The option is open to everyone so personal choice if you want to partake,” says Joanne Tanner.
“Any theme park you go to, will have a ticket you can buy that gets you to the front of the line. You pay for what you want. Same thing with your choice of cabins – pay less for an inside cabin but pay lots more and get a suite. Just because you cannot afford it does not make it unfair,” says Neville Allen.
But loyal Royal Caribbean Cruiser Grace Cooper shares that she finds The Key “far too expensive”, given she already has some of the perks like priority boarding as a Diamond member. However, she wished they would have “a customisable key with different prices”.
“Priority tenders and internet don’t mean anything to us. But access to the stateroom and priority lines for activities sounds appealing! I guess it’s just circumstance, some will think it’s worth it, and some won’t! If it included wash and fold laundry I’d be interested,” says Mrs Cooper.
However, Mrs Cooper did not hesitate to purchase Carnival’s Faster to the Fun priority access during her first Carnival cruise last year.
“As we knew we wouldn’t have priority boarding, which is important to us especially now we have the toddler in tow, we got it! It was also a four-night cruise (the first leg of the 14-night back to back cruise) that we purchased it on, so it was very cheap,” says Mrs Cooper.
For Mrs Polkinghorne, at $28.99 per person per night for The Key on a 10-night cruise from Sydney to New Zealand, was all worth it. She was cruising as a family of four with two kids during the school holidays in January this year.
“Being able to jump the queue once per session for bumper cars etc saved a lot of time. People started queuing almost an hour before each session so the queues were massive,” says Mrs Polkinghorne.
“We did have some times leading up to the cruise where we thought about cancelling. Decided to keep it for two reasons. One – school holidays so knew there would be a lot of kids so this gave ours more opportunity for the activities. Second – cost. We got our cruise at a good price and what we paid for that and the key on top was still cheaper than what the cruise cost for some people including the other family who travelled with us who didn’t have the key.”
Mrs Polkinghorne also enjoyed the priority disembarkation perk at ports. She shared that it usually took the other family without The Key an additional twenty minutes to reach the port and it would probably have saved them even more time if they had to tender.
Norwegian Cruise Lines, another line that is packed with rides and attractions, took their Priority Access program fleetwide last October.
But the line takes a different approach to managing the crowd and guest expectations at the rides and attractions. On their most popular attractions like the go-kart race track, laser tag, bowling lane and VR arcade, guests have to pay per session. However, attractions like the rock climbing wall, ropes course, and mini golf remain free to enter.
So which camp do you belong, pay to jump the lines or pay for rides to keep the lines short? Tell us below.
Click here find out what each line offers in their priority access program.