This is copied and slightly edited from the email I sent to Royal about our experience with The Key. They called me to discuss our experience, but it sounds like things have not changed for the better.
Our experience on Symphony of the Seas, March 2019:
Prior to sailing, I had purchased The Key. I was interested in the VOOM internet, so my teens and I could communicate on board, and I was intrigued by the private hours for activities and the lunch at Chops. I knew we wouldn’t be dining at any specialty restaurants for dinner as my daughter has food allergies and we wanted to stick to the Main Dining Room for dinner. But this seemed like a safe choice for us. While the priority embarkation and disembarkation and priority debarkation at ports was interesting, it was not a big draw. I was hoping for good seats in the shows as well. Overall this seemed like a good choice for us.
The Key experience on board was not what I had expected, though. When I purchased The Key, the email confirmation promised the following benefits:
Carry-on luggage drop off with delivery to stateroom
Welcome lunch at Chops Grille
Private hours for ship attractions
Priority debarkation and tendering at ports of call
Reserved VIP seating at shows
Complimentary VOOM Surf + Stream internet package for one device per person
Choice debarkation with exclusive à la carte breakfast
In March 2019, the benefits of The Key on Royal Caribbean’s website were listed as this:
The biggest difference I see here is the benefit of “Daily private hours on marquee activities” which sounded promising, until you compare it to the letter that was waiting for me in our stateroom:
The activity wording has changed. “Enjoy priority during ship activities and dedicated hours as per the schedule listed at venues on the back of this letter.” Hmmm, what did that mean?
We arrived at the port at around 11:00am and were hurried into the building, up the escalators, through security, and onto the ship. We stopped for a bathroom break and were on the ship at around 11:20am. I tried to ask about Key boarding but was waved along with everyone else. This was no benefit to us.
Carry-on Luggage Drop Off:
Upon boarding I asked where we could drop off our luggage as Key members. We were directed to the theater. They looked up our names on their list, and tagged our luggage. This was very convenient for us as we only pack carry-on bags. It was nice to unload them so we could walk around the ship.
Access to ship activities:
When we brought our luggage to the theater, which was a benefit that was greatly appreciated, we were given wristbands and told these would give us priority at the ship activities like the Flow Rider or rock wall. I asked for clarification and was told that we could show our wristbands and go to the front of the line, in front of other guests who had been waiting. I was sure this wouldn’t be an issue for us, because we would have private hours on the Flow Rider, just like everyone else.
When I looked at the back of the letter in our stateroom I saw the following schedule for private hours at activities:
I had been following the discussion here regarding The Key, and several members posted the schedule for private hours they had on their sailings. All of them had more than one scheduled time per activity for the week. This was shockingly bare compared to every other schedule I had seen. Apparently the “priority access” was a replacement for private hours, and we were supposed to just go to the front of the line any time my son wanted to ride.
When my son decided to try the Flow Rider, there was not a special line or sign identifying this front of line benefit for Key guests. My son, age 13, was the only one in our family who used the Flow Rider and he was not comfortable cutting in front of everyone else to ride. I also did not feel comfortable with him doing that. This benefit was wasted on us.
We did eat our embarkation lunch at Chops, but we spent 90 minutes there, which is ridiculously slow for lunch. I would not recommend lunch at Chops again after this long experience, even though the food was outstanding.
We arrived late to most shows due to our (my) own poor time management. Once when we arrived on time we were directed to the suite/Pinnacle seating area, and we were told there were 5 seats available. We found them, and it worked out well. Hiro was another success story, where we had excellent seats for the show. This was probably a worthwhile benefit, and I wish we had been able to use this more but it was totally my fault that we did not.
Priority port of call debarkation:
When reading the benefits of The Key, it sounds like you get priority debarkation at all ports of call. The wording, however, is easily misinterpreted.
So it sounds like Key guests get priority when leaving the ship in ports of call. Never saw a line or anything for debarking in a port of call.
I asked GS and was told "Oh no, that's only when the cruise is over." I said "No, it is at ports, see this email from Royal Caribbean?" "Oh no, that is only for tendering ports." Well I pushed back a little and said "But it doesn't say that, it says 'ports of call'". Well he made some phone calls and apologized and said we would have priority debarkation if I just said something to the crew members as we were leaving. But there were no crew members anywhere except as you are actually exiting the ship. At which point there is no need for priority because you are 4 steps away from exiting the ship. There was no option for priority debarkation at any port of call on our sailing. This was not a benefit to us at all but we pretty much did not need it as it never took long to get off the ship.
The breakfast was good, and we were able to get in and out quickly. This was a nice benefit, but we could have done without it as it added stress to our disembarkation day by delaying our exit from the ship. The food and service were great but this was not a benefit I feel was worthwhile.
Priority/escorted disembarkation from the ship:
When we had finished breakfast, it was about 7:10am. I asked about our priority disembarkation and I was told that they were escorting people off the ship at scheduled 30 minute intervals. This had not been communicated previously. I was told I could wait until 7:30 for an escort off the ship or walk off on our own now. There was no reason to wait 20 minutes for someone to walk us off the ship as we were able to walk ourselves off and be in a taxi within 10 minutes. This benefit was of no use to us.
I would not get The Key again, nor would I recommend it to others based on our experience.