For the most part, Cruise Critic members are cautiously optimistic, although it's early. Still, more than 75 percent of participants in our message boards poll say they're satisfied with the changes or that they're "better than expected."
The changes have already been implemented, and Crown & Anchor members logging into their accounts today will see a whole new system of calculating their hard-earned Cruise Credits.
Here are some of the standout points:
Points are now accrued per day, rather than per cruise. This means that cruisers who book longer voyages are rewarded for their loyalty. For example, under the old system, a 14-night cruise would have counted as two credits, while two three-night mini-cruises would have earned two credits. Now, the longer cruise is worth 14 points, and the two short ones only six.
Suites are worth double points. In theory, a 16-night cruise in a suite could leapfrog a member right over the lowest tier (Gold) straight into Platinum -- which requires 30 nights and is where the worthwhile benefits start to kick in. Those include priority check-in, in-cabin bathrobes and an exclusive onboard event.
Two new loyalty tiers have been added. This brings the number of tiers up to six. The new levels are the Emerald Tier, which will be placed between the Platinum and Diamond tiers, and the Pinnacle Club, which RCI refers to as a "unique group who have reached our highest status." Bottom line: Some members at the upper end of Platinum woke up today to find themselves upgraded to Emerald. Admittedly, there aren't many additional benefits in this tier -- a welcome amenity (like in-cabin mineral water or chocolates) and more generous discounts on balcony cabins and suites. But, hey, a benefit is a benefit, right?
Membership in the elite Pinnacle Club requires 700 points. That's the equivalent of 100 seven-night cruises -- and a huge leap from the 175 points needed for Diamond Plus, previously the highest level. But, the extra rewards are there in the form of free seven-night cruises at certain milestone levels, one of them the 700-points mark.
Nobody loses out. By our reckoning, nobody has been downgraded because of the changes. Plus, the reciprocal arrangement with sister brands Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises remains the same.
There's an enhanced Web site. The Web pages for the Crown & Anchor Society have been made more personal; the site will now know, for example, when your birthday is, where you went on your last cruise, how long until your next one and whether you'd prefer beer or champagne as your welcome gift (assuming you're at a qualifying level for that). Members can also now personalize their upgrade preferences -- in the event that a cabin upgrade is offered -- by saying "do it automatically" or "please call me first."
There's a new promotion. The line has introduced a "Bring a Friend" promotion, which awards members with a $25 onboard credit for any friends who book a first-time cruise with Royal Caribbean on the same voyage. The offer runs through April 30 and is good for up to five cabins, so $125 worth of credit can be awarded on any one cruise.
So how are Cruise Critic readers reacting?
Member Gyork0206 from the U.K., says, "I quite like the new system as we can only take the longer cruises being in the UK, so I think it's probably a fairer system." DZ9YVR says more skeptically: "Unless you are one on those 3 - 4 night cruisers this will not affect you. Virtually no change to benefits. If you are in the Pinnacle group, RCCL knew who you were and was already catering to you."
Milford cruiser comments: "I think they definitely managed to balance their objective of recognizing loyalty without making it 'too easy' to step up to higher levels with weekend cruising."
This raises a question: Will the short-break cruises suffer as a result of these changes? Member Mjldvlx speculates, "I suspect you will see one of two things -- either the short cruises will disappear, or you will see 'special promotions' similar to the extra credit thing under the old system last December -- book certain short cruises and you will get extra credits."
Incidentally, this question was raised during a Friday press conference on the matter, and the prospect of tactical points promotions to push the less-popular sailings has not been ruled out by RCI.
Are you pleased with the new system? Weigh in here, and let us know.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor