Royal Caribbean Loyalists Outraged Over Cut in Past-Passenger Perks

March 30, 2009
Freedom of the Seas Royal Caribbean's announcement over the weekend that it would cut back perks it offered to its most loyal passengers sparked an outrage that Cruise Critic could see coming from a mile away.

The issue? Diamond level members of the line's past-passenger program -- who've qualified for the status because they've sailed 10 to 24 cruises -- will lose access to special concierge lounges on most ships in RCI's fleet.

With the exception of the line's newest ships -- Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Independence of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas -- Diamond members will no longer have access to the concierge lounge, from which passengers can arrange shore excursions, spa treatments and specialty dining reservations, among other things. The lounge is the setting for free coffee drinks in the morning and a nightly happy hour with free cocktails. As a consolation for losing these perks, Diamond members will instead be invited to a special party, held once per cruise, featuring complimentary wine, Champagne and hors d'oeuvres.

Diamond-Plus members (those who've sailed on 25 or more RCI cruises) and passengers in suites will continue to have access to the concierge lounges on all ships.

Royal Caribbean spokespeople did not respond to several inquiries about the new policy.

What's curious, and frankly befuddling, about this move is the timing. Royal Caribbean's restriction on its most valuable customers seems counterintuitive in light of the fact that economic pressures have forced many travelers to push for ultimate value -- or cut back on trips altogether.

Equally puzzling, again in the face of a recession and at a time when cruise passengers are increasingly reluctant to spend money on travel, is that RCI has added a number of new surcharges and taken away certain perks.

For example, RCI's the first North American cruise line to begin charging for late-night room service. It's also the first cruise line to offer a la carte menu items -- its renowned $15 steak -- in the ships' main dining rooms. RCI recently discontinued the free swag offered to passengers who participated in recreational events via its Vitality at Sea program. And the cover charge to dine at Johnny Rockets, the casual restaurant chain onboard some ships, has been raised from $3.95 to $4.95.

Passengers have not embraced any of these changes, but this latest move to curb past-passenger benefits has sparked one of the strongest Cruise Critic community responses we've seen in some two years, since Carnival banned passengers from bringing non-alcoholic drinks onboard. That ban was repealed less than a month later.

On a thread that at press time had over 75 pages and nearly 1,500 posts, we have heard different perspectives.

Some outraged posters have gone as far as canceling upcoming cruises with the line. MIACruiser writes: "I just canceled my family's Baltic Cruise this summer, and our Alaska cruise next year (which we just had reserved a couple of days ago). Sorry RCCL! ... next time, in order to save money, think about lowering executives bonuses instead!" KEIA took the same course: "I'm not bluffing ... I canceled my 35 day cruise to Australia and booked it with Princess."

Others railed against the Crown & Anchor changes because they felt they were stingy. Gemcam1 writes, "This leaves a bad taste in my mouth. So when I finally get to Diamond Plus they can take that away too. When will it end? ... I just did some quick math -- I've spent over $50,000 on RCI cruises over the years and I can't get a glass of wine before dinner?"

Kewlguy notes that it's not about money at all, but a question of the lounges crowding out the suite passengers. "The main reason [for the move] was to enhance the suite perks for the suite passengers ... People who were spending tens of thousands of dollars in the most expensive staterooms couldn't even find a seat for a pre dinner drink in a lounge overflowing with passengers who would sit there the entire night. The cost of the alcohol wasn't the reason for this change."

Cruise-Nut offers more of a fatalistic perspective. "Quit the complaining folks. RCCL has a business to run whether you like it or not ... If you don't like the changes, go to a different cruise line ...."

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor, and Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief