Royal Caribbean Compromises on Perks for Past Cruise Passengers

April 14, 2009

Royal Caribbean isn't giving Diamond members their perks back -- but it is giving in to some extent.

Diamond members (those who've completed 10 to 24 RCI cruises) were outraged last month when Royal Caribbean said it would limit concierge lounge access on all but the line's newest ships to Diamond-Plus members (25 or more cruises) and suite occupants, as part of an overhaul of the line's Crown & Anchor past-passenger program. Lounge access -- including a nightly happy hour with free alcohol as well as a concierge to assist with booking shore excursions, spa treatments and specialty dining reservations -- was previously extended to both Diamond and Diamond-Plus members. As a consolation prize, Diamond members were offered a special party, once per cruise, featuring complimentary wine, Champagne and hors d'oeuvres.

Now, a second e-mail, signed by Royal Caribbean President and CEO Adam Goldstein, has been issued -- and it turns out the cruise line is making some concessions to please those who were outraged over the cuts. The already announced changes still stand -- nothing has been reversed. However, the following initiatives have been added to appease Diamond members:

Effective September 1, a private party will be offered to Diamond members nightly in a designated bar or lounge from approximately 5 until 8 p.m. This replaces the once-per-cruise party that was originally announced. At the party, the line will offer complimentary wine and Champagne -- and a happy hour discount of 25 percent off all other beverages.

Diamond members will also have access to a new continental breakfast from approximately 8 to 10 a.m. in one of the rooms adjacent to the main dining room onboard.

During these morning hours, a crewmember will be present and will provide services such as obtaining ice show tickets, and other assistance.

Diamond members cruising on Freedom- and Oasis-class ships will still get exclusive access to a dedicated Diamond Lounge, which will feature a complimentary "happy hour" from 5 to 8:30 p.m. daily.

The letter states that the new additions to the revised program were made in response to customer reaction being "more negative [than] we anticipated."

The initial revisions to the Crown & Anchor program, and subsequent changes, have spurred several threads (including one 215-pager) where members have voiced their opinions on the matter as well as other onboard issues such as the commonness of watered down drinks and excessive nickel-and-diming in the form of, say, the also-controversial $15 main-dining-room steak. Some have jokingly renamed themselves Cubic Zirconia or "Diamonique" members.

So what do members have to say about the new compromise? While there was a pretty clear consensus after the initial announcement -- those who lost perks were upset, period -- feelings and opinions are now a bit more mixed. TonyaJune writes, "I'm happy that they do value their loyal Diamond members and are trying to please everyone," and trafficlaw says, "We just re-booked our Voyager transatlantic for this December!" On the other hand, Alan13 says, "I'm still not happy. Wine and Champagne are free but you get a 25 percent discount on cocktails. Whoopee! I don't think that is fair!"

Then there's the question of motive. The first e-mail attributed the decision to issues of crowding in the affected ships' concierge lounges. Goldstein's follow-up e-mail, however, indicates that space will be cleared for these folks after all -- just with fewer free drinks. "How is this different than having the overflow lounges?" amunhbuu asks. "It sounds like it was about money versus room." beachbuzzard concurs: "I really do wish they would stop with the overcrowding excuse. We all know it was a revenue issue, otherwise they would have given back free drinks, not 25 percent off."

kewlguy, meanwhile, shares an anecdote that supports Royal Caribbean's reasoning: "Explorer of the Seas, November 30, 2008. We have never seen such overcrowding in both the concierge lounge as well as the overflow lounge. People sneaking their friends in, physically threatening the concierge for attempting to enforce the rules. A completely out of control situation. We've experienced crowded concierge lounges in the past on transatlantic [cruises] but we've never seen anything as bad as that Explorer cruise. There was no doubt after what we witnessed that something had to change. It was a 'free for all.'"

Overall, what's interesting about this situation is that it clearly illustrates the power of the consumer voice, particularly in this digital age. Because of rapid-fire e-mails and mounting complaints on active message boards like Cruise Critic's, Royal Caribbean heard a message of discontent -- loud and clear -- and backed down, to some degree, because of it. And even though some still have bones to pick, members by and large appreciate the fact that the line considered, and responded to, their feedback.

"I can totally see why they couldn't just reverse the decision," IMNIles posts, "after all, the CL crowding problem isn't going to go away on its own -- and I think the nightly party with free wine and discounted drinks is an appropriate gesture. In fact, had I not already had the CL perk, I would have thought the new perk was really great, and I guess that's really the true measure. Would I rather have free drinks? Of course! But am I hopping mad that it's only a discount? Absolutely not. The continental breakfast with concierge service will also go a long way towards restoring what was lost."

bhughey adds, "I think this is a very fair and well thought out response. The [explanation] seems to take into account the issue of overcrowding, the costs involved with the CL, the current economic climate and feedback from C&A members. I appreciate the effort."

What's your take? Join the discussion here.

--by Melissa Baldwin Paloti, Managing Editor