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The Street
The Street
Daniel Kline

Royal Caribbean makes a big change that hints at something bigger

Royal Caribbean Group operates three brands. Silversea Cruises serves a niche, higher-end market while Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises both go after similar audiences.

You can argue that Celebrity attracts a slightly more adult crowd while Royal Caribbean markets aggressively to families. Both companies also share a lot of customers, since a couple who might cruise with Royal Caribbean when the kids are along might opt for Celebrity when they are not.

Related: Carnival Cruise Line shares key dining rule some passengers ignore

Of course, Royal Caribbean's massive Oasis-class ships appeal to people of all ages, while its dedicated spaces and events for kids under 18 give it added appeal. 

Celebrity has kid and teen clubs, but it lacks the water slides, and other amenities its sister brand offers. Still, as kids get older, Celebrity's smaller ships sometimes offer itineraries with less-common stops, making them a better choice.

With many people sailing both brands, Royal Caribbean Group RCL allows status matching for their respective loyalty programs. Diamond or above members of Royal Caribbean's Crown and Anchors Society get Elite status on Celebrity, while Elite or higher members of Celebrity's Captain's Club get Diamond status when they sail Royal Caribbean. 

The system rewards people for their loyalty to the company, which encourages high-level loyalty members to try both brands. Diamond and Elite status respectively come with some valuable perks. The benefits, however, are different for each company.

One Royal Caribbean perk, having a dedicated lounge, the Crown Lounge, for Diamond-and-higher members is unique to that cruise line. 

Celebrity hosts get-togethers and special events for Elite (and higher) members, but it does not offer them a dedicated gathering space.

That's something the cruise line plans to change, although the move seems like the first step toward something much bigger. 

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Celebrity has made a key change for its top-tier loyalty program customers.

Image source: Daniel Kline/TheStreet

Celebrity adds a loyalty lounge (sort of)

Royal Caribbean's Crown Lounge offers top-tier Crown & Anchor members a 24/7 place to gather. The lounges have comfortable seating, serve a continental breakfast, and offer a happy hour with waiter-served drinks from 5 to 7 p.m. each night.

Those drinks aren't free. To avoid crowding the lounge during happy hour, Diamond members each day get four drink vouchers that they can use at any bar on the ship or at Coco Cay. Diamond+ members get five while Pinnacle members get six. 

Celebrity does not offer drink vouchers. Instead, it has a limited all-you-can-drink happy-hour menu for Elite and higher Captain's Club members, served each day from 5 to 7 p.m. 

WANT YOUR OWN PERFECT DAY? Book your Royal Caribbean vacation now.

Now, on select days of sailings five days and longer, Celebrity will designate a lounge space where Elite-level and above members can gather.

"I am excited to announce that starting in January 2024, we will designate an existing lounge space for our Elite, Elite Plus, and Zenith members to get together on board during the daily Elite Cocktail hour," wrote Celebrity Cruises President Laura Hodges-Bethge in an email to Captain's Club members.

Celebrity has not specified which room will be used for the lounge, but it did say that the space would be offered twice on sailings of 5 to 7 nights and three times on eight-night or longer cruises.

Happy-hour-drink menus will still be offered at the ship's bars on days the lounge is offered for those who prefer not to visit the new space.

Celebrity has hinted at bigger changes

This change may be Celebrity putting a toe in the water to test whether it should add permanent loyalty lounges like the  ones Royal Caribbean offers. 

That would make it easier to merge the two programs into one, which is something Celebrity's associate vice president of loyalty, Andrea Shay, floated during a webinar earlier this year, Matt Hochberg of Royal Caribbean Blog reported.

"We have some status match between the brands today, but there's such a huge opportunity for us to do more and really take advantage of the connection and us being part of the same family," she said.

WHICH CRUISE LINE IS RIGHT FOR YOU? Our travel partners can help.

If the programs were to merge, it seems logical that both cruise lines would want to offer the same benefits. 

The Crown Lounge serves snacks and appetizers during its happy hour. On many sailings, the space can get crowded during those hours as top-tier loyalty members look to connect with new or old friends. 

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During much of the day, the space is somewhat empty with members dropping in to use the high-end automated coffee machine, or stopping to get help from the dedicated concierge.     

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