I have sailed on two Radiance-class ships (Serenade and Jewel) and one Voyager-class (Mariner), so I purposely chose Liberty to see which level to focus on in the future.
Of course, the layout here isn't that different those found on the Voyager-class ships, just longer. The length adds room for the SurfRider and the kiddie water area, which doesn't seem like much, but these things ensured the main pool area and the Solarium (which isn't enclosed like on the other two classes... would've been nice as it was often windy on our cruise) were never completely crowded. It doesn't seem like there are enough loungers to make up for the extra 500 people but it did seem like they found more upper-deck areas for loungers, which is much appreciated.
Everything else is basically how it is on the Mariner, though the Promenade seems mercifully wider and traffic jams were only a problem when they had a photo opportunity with a DreamWorks character. Isn't there a better place to have these things? Overall, I much prefer the Promenade concept to the horribly cramped shopping area on the Radiance-class ships. And having the casino, dance clubs and Schooner bar be one floor below is far more convenient.
Still, there are problems. Being able to get to the centrally-located ice-skating rink from one end of the ship is annoying, made even more so when there is a show in the rink. Emptying out into the On Air Club is not ideal for moving a crowd quickly. The Schooner Bar is still an odd shape with a main hallway running through it. Which wouldn't be a problem if they didn't hold most of the trivia challenges here. Nothing is more annoying than hearing a snippet of a song and having a passerby yell out the answer. They held a couple challeges in the On Air Club which is much preferable, as there are far fewer passersby in here. Another problem is that the On Air Club is also the sports bar, so we have no clue why they scheduled a jewelry-making class in here on football Sunday.
We refuse to use the main dining room anymore because we don't like taking two hours to eat mostly mediocre food. Not ALL dining room food is bad, but it's a game of Russian Roulette we no longer want to play. We also avoid the big for-fee restaurants because I truly believe they're the main reason the food in the main dining room has gotten so bad. We do always eat in Johnny Rocket's though. We feel $4.99 is fair, and we always have a good meal and a good time here.
The Windjammer here was our favorite of the three classes. It was never crowded, which was usually the case on the smaller-class ships. While mediocrity is often an issue, it's much easier to find something good than in the dining room, which requires asking for multiple meals. Here, you just grab a small portion of everything then go back for the stuff you really liked. The food here was much better than what we had on Mariner, but that may have had something to do with the fact that we did Mariner when it was cruising the Mexican Riviera, which was obviously suffering from major cutbacks due to ridiculously low prices RCI had to offer to fill that ship with people.
We often ate at the Promenade restaurants, Sorrento's Pizza and Cafe Promenade. The only time either was busy was when the Windjammer was closed between meals. The pizza actually got better throughout the week and some of the antipasti and desserts at Sorrento's were good, though waits could grow if only one person manned the counter, as antipasti, pizza and desserts were all in three different display cases and the server had to move from display to display. We enjoyed breakfast at the Cafe since they had doughnuts and other pastries, which were nice alternatives to their tiny sandwiches, which had good bread but were seriously under-cheesed for my taste. Still, they were interesting and they were trying to do more than just plain ham and cheese.
It's kind of hard to compare activities as this was a five-day cruise and the others I have taken were all seven days or more. Furthermore, the ship had just gotten back from Europe so I'm sure activities were just a guess as European activities differ greatly from Caribbean activities. That said, there weren't nearly as many trivia challenges as I think there should have been for a cruise with two sea days. Making this even more irritating was the occasional challenge scheduled in the On Air Club, meaning we were late for a couple since showing up there hadn't become any sort of habit. Also, a couple were canceled after fifteen minutes of waiting, which sucked since there weren't that many in the first place. On top of all that, the prizes have really become pathetic. Except for the larger contests, which took place in the Sphynx bar, prizes were either cheap highlighters or even cheaper keychains. I don't expect t-shirts or hats at simple trivia challenges, but what about the waterproof cases or lanyards they used to give out? They couldn't have been very expensive and they at least added variety to the prizes.
Outside the challenges, there were more things to do onboard this ship, as there should be considering the number of people. The FlowRider, a larger rock-climbing wall, the larger kiddie pool area, the outdoor movie screen (which showed college football all day Saturday and NFL football all day Sunday, but no Monday Night Football, for some odd reason), Saturday Night Fever, and all the DreamWorks stuff. It was great getting to see Puss in Boots in 3-D while it was still in theaters, and the first-day dance show was cute, but after a couple days, you start thinking "Shrek AGAIN???". Why there aren't any Megamind, Monsters VS Aliens or How to Train Your Dragon characters is beyond me. I understand the Shrek and Kung Fu Panda characters, but is Madagascar really that popular? At least dump the drippy lion and hippo (the lemur dude and the penguins are fine) and add in somebody else!
The entertainment was almost all better than average. Saturday Night Fever, shown one evening only, was much better than expected with quality talent and sets. (I never saw the original so I can't compare.) In the Air, while an obvious Cirque du Soleil wannabe, was actually pretty good. Having seen many CdS productions, I've grown tired of imitators, but RCI added a few new wrinkles and I enjoyed it more than the Cirque Dreams shows that play on Broadway and tour the country. The Ice Skating show was underthemed compared to the circus-themed one on Mariner, and the first two themes - Russia and Japan - were underwhelming. But as they moved into Vegas and Hollywood the stakes were raised and those two sections were better than anything in the Mariner show. My one problem here is the lack of a song-and-dance show. Yeah, they've got Saturday Night Fever, but it's nice to see something with nice sets and costumes that doesn't have a plot... or bell-bottoms. In fact, I expected something more from the Welcome Aboard Show. We got the Cruise Director, the band for a couple songs, and an awful comedian. No singers and dancers, which has usually been the case and was desperately needed after the awful "jokes". The singers sang by the pool one day, but that's a far cry from a stage with fancy sets and costumes.
Some stuff just isn't working here, like the boxing ring, which basically replaces the inline skating rink from Mariner which also doesn't work. Other stuff is try-it-then-forget-it, like FlowRider and the rock-climbing wall. The vast majority of the other entertainment offerings are focused on kids. Another minus is the main theater. Whoever designed this place should be fired and never allowed to create anything again. The bottom floor is fine, but the upper floor has quite a few columns blocking views. Instead of creating aisles that lead to these poles, aisles are located in their usual places and there are far too many seats with obstructed views. Then they've put metal railings along the balcony edges which partly block views from practically every other seat on the second level. Every night a show would start and we'd spend the first 10-15 minutes trying to see around the people who arrived late and would sit, get up, sit somewhere else, get up, and then stand there trying to find a decent seat. This is inexcusable.
Our biggest problem? The amount of family offerings meant there were a lot of families onboard. We are in our mid-forties, single and childless. Everyone near our age was part of a family unit. So most of what we did was with people a generation older than us, or a generation younger. We're fine with both groups, but it alters the onboard experience. With the majority of travelers being older people and middle-aged parents, dance clubs were often ghost towns at night (until the final night). And only Saturday Night Fever played to a packed house. The Quest didn't even fill up Studio B, which shows how few of the nearly 4000 people onboard didn't have AARP cards or early betimes with their kids. (Considering the double-occupancy total for Liberty is 3634, this shows how many kids were onboard, though it never felt like a day at Disneyland.)
The other problem was the size. On Serenade and Jewel we created short-term relationships with the Cruise Director staff and other passengers. On Mariner we were able to connect with a few of the Cruise Director staff even though there were far more of them due to excellent scheduling - the same four tended to handle all trivia and gameshow activities. And we connected with a few passengers, though these were fewer and further-between. On Liberty neither of these happened. Yes, there were two fewer days, but that wouldn't have helped. The Cruise Director staff is huge and we enjoyed them but this is the first cruise where none of them ever learned our names. Not to brag, but whatever group I go with tends to be favorites of the staff due to our easygoing goofiness. We made acquaintances among the passengers, for sure, but you could go days without ever seeing them again. We immediately got friendly with a trio of singles at our muster drill, then literally never saw them again until the disembarking process.
That's another problem. About half the ship decided to walk their bags off the ship. Our waiting location was the second floor of the main dining room, which obviously does not hold half the ship and their luggage. So they spilled out into the hallway, the stairwells, the elevator bank, Bolero's and the deck. When we were finally let off, there was NO organization. This is not the last impression you want to leave with your customers. Remaining in our rooms would have been more orderly.
I think in the future we'll stick to smaller vessels. We don't do the special activities enough... I like to play volleyball and we all mini-golf, both of which are on the smaller ships. We can't imagine traveling without the outdoor movie screens, so we'll watch for their inclusion in upcoming drydocks (our next cruise is on Radiance, which already has a bunch of new stuff). It would also be nice to have a more limited DreamWorks Experience, at least the 3-D movies, though they didn't add any of it to Radiance, so it's doubtful. But the most important part for us is the interaction with others and we didn't get enough of that on Liberty.