I have nothing to compare my experience with,and I'm sure that other cruise ships have lots of things bigger and better than the Pearl, but for me, I had a fabulous time and can't figure out what other people are whinging about.
We had booked a P&O shuttle from the airport - strongly recommend that if you're arriving by plane. It was $20 and the lady actually came and found us before we had even collected our baggage. We didn't have to worry about finding trains or taxis (which are way more expensive) and could just sit back and relax and get taken to exactly the right place at the right time.
Embarkation was easy - didn't have to wait very long, but wouldn't have minded if we did - we're on holidays and not in a hurry for anything. My bag arrived at the cabin quickly, but my friend had to wait a few hours, but that didn't bother us - it turned up later that afternoon.
The first thing we did was have lunch, which was actually a bit surprising, as we didn't realise that lunch was included on the first day. Had to wait a few minutes in the buffet queue, but again, that didn't bother us - no hurry! I though the selection of food was great and it was always well-presented and hot. After 9 days, there was some same-ness about it, but of course you don't always eat everything on offer, so variety was still quite good.
We went to the Waterfront a few evenings and one lunch-time. It was great and the service was mostly quite quick. When it wasn't, again - it didn't matter - not in a hurry! The serving sizes weren't big there, but you can always ask for more if you want. And once my friend was still hungry, so we just went up to the buffet for something else!
We didn't go to any of the paid eating places. Most people said they were great, but we didn't see the need to spend any extra money on food when so much was provided as part of the cruise price. We also didn't buy any drinks (don't drink alcohol and am happy with water), so can't comment on the price of drinks. We saw some people bring a slab of soft drink aboard, so apparently you can do that - will have to keep that in mind for the future.
The cabin was roomy and light and had everything we needed. The TV wasn't great, and didn't seem to run to the advertised guide, but we didn't spend all that much time in the cabin to watch it. Once my friend was actually trying to watch a movie, but the captain's talk came over in the middle of it, and they don't pause the movie while he jabbers on - probably something they could improve on. The air conditioning was fairly loud - I used ear plugs to drown it out. We got 2 towel creations and 3 chockies on the pillow from our room steward.
We were blessed with fantastic weather and were surprised at how much the ship rocked even with good weather. Not sure how it would be with rough seas!
I thought the shows and entertainment were fantastic. I agree that the Marquee is badly designed, especially the upstairs railing, but we didn't let that bother us - just made sure we got there in plenty of time for a good seat and if we didn't I just went again to the later show and saw it all again from another vantage point. I enjoyed the shows so much that if it was on twice I went twice!
The tender boat process was quite slow, so if you're in a hurry (which we weren't) I suppose you'd get cranky. If you were booked on a P&O shore trip you got priority for the tenders. The earlier you get a tender ticket, the less time you seem to wait to get off.
We didn't have kids, so can't comment on the kids clubs. Some seemed to be enjoying them, but others were complaining that they were boring. I think kids these days are fairly hard to please and keep occupied, so I don't envy the jobs of those trying to keep 300 kids entertained in confined spaces for 9 days straight.
We stopped at Noumea, Lifou, Mystery Island and Isle of Pines. Snorkeled at all except Noumea - really lovely coral and fish. Recommend buying a cheap snorkel and mask at Kmart or something. Didn't do any shore tours advertised, as they were SO expensive.
Noumea was a good port for getting on and off the ship, as no tender boats needed. We went for a wander around the markets (which were really just a massive garage sale) and the shops, and found a cathedral to have a look at. If you want sarongs, buy them here. Bought the $5 'hop on hop off' bus ticket and hopped on and off at a few places. Went back to the ship for lunch, then hopped on and off the bus again in the afternoon!
Lifou we paid $20 for a lady to drive us around on a '2 hour' trip, which actually included a half hour stop at a beach. Probably not worth it. Went snorkeling, which was beautiful.
Mystery Island is uninhabited and the locals from Vanuatu come over to sell their stuff - probably the best markets and I wished I had more cash (Australian) there. You can walk (stroll) around the island in less than an hour. Such a relaxing place. Lovely snorkeling.
Isle of Pines we just went for a walk and ended up snorkeling, but it was a bit windy and chilly for me to stay in too long. Another relaxing day.
So in summary, I think your enjoyment of a cruise will very much depend on your own attitude. If you go expecting 5 star service all the way, you'll probably be disappointed. But if you go expecting to have a great time provided by other real human beings who also have a life, you should love it. Unless you get seasick, which apparently isn't much fun at all.