Boarding was easy and painless. Our bags arrived about three hours after we'd boarded and we were able to access the cabins from 1pm.
There was a cyclone heading towards Noumea - 2000km away - so rather than leave Sydney where the majority of passengers lived, the ships stayed in Sydney harbour for 3 days. The ship could easily have left port and stopped off Byron Bay or Newcastle and waited for the cyclone to pass (as it did). But instead the Captain and crew (not from Sydney) decided to stay in the harbour.
That decision meant we lost 2 entire days of sailing, missed two ports and basically spent almost the entire cruise at sea. Moral of the story: don't sail from Sydney during cyclone season (November - February). Of course it worked out conveniently for the crew who got to see the Sydney fireworks.
The ship is vast, beautiful and immaculately clean. The cabin was nice - bigger than we'd expected. But we had kids upstairs that liked jumping off the beds and running around the cabin which was incredibly noisy and even earplugs couldn't block it out. I'd avoid deck 9 which is under the suites where families have room for their kids to run around!
We did the restaurant package which was great - Izumi was beautiful sushi and sashimi, Samba was more meat than you could handle but delicious, Giovanni's was classic Italian, and Chef's table was generous glasses of wine with beautiful food all introduced by the chef and sommelier - a great night. That said, the food in the dining room was excellent every night so you wouldn't need to do the dining package to get great food. Windjammer cafe was also excellent - we liked breakfast up there because you could go out onto the deck and eat in the fresh air. We also took the wine package but drinks on board are very reasonably priced so I wouldn't recommend doing this.
The tendering for Champagne Bay - our first stop - was an unmitigated disaster. Queues for tender tickets stretched twice around the centrum and there were arguments about people pushing in. At no point did staff attempt to organise anything or announce anything. After 5 days of being stuck on the ship everyone was stir crazy and the Captain and crew should have organised it better. Champagne Bay was a beautiful location - we snorkelled and took a walk through the jungle to the other side of the bay where we found a little "resort" (read: a few huts that serve beer) where we chatted with locals and had another swim.
Port Vila was much easier to get on and off. We enjoyed the local French Patisserie and then went across to Iriki Island to hang out there by the pool and beach and have lunch.
Lifou was pretty - basically just a beach and some lovely coral on the other side. But the coral won't be there for long with all the cruise ship passengers smashing through it, standing on it, breaking bits off. And of course there were no guidelines issued by the cruise line.
Information about the ports was non-existent. And given we only stopped at three they could have made a LOT more effort there. They had some guy giving lectures about the South Pacific but they were nothing short of woeful - the worst possible powerpoint presentations imaginable. And he waffled on about Tectonic Plate theory for ages rather than talking about local culture or the ports themselves.
We thought the Cities and Tango shows were really just fantastic. Great productions with really high quality performers. They had very little decent entertainment in the day - and the pool was completely overrun by teenagers and the water looked positively grungy after a few days.
All in all, it could have been a great cruise but the decision to stay in Sydney for 3 days just meant we were stuck at sea for way too long with not enough to do.