Just got back from the Pacific Dawn's first cruise to Papua New Guinea. PNG is a great addition to the cruising agenda, and considering it was a maiden trip, everything ran pretty well, after a false start in Townsville. After getting on the ship, we received a letter saying that the Townsville call would now be at Magnetic Island - it appears the shiny new cruise terminal in Townsville isn't suitable for Pacific Dawn which would appear to be a bit of cock-up! However after 2 hours of trying to start tendering the whole thing was called off due to rough weather and we missed the stop all together.
In contrast PNG went well. A rapturous welcome in Alotau at their new port (which was officially opened when we arrived) and a great day at the Canoe and Kundu Festival. The Prime Minister of PNG came to town to welcome us (and he did the same at Kiriwina Island, the first time he'd ever been there) and the locals were genuinely excited about the advent of cruising. The port has a few 'supermarkets' selling souvenirs, and there was a small market on the wharf. I recommend getting Kina in Australia, as the service on the ship was slow, and there are only 2 bank branches in town which saw people queue for up to 45 minutes to change their AUD. The town is close enough to the wharf to walk, but it's a long hot walk. I recommend the Battle of Milne Bay war memorial about 5 minutes walk from the centre of town back towards the ship.
Kiriwina Island was another friendly stop, although the tender service brought some complaints with some passengers waiting nearly 3 hours to go ashore, despite a very short tender ride. This may get better with experience at this port. Good snorkeling, friendly locals and crazy Trobriand Cricket are highlights, however the souvenirs and crafts were pricy ($250 AUD for a wooden bowl anyone?) and some of them appeared to be mass produced elsewhere. Again this may improve with experience.
The scenic cruising through the China Strait (Kawanasausau Strait) is worth getting up early for, and Doini is a pleasant spot. A small resort opens it doors, and coped pretty well with 2000 visitors although the tiny shop got a bit manic. They have built shelters near the beach, again with reasonable snorkeling and set up a couple of temporary bars and BBQs. Beer is about K12 ($5) and sausage on bread is K10. The main area has a good bar and some limited seating (although it got occupied for most of the day by those of limited mobility). The 'highlight' is a walk to the skull cave (about 1 hours walk, or 30 minutes if you get a ride on the tractor-pulled wagon each way - free, but infrequent). The last part is steep and decent footwear is required. Allow plenty of time to get there and back because the tenders won't wait.
The ship was well presented, and P&O have lifted some aspects of their game in the 2 years since I last cruised with them. The cabin steward was more helpful, the food in the Waterfront Restaurant was better and more interesting, and the crew in general more cheerful. There is still evidence of on-going reductions in service in some areas to save money though - fewer waiters in the bars, no afternoon tea anywhere (unless you pay at the grill). The last night jam session by all the various performers on the ship is highly recommended.
All in all, PNG is a great addition to the cruising calendar, and things will improve with experience although they were by no means bad even on the first cruise to the area. Highly recommended.