This 9 day cruise out of Sydney was great. Make sure you label your suitcases at home. Saves hassle at departure time.
We are first time cruisers. We enjoyed our holiday. Tips for booking a cruise: check your Itinerary to see how many Port Days you have and how many Sea Days you have. If you depart from Brisbane, you can decrease the amount of time you have at sea (if you are heading for the South Pacific). There is plenty to do on the ship but we preferred the Port Days.
NOUMEA: take note that if you arrive there on a Monday, several museums are closed e.g. Tjbaou Cultural Centre. Passengers who were booked on Shore Tours through P & O were able to go to this place but I'm not certain that they went IN it!You need to do your homework. Buy the Lonely Planet guide book.
It's certainly easy to book trips yourself once you disembark from the ship at NOUMEA. It's very organised in a chaotic kind of way. We found a tour for $15.00 which gave us a 45 min bus ride around the city. After this mini tour, we were given a pass to ride around on the local bus which took us to the beaches etc. Perfect. Excellent value. Have your snorkel and facemask with you.
We walked to the markets which took 5-10 mins. Handy to speak French at this point! Just aim for the Marina. Note that by 9.30am the markets were all but over! This was a Monday so don't know if that is typical. We found a place for a coffee and baguette! I read somewhere that one Monday of the month, the markets do not operate at all.
Our ship did not 'park' at the end of the town (which would have been so handy) but in an Industrial Area nearby. Passengers were very efficiently transported from the ship to the Terminal where we should have pulled in. (Another ship had booked the spot!) Not a problem though.
Currency: it really was very handy to carry South Pacific Francs. The onboard rate that the ship had was fine. You can exchange them back again if you don't use them. Noumea was expensive. Across the road from the Terminal is a Supermarket if you get hungry.
MYSTERY ISLAND: Our favourite. Do all your shopping here and hair braiding $12.00, massages $15.00 etc! Lots of stalls to wander through. It was rather surprising what was available considering it is an uninhabited island! Locals came over to the island for the day to set up shop. This is Vanuatu not New Caledonia and the prices of everything reflect this!
LIFOU: A funny little island where it was hard to get away from everyone! Snorkelling was great. Exit the ship and wander up through the carpark then turn left when you hit the road. About 5 mins along the road will be a turn to the right, not sign posted. This is where you snorkel with the hordes! Very good though. The church was in the same vicinity. Another nice stroll.
ISLE OF PINES: Snorkelling here was fabulous. Don't get off the ship without your snorkelling gear on any Port Days! The lobster was nice but a mere morsel! Good way to use up your spare francs. There was a very civilised 'pub' at the end of the beach but you have got to explore a bit to find it!
CHILDREN: We did not have ours with us but I noticed very few children had any swim aids and the water can be very deep in places we snorkelled. It sure would have made it more enjoyable for parents and kids if they had a float aid on! There were lots of Dads being 'strangled' in the water!
MAIN TIP: Diet before you take this cruise! Bon apetite!