This was called an "expedition cruise". And yes, there were some interesting excursions. But most afternoons were scheduled for swimming and/or snorkelling off a small island with no alternative activities. Not everyone in the main cruising demographic needs so much water activity.
We had been to some of the excursion sites before and found this time the visits were shorter, rather watered-down especially in Rabaul where we did not go as close to Mt Tavurvur as on a previous cruise, and were closely shepherded around the town and not allowed to wander. The visits to Kitava and Tufi were good, but we had seen more of Alotau on a previous trip. And please, Ponant, don't bother with Gizo!
L'Austral is a very attractive ship, is very smooth. But there is very little area to sit and look at the sea with the exception of your cabin balcony. The bars were good, ditto the interior lounge spaces.
Very compact and well organised. Beds good. Décor dreary - all that donkey brown! Lighting good; bedside reading lamps very good. Bathroom well lit with plenty of shelves. Makeup mirror much appreciated! Shower very good, great water pressure. Enjoyed the small balcony. Cabin very quiet and no noise from neighbours. George, our ever-obliging cabin steward took great care of us.