It was quite difficult to learn much about this cruise itinerary before we went as it is relatively new so this may be a long review but hopefully will be helpful to others.
Firstly the ship was great, I have cruised on many cruise lines and although P&O is certainly a budget line, my friends and I had little to complain about.
Dining - the pantry was not bad, not great but satisfactory, typical buffet food. A good selection although the desserts were pretty awful. We really only ate there for breakfast and lunch. The Waterfront was very good, sometimes wonderful. Angelos was so popular that you had to queue to book in from about 7.30am which I did once. I can't say it was great, it was ok but I wouldn't bother again, I thought the Waterfront was better. We never got to the Dragon Lady.
Rooms- we three friends had three separate rooms, two inside cabins and I had an outside with window. All were good and spacious, only issue was no fridge but the cabin attendants brought us ice when requested. Also note that the inside cabins had normal showers but the outside cabin had a shower over the bath. The bath had a high side, I managed ok but for anyone older or not so agile it could be a real problem.
Staff- all the service was good, some was amazing.
Entertainment - mostly wonderful. The first night we walked out of a show with hip hop type dancing (shows our age lol) but in general it ranged from ok to fantastic. Loved the comedian Andre King (a kiwi so of course he was great) and Demo. Laughed until we cried sometimes. Marius the entertainment director? Was the best ever, he only had to open his mouth to have us in stitches. He is now on a break and starting on the Pacific Explorer on Oct 4? so catch him if you can.
So now to the itinerary which is the hardest thing to find information on.
Alotau - we took the shore excursion to the cultural festival as there didn't seem much else available. I think it was the right choice and we had a good time. I enjoyed the cultural displays, especially the children. There was also a guy singing upstairs in the cafe who was world class. Seriously good. I had fun taking a ride on one of the war canoes (20kina /$10) which felt a bit unstable but a great experience. The bus took us past the town and market and doesn't allow you to get off, but it was a bit intimidating anyway and far too hot so we didn't mind missing that. I'm sure you can just do your own thing and walk to town from the boat but didn't look very appealing and was so humid.
Kitava - unfortunately the sea was too rough to anchor and tender us in so we missed this port. So we had a day at sea and they put on extra entertainment including a murder mystery show which was extremely entertaining. The captain (Nick?) was very good at keeping us informed about what was happening and their efforts to anchor. While it was disappointing to miss this port I would rather the ship and everyone was safe.
Rabaul - we took the volcano tour which I thought was excellent. We visited a coconut oil factory on the way and saw how this is produced. I wasn't too pleased initially as usually these stops on shore excursions involve the hard sell, but surprisingly they gave us all a free bottle of coconut oil and no sales pitch at all. Then to the volcano observatory which has amazing views, who would have thought PNG was so beautiful? Then to the hot springs which flow into the sea. If you have been to Rotorua you will recognise the sulphur smell. What surprised me was how hot the sea was because of the springs, like a very hot bath. Good view of the still smoking volcano too. Locals here were selling their wares but weren't pushy. We then went to a village and got to walk through a tunnel created by the WW 11 Japanese. This tour was great, our guide Ceslyn spoke good English and was very knowledgable. Be warned it is very hot in Rabaul though.
Kiriwina- this was a lovely island with a lovely beach. Sadly commercialism has very quickly spoiled it. You could not get away from the hundreds of people hassling you to buy something. Men would latch onto you trying to be your "guide" even though no guiding was necessary. We took lots of school supplies etc for the schools and kids and that was quite satisfying but they just wouldn't leave you alone. We made the mistake of not wearing our swimming togs under our clothes and of course there were no changing facilities. We kept trying to find a private spot to change to no avail. We decided we would try to hold towels around each other as we changed. This just attracted more attention with all the locals standing around to watch and then a kind local lady volunteering to hold up the towel as well! Imagine it, 3 middle aged ladies trying to change, we gave up and went swimming in our clothes. Even there we weren't safe, with a young lad trying to get us to change Aussie dollars for Kina while we were swimming and he didn't understand our explanations that we didn't have money on us right then. I wonder if P&O (which must have some arrangement with the locals) could have a word and encourage less hassling. I would have liked to buy things here to support them but it just became too overwhelming and we retreated to the ship. It was a good place to give donated goods for the schools and kids though. We had trouble leaving this port as the anchor got stuck. It took over an hour to get it up but again the captain kept us informed and I guess that is part of the adventure of these very remote destinations.
Conflict Islands - this stop is one of the Conflict Islands and was a beautiful resort called Panasea. It was too rough to anchor on the usual side but the resort has built A floating jetty on the other side of the island and we were the first ship to use it. It was still pretty touch and go it seems and the ship had to use its thrusters throughout the day to stay there but boy it was worth it. My friends went on the glass bottom boat excursion and raved about it. They saw sharks, turtles and all sorts. I snorkelled for ages, such a beautiful beach and I saw a stingray hiding under the sand. Got rather sunburnt but definitely my favourite island. We walked across to the other side of the island to where the resort was and it was the most amazing blue water I ever saw (and our side was already amazing). There were lots of water sports available on the island, I could easily have spent another day there.
Doini Island - we were getting worried now, as we had been told this was another resort like Panasea where there were no locals. My friend had a huge bag of school supplies still to distribute and this was the last island so she was worried that she would have to carry it home. Well it was a resort, but there were heaps of schools and individuals doing performances and collecting donations so it worked out well. We loved the energy and enthusiasm of the kids and there was no hassling at all. The resort had a bar and entertainment and you could use Kina or Aussie dollars. The weather was not great, I met a couple of ladies who had snorkelled all over the world who said they had found a snorkelling spot that was one of the best they had seen. Not sure if I found the right spot but the sea was pretty rough and murky so I gave up. There were some big red flying ants on this island which we didn't like but otherwise was a great stop.
So a few tips I wish I had known:
We each took 180kina ($nz85). It was too much really, we weren't wanting to buy much but ended up donating quite a bit and then changed the rest at Western Union Cairns (a short walk from the ship) but lost quite a bit in the exchange. Wish we had taken less but you do need some Kina. Please don't try to buy stuff off the locals with Aussie dollars, they can't use it and end up desperately trying to change it for Kina. There seems to be no cellphone reception at all after Rabaul, so no contact with home in Kiriwina, Conflict or Doini despite the ships daily newsletter suggesting there may be. Take school supplies and gifts for the kids but try to avoid plastic junk or sweets. There are no rubbish systems or dentists on the remote islands.
If you are thinking of doing this cruise, don't hesitate. May be challenging for less able bodied, but we saw a lady with a walker managing to go ashore each port and I saw an elderly lady on two walking sticks being walked down to the beach by her husband with her mask and snorkel in hand! The passengers were a better sort than those on my last P&O cruise up the Australian coast, no Aussie Aussie Aussie oi oi oi chants so I guess the itinerary attracted more travelled customers. And PNG was more beautiful than I had imagined and the local people were lovely (kiriwina excepted). You will love it, we did.