We had heard some not great reviews of P&O, but loved the idea of PNG as a destination. We have cruised four times before and we thought P&O was great. We loved the Australian feel of the ship, the smaller size, awesome entertainment, great dining choices, and great kids club. We chose to eat in the Waterfront or specialty restaurants for most meals where we found the food really good. Service was mixed....some people were very attentive and others not so much. Salt really was exceptional and worth the surcharge. We are vegetarian and always found at least a couple of options we could choose. The Pantry was okay and I liked the Asian and Indian stations. Sometimes seating was hard to come by.
Everything we ate there was delicious. Our kids loved going to Kids Club each day and did all the Edge activities as well, which were huge highlights. We were lucky in that we were able to get to each of our 4 ports in PNG. Tendering service was slow the first day (it was rough), but more efficient the other days.
We thought the entertainment was really great with a variety of bands, singers, and productions each night. The main areas of the ship were modern and bright. I particularly loved the soft loungers by the pool and the comfy seating on that deck.
We were super impressed with our first cruise experience with kids and would definitely sail with P&O again.
You can read our full review of our itinerary here:
We had two side by side cabins, one twin and one triple outside cabins. They were both fairly large for cruise ship standards and in good condition. Bedding was comfy and our room stewards were really attentive and personable. Of course the kids loved the towel animals each day.
Embarkation was efficient. We spent a few days in Cairns - so much to do there. The lagoon and esplanade are a great place to spend some time.
Alotau was our least favorite port, but it was still really interesting and a good introduction to PNG. Alotau is the regional centre of Milne Bay province. The villagers in the surrounding area come to Alotau for supplies and so it feels busier than a city of its size. Alotau was the only port where we were docked, making disembarking simple. Due to high winds on our way from Australia to PNG, we arrived a couple of hours later than planned. The boat docks about 1.5-2 km from the town centre and you can walk into town on your own alongside the road or take a taxi for $5 AUD.
There are many World War II sites that can be visited and P&O offers tours to highlight these sites. We opted to just walk off the ship with the aim of finding a local tour to join. As we walked off the ship there were children and adults in traditional dress dancing, which was a great welcome to the country.
There are lots of locals holding up signs for tours as you exit the dock area. It is a bit overwhelming to try to decide which person to go with. They all advertised similar itineraries: World War II memorials, the local market, the craft market, a look out, a local village and school. Most charged $25-30pp AUD or 50-60K for a 2.5 hour tour in 15-seater older vans.
I think choosing a tour and guide is a bit like the lottery and we ended up picking a dud. The first place she took us was the airport, which we all didn’t really understand why she took us there. We did get to see villages and homes outside the town on the drive, which was interesting. She then took us to the local market where we were supposed to have 5 minutes, but I could have had much longer. There were lots of local fruits, peanuts, coconuts, fish and of course betal nut for sale. We bought some peanuts, coconuts to drink and tried the rose apple red fruit which we saw throughout PNG.
Our next stop was the craft market where there were T-shirts, hats, sarongs, carvings, baskets on offer. I would recommend buying any manufactured souvenirs here, but buying carvings and handmade souvenirs on the islands. Our tour had only been going for 1.5 hours and she indicated that she was taking us all back now. In hind sight we should have spoken up because we had not visited most of the places promised. We asked her to let us out at the market where we could continue to explore on our own.
We spent a couple of hours walking around the harbor and the six shops on the main street. I love the opportunity to see local shops and we picked up a few t-shirts for the kids in the stores. While Alotau is not the most exciting port, we still thought it gave us an interesting introduction to PNG.
Our last port of call was an uninhabited island in the Conflict Islands, which are located 11 degrees from the equator. We have been all over the world and visited some amazing tropical islands, but this island was spectacular.
As you step onto the jetty at Panasesa Island, you know right away that you have stumbled onto a magical place. The super clear, shallow waters are teaming with iridescent fish and the white sand beach beckons.
There is a small eco-resort on the island set away from the main beach where the tenders dock. Recently they have built a more protected jetty on the other side of the island, making it easier for tenders to land each visit. The Conflict Islands use a voucher system to buy things ashore where you can trade in Australian dollars or Kina for vouchers to purchase food, water activities and souvenirs. There are a lot of P&O shore tours to choose from at this port from snorkel tours to glass bottom boat rides to visiting the turtle conservation.P&O port
Once you are ashore, turn right off the jetty and you can purchase your vouchers, food and drinks and hire kayaks, paddleboards, lounge chairs and snorkel equipment. I have always wanted to try out a see-thru kayak so we didn’t waste any time hiring a kayak and paddleboard. The equipment was in great shape, with good life jackets and very reasonably priced at $20 AUD/hour.
The beach is absolutely beautiful, lined with shade trees and great for swimming. If you swim or paddle 200-300 m off the beach you will discover the most amazing coral and marine life. At this point there is a drop off and you can snorkel and paddle over the drop off to see a huge variety of coral and fish. If you aren’t a strong snorkeler or swimmer, I would recommend doing one of the ship’s snorkeling tours. They have a snorkel platform that they take you out to in a boat, with a lifeguard, eliminating the longer swim to get to the coral. We took a paddleboard with us to the drop off so the kids had something to hang onto once in awhile.
If you continue to walk right you will come to an incredible sand bar that you can walk really far out on at low tide. This is another great area to snorkel since you don’t have to swim as far to reach the drop off area. You do have to swim over some shallow coral and there was some current, so do take care. We could not believe how alive and vibrant the coral was and how many different types of fish we saw. It really was like swimming in an aquarium and we spent hours in the water. Our kids are really competent swimmers and snorkelers and were able to snorkel with us. We did bring a pool noodle from Australia with us to help our 6-year-old when snorkeling.
We walked around the back side of the island, which was really windy, but had no one around. It was mid-afternoon by the time we made our way back to the central area. Unfortunately they had run out of a lot of the food for sale, which did look pretty good. There is a beach bar where we tried our first PNG beer and they have sodas and slushy cocktails available too. There is an open air shop selling souvenirs like carvings, jewelry, postcards (sadly they were out of stamps), soaps and lotions and t-shirts at reasonable prices.
ral is not far off the beach; as you move farther out, the water is clearer and coral most impressive.
On the main island there are some skull caves you can visit, which we didn’t do. There is no food for purchase except local fruits, but you can buy fresh coconuts to drinks, along with soda and local beer.
Port 3: Kiriwina
Kiriwina is actually very close to Kitava, so I imagine we floated around that evening on our way to Kiriwina. Kiriwina is the largest and most populous island (12,000 residents) in the Trobriand Islands. The ship tenders at Kaibola village, the northern most point of the island and furthest from the largest settlement of Losuia. This port is very similar to Kitava with no ship excursions available.
Once again there were so many people gathered on the beach and in the village. Carvers and weavers displayed their wares, groups of traditionally attired school children sung for donations, and tour guides loitered around. The residents of Kiriwina seemed marginally more prepared for tourists and we found them more comfortable approaching and talking with tourists.
On Kiriwina, I would recommend doing the following things:
Browse and purchase more wood carvings and weaved items. We had already purchased a few things on Kitava, but found the carvings to be more polished on Kiriwina. There were also larger items, like big bowls and tables for sale.
Pick up one of the local unofficial guides to show you around the villages. We spent 1.5 hours wandering around and learning more about village life on the island.
Spend time on the beautiful beach and hire a boy to take you out in a small canoe (5-10 Kina)
Sometimes the locals organize a Trobriand Cricket match near the tender landing. This is a unique game that is part mating ritual, part peaceful alternative to inter-tribal warfare and part singing and dancing.
Locals do cook fresh lobster tails for sale and there are other fresh items to purchase.
Visit a skull cave
You can snorkel off the beach, but we didn’t find it anywhere near as nice as the snorkeling on Kitava the day before.
Go for a ride with one of the young boys in a traditional canoe
Right away you will notice that Kiriwina feels more developed then Kitava, but only slightly. While locals still live in the same basic accommodation, there were more buildings made out of manufactured wood. There is a Rotary project in Kaibola where they are building a clinic, school and expanding the one water pump. We saw some generators and a few more pieces of modern life.
Shortly after getting to land we met a lovely man that became our guide for the day. His English was better then our guide from Kitava and he seemed more comfortable with his guide role. He lived in a village a couple of hours walk away and he had a son studying at the University in Rabaul. He walked us around the nearby villages, showing us the yam houses and answering our questions about life on the island.
Once again, we donated school supplies to the schools and the kids enjoyed giving out bouncy balls and pencils to children as we were walking around. It really was magic to see our kids understanding how good it feels to give. They loved high-fiving the kids as they walked by and greeting the villagers with a big smile and hello.
I did ask our guide how the island felt about the cruise ships visiting and he was adamant that it is a really good thing for them. He said that the ships coming keep the peace between the villages and inject cash into their island. He said that while he was a farmer and carver, that does not provide money for him to pay his son’s university fees.
We walked back to the beach and spent a few hours swimming and relaxing. Our guide offered to watch our things for us, but we felt like our things were safe and encouraged him to meet other tourists to tour around. We again paid our guide 50K because we really enjoyed our time with him and his openness to answer our questions.
On the beach in Kiriwina there are lots of young boys in dugout canoes offering to take you out in their boats. Some people might tire of the constant visits from these boys, but they are very polite and sweet. We did pay 10K for our kids to be taken out for a ride by one of the boys. We tried snorkeling off the beach, but didn’t find anything really good.