Getting on the ship via the makeshift tents in Sydney was actually swift and painless and we were in our cabins in 25 min of arrival. Our cabin with window is a delight with plenty of room, walk in wardrobe, bathroom well set out and biggest shower stall of any ship we have been on. Bed comfortable, new flat digital TV with fair choice of programs and channels. Deck 10 windows however have a reverse shear and are not cleaned by rain or crew so may as well not have them. Otherwise the ship is clean, efficient and mostly friendly. Some of the crew could do with lessons in smiling and how not to barge in front of you. But then the young among the passengers could learn the same. Somehow the older one gets, the more invisible one becomes to the younger generations.
Atmosphere is sadly lacking as it is obvious that someone with zero talent has tried to give a contemporary look to the ship and so it has as much character as a soup kitchen.
Talking of which, the food selection is not great, but what is there is generally well cooked and uses good ingredients. The exception is the steak which is dreadful and badly cooked. As a rice eater, this is the first ship we have found with not only good rice, but correctly cooked. For Asians there are only a few dishes that are available. A pity, as what little there is available is properly cooked and as many Asians were on board it would be appreciated. Main dining room looks like an overgrown 1950 cafe, with some seats just as uncomfortable, but the relatively small food selection has good variety and well cooked and presented. (Again except the steak)
A downside is the large number of eating areas that are not included in the ticket and are charged extra. Even late evenings when most ships will have biscuits and cake, coffee, tea etc., The Pacific Pearl has a small uninteresting snack bar with add on charges after 1800hrs...but have pork sausages that even the English would be proud of during the afternoon. The upside is coffee machines with excellent choice of coffees and teas, the best of any ship we have been on.The price of a ticket generally is comparable with most mass passenger lines, but what that ticket offers is less, with too much precious space taken up with yuppie add on charge coffee, meals etc. Beer however is reasonably priced unlike most cruise lines.
Happily the ships photographer's were not totally in your face like the disaster on Diamond Princess, are polite and will accept no as an answer with good grace.
The theatre is a bit small but nice enough and 2 lounges "The Orient" and "Connexions" are comfortable and do have character. The Casino is small and friendly, with low price machines and generally an atmosphere to have fun rather than a place specifically to be fleeced like most ships. The Atrium with its soulless stainless steel has some typical shops, with the usual rubbish and usual prices...what can I say?
Laundrette on deck 10 is huge, lots of machines and ironing stations with A$2 for wash and A$3 for 1 hour dryer. Swimming pools and open deck areas generally are nice and well laid out. Heaps of staff to take drink orders.
Our room steward Randy, was happy, polite and efficient, with everything spotless (Diamond Princess please take note!!)
Entertainment has been excellent and way better than Princess Cruises. The 7 member ships singers/dancers are excellent and as good as Legend of the Seas. Add to that adult acts like Hung Le plus Atrium and deck high rope acts and the like, helps make it a memorable cruise. Final night jam session absolutely tops.
Vila is a lovely sprawling town in a sheltered bay with Iririki Island a short distance away which has lovely houses and shelters a most impressive array of yachts. Looks like there is probably a reasonable expat community and house prices are jumping to Australian prices rapidly!
Most business appeared to be Chinese owned with native workers. Other than that most locals seem to rely on easy pickings from cruise ships, but prices are reasonable generally and duty free booze quite cheap. (The hawker stalls near the ship are double the town prices) A bit out of town there are some lovely beaches and bays and the town and bay from a lookout above the town is nice. We found you can bargain within reason both in tourist shops and taxi/mini busses. If your next port is anywhere in New Caledonia, then make sure you do your buying in Vila!
Lifou is a lovely pretty backwater with 2 prominent churches and hawkers more expensive than yuppie Sydney suburbs. Really there is little to see, but the walking between churches is good chance to stretch the legs and get some of the sea motion out of the system.
Isle of Pines is also pretty with little to do but dodge grossly overpriced rubbish, which made even Lifou look cheap. Take a swim and that's the lot. I'm sorry, but many French (especially those who follow True Rugby) are delightful, but, when the French want to be arrogant arseholes they are in a class of their own.
The sudden influx of cruise lines all "doing" the Pacific, in particular Vanuatu and New Caledonia has given the locals and in particular New Caledonia, the idea that all aboard a cruise ship are a soft touch and downright stupid. Frankly New Caledonia is already not worth the bother. Sure its pretty, but so are most islands.
Vila reminds me of Phuket in the 70's when it was pretty and nice, but its obvious that there is a rapid decline toward Phuket of today which is a dirty, smelly, expensive money making machine designed only to fleece the idiots among the tourist brigade.
I would rate P&O "Pacific Pearl" in the same bracket as Royal Caribbean "Legend of the Seas" and "Sapphire Princess" and well above "Diamond Princess", although for pure fun "Costa Allegra" was hard to beat. The "Pearl" was well run, clean and crew efficient and a delight when they smiled. Entertainment was very good generally and better than most. Food good except steak and a poor variety of seafood. The best attempt at Asian food found so far, but could still have more and the best pork sausages anywhere. The Nescafe do it yourself machine with all styles of coffee and great selection of Lipton teas, all ships should have and by keeping beer prices reasonable, a huge amount seemed to be consumed.
I guess the only major downside was the large number of uncontrolled kids with absolutely no manners whatsoever...which is not a surprise as their parent had no manners either. I frankly was ashamed of many of my bad mannered countrymen and women and Australian dress code is the worlds worst. Day dress for men singlet and baggy board shorts. Evenings shirt open at the front with below the knee board shorts. Women mostly shapeless shifts in an effort to hide grossly overweight and misshapen bodies. I have never seen so many really fat people in one place before....and before everyone yells out these are "disadvantaged people with a disease who should not be single out" just look at the piled plates every meal first.
A major plus however is P&O do not automatically add "gratuities" to your bill, but rather leave it to the individual to tip if and when they feel the service warrants it. This is how it should be. Most cruise lines automatically add gratuities to your bill to make up for the fact they don't pay their people properly and has nothing to do with service.