Firstly, this is ALL positive! We had a wonderful time (having disembarked yesterday) with 17 in our extended group ranging in age from 7 to 60. We all loved it. If you are hesitating about it all, just do it says my 10 year old, who did not 'need' kids club at all, he says. Too much going on elsewhere.
I read extensively on the forum and took a lot of advice that was worthwhile. I'll try not to repeat too much:
WHAT I WOULD NOT DO AGAIN:
Kids bottomless bubbles: Rather give them the $5 a day to spend. There is free colddrink with at least 2 flavours available on deck 9 and water everywhere.
Take my own teabags and coffee: what was available on level 9 was wonderful I loved the hot choc.
Book any land trip on board.
Don't take food for the islands - they ask you not to, the food the locals offer is cheap, safe and good and our custom is a very needed source of income - esp Lifou and Mare.
WHAT I WOULD DEFINITELY DO THE SAME OR NEXT TIME:
Stretch for a balcony - ours was an even number which got us the Opera house in Syd and the welcome song and dance at Noumea, great to have fresh air all day and night.
Go for dinner at Nouveau Restaurant - $40 dinner, $30 lunch and you will not get better food anywhere. If you go on the first night, you may get a free bottle of wine - and let's be honest, where else can you dine on Sydney's harbour for that price?
Do the Chef's Table....$75.00 each including wine and a tour of the kitchen. If I had to choose this or dinner at Nouveau though, I would do Nouveau.
There is also a tour of the navigation deck which others said was excellent for about $100.00.
High tea on the High seas...a very discreet "3.00pm Tea Empire room" will be on your daily list each sea day. A lovely experience with a cart of sweets and savouries to choose from with your tea or coffee. No extra charge.
Cooking Demonstration - happened only once on our cruise and it was amazing - up in Nouveau. You get to try samples of the food as the chef is recreating it for you. Again, this was not heavily advertised and no charge.
Take breakfast to your loved ones whilst they are still in bed...no one minds at all if you walk out of deck 9 with a plate full of brekky.
Get lots of photos taken by the professionals - if you are planning a family portrait - wait until you are on board. They cost $30,00 a photo (big size) which is cheaper than going to a portrait place here. You can only buy one if you want - or many, in all different settings, over different nights, in different outfits, on the islands. And of course, they are wonderful reminders of a wonderful holiday. No pressure to buy - you can view them over the entire cruise and decide on the last day or buy as you see them.
Eat in the Empire every night I wasn't in Nouveau - the food is good, service excellent and the singing beautiful.
We opted for Your Time dining and would do this again - the only advantage I could see in pre-set times was that you got to know your wait staff well.
Take additional clothes hangers - worth it, ladies and moms.
There is a library on board that you can get books from.
Buy your choice of alcohol duty free early - I nearly missed my best friend Smirnoff for $38 for 2 litres.
Do the towel animal demonstration - they are easier than you think!
Include the kids in the theme nights - I thought they'd be asleep by 930 (Caribbean night) but they had a ball and all ages were there. 1030 for the Mexican night was a bit too late and we didn't make it.
Play the games - trivia, scavenger hunt, murder mystery, all the deck 9 little fun games.
Walk the stairs - help maintain the figure.
Do the stretch class (no charge)
Do the biggest boot camp if Shannon is there - it is not hard at all.
Use the steam room, spa and sauna in the gym every afternoon, wonderful to do and you will meet some lovely people. No charge.
Check out the movies, some good ones were on whilst we cruised. No charge.
Ladies, pack what you want, dress up every day if you like, change outfits as often as you like, dress down if you prefer, always have a wrap or jumper or jacket.
ON THE ISLANDS
Book Lifou's Marine reserve permit immediately upon boarding. Limited to 100 people in the morning and same again in the afternoon.
Do the cave in Lifou - if the man with the sign is not at the church, do not go passed it - walk to the back towards the right hand side and you will see the little gateway - well worth the $10.
Try get French Pacific Francs if you can - exchange rate was very variable and we all felt that the deal was better in their local currency.
Try the local foods - none of us were any the worse for it.
Someone took a surf kite/kite board and seemed to have a great time on yedjele beach - so if there is something you want to do differently, go for it, no one will think twice.