Superliners Offer More Choice - .au

Royal Caribbean's 'Radience of the Seas' at port in Sydney Harbour. Picture: SuppliedSource:SuppliedAS SYDNEY celebrates the arrival of the biggest superliner to call the Harbour City home in Radiance of the Seas (pictured) this month and its owners plans to send an even bigger ocean liner potential cruise passengers can look forward to great deals and new itineraries.Suddenly it is about choice for you, not the line, as lines such as Royal Caribbean International, P&O Cruises, Princess, Holland America, Celebrity, Carnival, Cunard and more offer new itineraries, new deals and new prices.At the same time, operators are quietly urging the NSW Government to fast-track infrastructure improvements to allow bigger and better ships to call Australia home, possibly including turning the Garden Island naval base into a cruise terminal.Bear in mind cruise ships are floating resorts quite happy to steer to places like China as home ports if demand and infrastructure is there. At the moment they see Australia as a huge market that will deliver lucrative deals for local guests and a massive payoff as thousands of Americans and Europeans come south to enjoy Australian, New Zealand and Pacific waters provided the infrastructure works.That's why this month Sydney became home for a season to the Royal Caribbean International liner Radiance of the Seas, the biggest ship to call Australia home for a season.Launched in 2001, and undergoing a massive multimillion-dollar refit in May before its Sydney sojourn, it is the largest ship to make Australia its home port for the 2011/12 cruise season. Its not-so-smaller sister Rhapsody of the Seas already has given locals a taste of RCI style.At 293m long, Radiance of the Seas carries about 2100 passengers, with features including a basketball court, mini golf, dedicated cinema, kids' swimming area with waterslide, nine-deck atrium, sea-view glass elevators and 12 dining venues.The ship also offers Royal Caribbean's signature rock climbing, along with an adults-only solarium, spa and fitness centre, children's Adventure Ocean club, Casino Royale and Broadway style theatre.There is also the massive outdoor LED video screen overlooking the main pool area, the English-styled Quill & Compass Pub among many eating options, which have doubled during the refit, plus a variety of kids' clubs facilities.Radiance of the Seas' season highlights include five 14 and 16-night cruises to New Zealand and two 12-night cruises to the South Pacific; a seven-night Tasmania itinerary, sailing on February 12 next year, with overnight stops in Melbourne and Hobart; two opportunities to circumnavigate the continent by combining a new 16-night Top End voyage from Sydney to Perth (Fremantle) with an 18-night southern return voyage to Sydney via southern Australia and New Zealand.This time next year Sydney will greet RCI's Voyager of the Seas built at a cost of $US500 million ($A491 million) and measuring 311m long and 48m wide, about twice the size of most cruise ships now based in the region.With 1556 staterooms, it can carrying up to 3840 guests and facilities range from an ice rink, inline skating track, rock-climbing wall, nine-hole mini golf course, golf simulator, full-size sports court, three swimming pools, six whirlpools, a teen disco and an Adventure Beach water park.The 11 dining venues include the three-storey, 1920-seat main dining room which will be the largest restaurant in Australia and 13 lounges and bars, a 1350-seat theatre, spa centre, wedding chapel and art gallery among other facilities.While all this sounds exciting, RCI president Adam Goldstein in Sydney to talk to authorities about the future noted Sydney needs far better facilities to deal with existing cruise traffic, let alone the new generation of ships.After talks with ministers and bureaucrats about shortcomings at the Overseas Passenger Terminal and Darling Harbour, he was cryptic about whether Garden Island should become a cruise port, but noted there was not enough enthusiasm for Sydney the great harbour city to become a great cruise hub which in turn would spread the wealth to all other Australian ports of call."Americans and Europeans want to come down here in international ships like ours Sydney has to be a robust hub of the cruise wheel and I don't think the leadership in NSW has fully taken that on. It is a great opportunity."Originally published as Superliners offer more choice

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When Hunter Rosenberg celebrated his first birthday and big brother Stone celebrated his third this year, the family purchased a swing set with a rock climbing wall for the backyard with half the money they received in combined gifts. The Montreal Children's Hospital Foundation got the other half.Tara Sklar and Jonathan Rosenberg, the boys' parents, organized parties through ECHOage, an online social enterprise that has hosted more than 15,000 children's birthday parties and raised $3.3 million for more than 250 charitable partners since it was established in 2008 by Debbie Zinman and Alison Smith.The two Toronto mothers were looking to change the face of children's birthday parties by eliminating the often-tedious chore of shopping for presents (no one is sure what the child will want or like), by giving children the opportunity to choose charitable organizations as beneficiaries, and by giving parents the opportunity to have important conversations with kids about values. It's is also a way for charities, schools and other organizations to generate new funding sources.ECHOage gives parents the tools they need to manage a child's birthday party, including online party invitations and a secure way to contribute online. The money is pooled and divided equally between child and charity. (There is a credit card and processing charge of 4.9 per cent to the host and an administrative fee of 6.9 per cent plus $2.50 per donation on funds raised for the charity.) As well, there's an online RSVP manager, and gifts/donations are tracked online; a tax receipt for the portion of the gift to charity is sent."It is such a phenomenal service," said Sklar, who learned of ECHOage through word of mouth. The family was pleased to make a hospital the beneficiary of their children's celebrations: Son Stone came into this world at only 33 weeks and spent the first two months of his life in hospital."I just like the values that are tied into it," said Montreal-based Bonnie Levine, chief ambassador, Eastern Region, for ECHOage, and a mother of two daughters. "There is the convenience factor and also the knowledge that one is doing something for charity ... I believe that children like to play an active role, and this puts them in the driver's seat. They can choose the gift and choose the charity. They see the funds accumulate and they feel good."Levine has been involved with ECHOage since last fall: In Quebec, more than 3,000 children have attended 250 ECHOage parties and raised more than $34,000 for various charities.The company is now building on the children's birthday party platform to host other kinds of events, including milestone birthdays, anniversaries and holiday parties, with ECHOage Events; hosts can designate up to 100 per cent to charity. ; .For the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which begins Sept. 24 at sundown, people often send flowers or gifts to family and friends. The Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors Foundation of the Cummings Centre has an alternative: its Mitzvah Meals program. Funds raised benefit seniors in need of Meals on Wheels: A gift of $18 pays for two meals, $36 buys four and $54 buys seven. A customized card acknowledges the gift and a tax receipt is issued. Deadline for delivery before Rosh Hashanah is Sept. 17. 514-343-3529, Local 7316, or .
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