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Last week was a pretty exciting one for cruise fans, with the announcement of Carnival’s Spirit taking up year-round residency in Australia from October 2012. Carrying 2,667 guests, Spirit will have plenty to lure local cruise fans. Around two-thirds of her staterooms have private balconies, which according to Carnival will be the most on any Australian-based ship, and she boasts an impressive array of facilities including 16 lounges and bars, a two-level health spa, a 22-metre corkscrew water slide, and four swimming pools.

The announcement of Spirit’s redeployment Down Under, however, will also shake up the growing issue of Sydney’s cruise facilities. Rising almost 53-metres above the waterline, the ship is too tall to pass under the harbour bridge, so she will have to set up home at Circular Quay’s Overseas Passenger Terminal – or elsewhere.

During “Wave Season” in particular, Sydney Harbour undoubtedly gets busy. Just last week, when I took the Manly ferry into the city, there were no less than three ships in port. The Silver Shadow was docked at Circular Quay passing through to Asia, along with the Astor which was at anchor in the harbour, and the local Pacific Jewel was docked at its current home at Barangaroo.

The row over Sydney’s cruise facilities has been rumbling on for some time, and the growing number of ships visiting our waters, and calling Sydney home, has somewhat fuelled the fire. Back in 2008, the ABC’s Kerry O’Brien reported that things were not all “clear sailing” as the growing volume of traffic has exposed major problems with our port facilities.

That same year, when the Queen Mary and Queen Victoria arrived into port, the city was plunged into gridlock as thousands surged to witness their arrival. And as both mega-liners couldn’t be accommodated by our local wharves, they had to dock at the Navy’s Garden Island instead.

The Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay is beautifully situated making it a perennial favourite for overseas visitors, and with two of Australia’s best known icons at hand, not to mention the proximity of sightseeing and shopping in Sydney’s CBD, it’s hard not to see why. But it can’t handle the huge ships being built today – including Carnival’s Spirit when she comes Down Under – and that will be to the city’s detriment.

The NSW Government is planning to relocate the current cruise facilities at Barangaroo to a new home at White Bay, next to the neighbourhoods of Balmain and Rozelle, a move which has drawn heavy criticism. Complaints from cruise operators include the distance from the CBD, and a lack of proper infrastructure, and for residents no doubt concerns surround potential traffic, increased noise levels and a general invasion of their public areas.

The popular suggestion appears to be leaving the facilities at Barangaroo as they are – but this won’t benefit the big ships like Spirit. Another has been the proposed move of the Navy base from Garden Island.

Either way a solution needs to be found which will both serve the cruise industry well, and keep Sydneysiders happy with the minimum of inconvenience. If destinations like Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong can do it, so should we. And after all, one of the world’s top cruising ports of call deserves facilities of which it can be proud. Happy cruising!

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