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SS Norway – A Report on What a Cruise Was Like on the Legendary Vessel
An old ship I’ve always wanted to visit was the Norwegian Cruise Line’s SS Norway. Their seven-day cruise ended Thanksgiving from Miami to the Caribbean. It was a big band cruise with a host of dances and past four swing bands. Perfect — I love old jazz and big band music and I love to dance but don’t often have a good dance partner. I signed up.
Sailing in Norway turned out to be a trip back in time. She was built in 1960 as the famous SS France, over 1,000 feet long, with a 110 foot beam and nearly 2,000 passengers and 900 crew who come from all over the world.
As you ride you feel the great heritage. Norway still retains a style and grace reminiscent of earlier cruising. The ship has been renovated several times, but the Art Deco murals, hand-made tile mosaics, polished teak rails and nautical antiques from past cruises have been carefully preserved, and as you walk the long promenade deck, you feel like you’re cruising back in time. . When you dined, you knew you were dining where the famous stars had dined, and you saw the murals and original artworks that were there in the early days when others before you sat in this room, saw the same murals and engaged in the same with others. The kind of lively conversation you’re having now. Later that evening, you half expect Cary Grant, elegant in his tuxedo, to walk down the deck and lean casually beside you on the rail.
It takes a while to find your way. Norway is 10 blocks long and 12 decks high. There is an international deck lined with sidewalk cafes and boutiques; the fitness center on Olympic Deck with glass walls so you can work out while looking out over the ocean; On the lower deck you’ll find a decadent Roman spa with massages, aromatherapy, body wraps, sauna, steam room and an indoor pool for water exercise. On the various decks there are two pools, a jogging track, seven bars, six entertainment lounges, a grand ballroom, a cabaret, a large casino, disco, an ice cream parlor, library, piano bar and a theater for first-run and old-timers. Classic movies. If you need them, there is a hairdresser, laundry, dry cleaner, massage and medical facilities.
Norway has 1,039 staterooms, each with individually controlled air conditioning, private bath with shower, TV, radio and phone. Some suites have a separate living room and bedroom in addition to a master bedroom. Most penthouse suites have private balconies. One evening we were invited to a party in the owner’s suite. It was spectacular, with a wrap-around balcony, living room, bedroom, dressing room and jacuzzi. Our host — a former police officer from Illinois who won a big lottery win worth millions and was celebrating We had a less spectacular little cabin with a porthole.
The biggest task of the day — choosing between what to do. There are Broadway shows, exercise classes, dance instruction, basketball, golf driving and putting, paddleball, ping pong, shuffleboard, skeet shooting, snorkeling classes and tours, volleyball, fashion shows, wine-tasting, art auctions, lectures, a tea. A mixer for grandparents, singles and a champagne party for honeymooners. There weren’t many kids on these cruises, but there was usually a youth program with children’s playrooms, children’s and teen activities, and special shore excursions. How can anyone ever say that they will be bored on a cruise?
In the afternoon we leave Miami and the activities begin immediately. Some passengers immediately headed for the casino, waiting for it to open as we passed the legal mile. The casino was set up for blackjack, craps, roulette, baccarat, 200 slot machines and a few new games I hadn’t heard of. I was happy on deck, listening to music, snacking from the welcome-aboard buffet, and watching the coastline disappear.
I was already happy that I made this decision. I felt different. The land holiday rush does not apply here. I watched the waves break alongside the ship and the wake trail behind. The air was fresh. Holiday fatigue? — poof The only traffic jam here will be the people in the first line waiting to enter the dining room for another meal. The only decisions will be to shop on board, in port, or both, or play golf or tennis, go swimming on some quiet tropical beach, or work hard on deep sea fishing. And tonight I have to decide whether to have conch fritters or prawns, or freshly baked bread or blueberry muffins, or stuffed Cornish hen or grilled swordfish, or coconut meringue pie or that ‘death-by-chocolate’ dessert. Or a little of each. And I don’t have to look for a parking space!
The first night we were meeting people, and the serious dancing had already begun. I have never seen so many people in one place who enjoy dancing so much and who know so much about jazz and big band music. You can wander from ballroom to ballroom, and in the middle of the International Deck you can sit and talk with passengers and compare memories as they listen to a complimentary 24-hour CD jukebox stocked with a choice selection of jazz and big band recordings over the years. .
Four bands played this week, alternating two each night: the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra conducted by Buddy Morrow, Si Gentner and his Orchestra, the Bob Crosby Orchestra conducted by Ed Metz Jr., and the Harry James Orchestra conducted by Art Dew. And every night at Cafe International, which became my favorite place, the band whose drummer used to play background music for old Fred Astaire movies. He still played the old familiar brush drums for ‘Stepping Out With My Baby’ and ‘Top Hat and Tails’. I met the dance hosts, six gentlemen in navy blazers and white slacks, and danced my first dance.
A few days out at sea the crew began planting more than 50 Christmas trees around all decks. A few passengers helped put on some ornaments. During the holidays, the video channel features classic holiday films as well as period movies, big band performances and interviews with well-known old big band stars. We were all in the holiday spirit. But it’s different here. No pressure.
Our first port stop was St. Maarten/St. Martin. (The island is split in two, half Dutch and half French.) The Dutch port, where we docked, was Philipsburg. On the other side is Marigot, with some seaside French cafes. In between is the beach at Mullet Bay with lots of rock formations for good photo ops, swimming and exploring. There is duty-free shopping on both sides, with merchandise ranging from cheap T-shirts to expensive jewelry and French and Caribbean designer clothing. Several shore excursions were offered. In the morning we chose to go sailing on a 12-meter racing sailboat that had raced in the America’s Cup. In the afternoon we wandered the shops in the sun with calypso music playing in the background, then stopped for a cool drink on the patio of a restaurant by the sea, and thought about the people shopping in the crowd back home.
Next stop was St. John, US Virgin Island which is a protected national park. There are empty beaches and some excellent hiking trails. Again we opted for sailing, while others opted for the beach, a safari bus tour around the island or one of the several snorkel/scuba dives. Our sailboat took us to St. Thomas, where we caught up with the ship. Most people went into town to do some duty-free shopping so they could do their Christmas shopping back home. Others head to Magen’s Bay, the area’s most popular beach. Another group went snorkeling on the protected reefs of Buck Island, where underwater hand-feeding fish is a highlight, and others saw coral and sea life on the Atlantis submarine. We were back on board in plenty of time for rest and showers before dinner and more big band music and dancing.
I have three wonderful memories from the second formal night. One was a group of musicians sitting around a CD juke box playing oldies and reminiscing. “This is one of those wonderful times when Major Holly, along with Slam Stewart, played together.” “Who’s the drummer?” “Sounds like Oliver Jackson.” “Okay. Remember the night…” I just sat and listened, grinning, happy to be a part of it.
The second memory was the scene at 1am in the main ballroom. Some old people fell asleep sitting at the banquet next door, tired of dancing, but too stubborn to give up the good music.
After 2 o’clock as I started to make my way back to my stateroom, I took my usual walk past the CD juke box to breathe in the ocean air before heading inside. The reminiscing musicians left, but an older couple was there, slim and short in their formal dresses, their arms around each other, lost in memory, dancing to an old Tommy Dorsey tune. I had tears in my eyes as I walked back to my cabin.
The next day was a beach day on a small island in the Bahamas – Great Stirrup Cay. I lived on one of the outer islands of the Bahamas, so it was great to be back in the clear turquoise Bahamian waters. I walked on the beach, and remembered my five years living on the island.
At the end of seven days, the ship was glittering with decorations, ready for the Christmas and New Year cruise. They were already fully booked. But, I thought, I might sign up for next year. But time has passed and now he will travel no more.
History of the SS Norway
Norway was renamed SS France in 1960. Length: 1,035 feet, the longest passenger ship ever built. Along with Cunard’s Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, she was one of the largest luxury ships to regularly cross the Atlantic Ocean.
But jet planes arrived, and were fast and cheap, passenger transport became unprofitable, and in 1974 the cruise was discontinued. Knut U. Kloster, a pioneer in the cruise industry, languished in the port of France Le Havre for several years until she was purchased. $18 million for her Norwegian Caribbean Line (today known as Norwegian Cruise Line) and renamed SS Norway. Over the next 10 months, about 2,000 workers renovated the ship at a cost of $100 million.
She began her new life in the Caribbean, her first seven-day Caribbean cruise on June 1, l980 from Miami, her new home port, with an international crew of 800 from nearly 40 countries. In 1990 she returned to the shipyard once more, this time for a $40 million renovation, including a 6,000-square-foot Roman spa with pampering fitness, health and beauty programs and two floor-to-ceiling glass-enclosed luxury cabins. Ceiling windows, wraparound balconies, and Jacuzzis with ocean views. The ship underwent a $23 million renovation in 1993, and the 5,000-square-foot casino features a mirrored, etched and stained glass Art Deco theme reminiscent of the ship’s legendary past.
His future has been unknown for a long time, but now he is about to be scrapped.
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