This article was written prior to the 2003 fire. Although the SS Norway will never sail again, this profile should bring back some memories for those who love ocean liner history.
The Norway is one of the last true classic ocean liners, having been built at Chantiers de l'Atlantique in St. Nazaire, France and christened the SS France in 1962. The France was a no-expenses-spared maritime showpiece of French culture. The France was such an important construction project that it was closely monitored by French President Charles DeGaulle. Upon its completion, the France was considered a masterpiece of maritime architecture, and its restaurant was known as among the French finest. At one time, she was the world's largest cruise ship, and at 1,035 feet is still one of the longest. She carries over 2000 passengers and weighs in at over 76 tons. Although the ship is over 40 years old, she is still a head-turner with her sleek look. The ship's deep draft (35 feet) requires her to anchor and tender passengers ashore in almost every port. Although this is a hassle, it does give those ashore a great look at an impressive ship. Note the picture in the upper right corner. It was taken from the ship's tender ferrying passengers into St. Thomas.
Her first 12 years was spent crossing the Atlantic as a speedy ocean liner, ferrying passengers to and from Europe and the United States. In 1979 Norwegian Cruise Line purchased the France, renamed her the Norway, and significantly modified the liner for cruise service rather than trans-Atlantic duty. The shipyard removed two propellers and four boilers, reducing the Norway's top speed from 35 knots down to less than 25. Many changes were made to the interior, including the elimination of the class system.
This 1979 refurbishment was only the first of many modifications, re-fittings, and face lifts that the Norway has had over the last two decades. An alternative restaurant, a 6000 square foot Roman Spa, a 4000 square foot fitness center, a Sports Illustrated Cafe, and a whole new deck of balconied suites are just some of the additions. Therefore, although the Norway is one of the oldest ladies sailing, these modifications have helped her keep up with her more modern competition.
There are other signs of modernization on board. Internet computer terminals have been added to the library. Important feature for all of us Web junkies! Although the two main dining rooms are almost intact from Norway's trans-Atlantic days, the menu has been modified to offer a healthier cuisine. The onboard entertainment has been praised as some of the best afloat, including Broadway-style shows in the main theater.
Some things on the Norway have not changed much. The cabin lay out and number of cabin categories is very complicated, and somewhat of a holdover from the class system days. There is often a significant difference in cabin quality amongst cabins of the same category. Because of the age of the ship and the many changes in interior design, your cabin may reflect the fashion of the 60's, 70's, 80's or the 90's! For example, your cabin might have contemporary decorations and a picture window, while some in the same class will only have a porthole and not reflect the current fashion in decor. These cabin complexities mean that you and your travel agent should study a deck plan when selecting your cabin.
North American cruisers got a second chance to sail the Caribbean on the Norway in 2002. She may not be modern and full of balconies like the newer ships, but cruise lovers who love the traditional look and layout rejoiced when Star Cruises announced her return to Caribbean waters. She has not sailed since the fire in May 2003, but her history is memorable.