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SS Norway – A Report on What a Cruise Was Like on the Legendary Vessel
The SS Norway, of the Norwegian Cruise Line, was one of the big old ships I always wanted to go on. Their seven-day cruise was completed on Thanksgiving from Miami to the Caribbean. It was a Big Band Cruise with dance hosts and four well-known swing bands from the past. Perfect — I like old jazz and big band music and I love to dance but often don’t have a good dance partner. I signed up.
Sailing on the Norway turned out to be a trip back in time. She was built in 1960 as the famous SS France, more than 1,000 feet long, 110 feet beam, and with approximately 2,000 passengers and a crew of 900 who come from all over the world.
You felt the grand tradition as soon as you boarded. The Norway continued to maintain style and graciousness reminiscent of earlier cruising. The ship has been renovated several times, but the art deco murals, hand-laid mosaic tiles, polished teak rails and the nautical antiques of past cruises have been carefully preserved, and as you walked the long promenade deck, you felt like you were on a cruise. somewhere back in time. As you ate, you knew you were eating where famous stars ate, and you looked at the murals and original artwork knowing that they were there in those early days when others before you sat in this room, looked at those same murals and engaged in the same animated conversations with others as you are doing now. Later that evening, you half expect Cary Grant, dapper in his tuxedo, to stroll onto the deck and lean casually next to you on the rail.
It takes some time to find your way. Norway is 10 blocks long and 12 decks high. There is an International Deck lined with sidewalk cafes and shops; on the Olympic Deck is the gymnasium with glass walls, so you can exercise while looking at the sea; on the lower deck you find a decadent Roman Spa that offers massages, aromatherapy, body wraps, saunas, steam rooms and an indoor pool for aquatic exercise. On various decks there are two swimming pools, a jogging track, seven bars, six entertainment halls, one grand ballroom, a cabaret, a large casino, a disco, an ice cream parlor, a library, a piano bar, and a theater for first run and old. classic movies. If you need them, there is a hairdresser, laundromat, dry cleaner, masseur and medical facilities.
Norway has 1,039 cabins, each with individually controlled air conditioning, private bath with shower, television, radio and telephone. Some suites have a separate living room and bedroom in addition to the 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 major multi-million lottery ticket and celebrated. We had a less spectacular cabin with port.
Biggest job every day — choosing from among the things to do. There were Broadway shows, exercise classes, dance instruction, basketball, golf driving and putting, paddle ball, ping pong, shuffleboard, skeet shooting, snorkeling classes and tours, volleyball, fashion shows, wine tasting, art auctions, lectures, grandparent tea, singles mixer, and champagne party for honeymooners. There were not many children on this cruise, but there was usually a youth program with a playground, activities for children and teenagers, and special shore excursions. How can anyone say they would be bored on a cruise?
We left Miami late in the afternoon and the activities started right away. Some passengers immediately headed for the casino, waiting for it to open when we arrived outside the legal miles. The casino was set up for blackjack, craps, roulette, baccarat, 200 slot machines and some new games I hadn’t heard of. I was happy on the deck, listening to the music, snacking on the welcome buffet, and watching the coast disappear behind.
I was already glad I made this decision. I felt like a different person. The holiday on land does not apply here. I watched the waves break next to the ship and the wake behind. The air was fresh. Vacation fatigue? — puff The only traffic jam here would be the first people in line waiting to enter the dining room to dig into another meal. The only decisions would be whether to shop on board, in port or both, or play golf or tennis, swim at some quiet tropical beach or work hard at deep sea fishing. And tonight I will have to decide whether to eat the clam fritters or prawns, or fresh baked breads or blueberry scones, or stuffed Cornish hen or grilled swordfish, or coconut meringue pie or that ‘death by chocolate’ dessert. Or a bit of each. And I would never have to look for a parking space!
On the first night we met people, and serious dancing had already begun. I have never seen so many people in one place who enjoyed dancing so much and who knew so much about jazz and big band music. You could wander from ballroom to ballroom, and in between on the International Deck you could sit and talk with the passengers reminiscing and comparing memories while they listened to a free 24-hour CD jukebox stocked with selections from years of jazz and big band recordings. .
Four groups played this week, alternating two each night: the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra directed by Buddy Morrow, Si Zentner and his Orchestra, the Bob Crosby Orchestra directed by Ed Metz Jr, and the Harry James Orchestra directed by Art Depew. And every night at the Cafe Internationale, which turned out to be my favorite place, there was the band whose drummer used to play the background music for the old Fred Astaire movies. He continued to play the old familiar brush drum arrangements for ‘Stepping Out with My Baby’ and ‘Top Hat and Tails’. I met the six gentleman dance hosts in their navy blazers and white slacks and danced my first dances.
A few days at sea the crew started putting up Christmas trees, more than 50, around all decks. Some passengers helped put on some ornaments. In the spirit of the holidays, the video channel featured classic holiday movies as well as period films, big band performances and interviews with old-time big band stars. We all had the holiday spirit. But here it is different. There is no pressure.
Our first port of call was St. Maarten/St. Martin. (The island is divided into two, half Dutch and half French.) The Dutch port where we docked was Philipsburg. On the other side is Marigot, with a few 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 sail on a 12 meter racing sailboat that raced in the America’s Cup. In the afternoon we wandered from shop to shop in the sun with calypso music playing in the background, then stopped for a cool drink on a restaurant patio along the ocean, and thought about the people shopping in the crowd back home.
Next stop was San Juan, the US Virgin Island which is a protected national park. There are empty beaches there and some great hiking trails. We again opted for sailing, while others opted for beaching, sightseeing around the island on a safari bus, or went on one of several snorkelling/scuba diving. Our sailboat took us across to St. Thomas, where we caught up with the ship. Most of the people went into town to do some duty free shopping so that their Christmas shopping would be done when they got home. Others headed for Magen’s Bay, the most popular beach in the area. Another group went snorkeling at Buck Island’s protected reefs, where hand-feeding fish underwater is a highlight, and others viewed coral and marine life aboard the Atlantis submarine. We were back on board in plenty of time for a rest and a shower before dinner, and more big band music and dancing.
I have three wonderful memories of the second formal night. One was the group of musicians sitting around the CD jukebox, playing the old stuff and reminiscing. “That’s Major Holley on bass, with Slam Stewart, one of those wonderful times they played together.” “Who’s the drummer?” “Sounds like Oliver Jackson.” “Right. Remember the night…” I just sat and listened, smiling, happy to be a part of it.
The second memory was the scene at 1 in the morning in the main ballroom. Some of the old people slept sitting on the side banquettes, too tired to dance any longer, but too stubborn to leave the good music.
It was after 2am when I made my way back to my cubicle, taking my usual walk past the CD jukebox to get some sea air before turning in. The reminiscing musicians were gone, but one old couple was there, slim and petite inside. their formal clothes, with their arms around each other, lost in memories, dancing to an old Tommy Dorsey tune. I had tears in my eyes when I walked back to my cabin.
The next day was a beach day on a small island in the Bahamas — Great Stirrup Cay. I used to live in the Bahamas on one of the outer islands, so it was wonderful to return to transparent turquoise Bahamian waters. I walked on the beach, and remembered my five years living in the islands.
At the end of seven days, the ship glittered with decorations, ready for the Christmas and New Year Cruise. They were already fully booked. But, I thought, I can join for next year. But time has passed and now she will sail no more.
HISTORY OF THE SS NORWAY
The Norway was christened the SS France in 1960. Length: 1,035 feet, the longest passenger ship ever built at the time. Along with Cunard’s Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, she was one of the grand luxury ships regularly crossing the Atlantic.
But jet planes came, and were faster and cheaper, passenger traffic became unprofitable, and sailing was stopped in 1974. France languished for several years in the port of Le Havre until cruise industry pioneer Knut U. Kloster, bought her for $18 million for his Norwegian Caribbean Line (today known like Norwegian Cruise Line) and renamed it the SS Norway. Over the next 10 months approximately 2,000 workers renovated the ship at the cost of $100 million.
She began her new life in the Caribbean, sailing her first seven-day Caribbean cruise on June 1, l980 from Miami, her new home port, with an international crew of 800 from some 40 nations. In 1990 she returned to the shipyard again, this time for a $40 million renovation, including a 6,000-square-foot Roman Spa with pampering fitness, health and beauty programs and two glass-enclosed decks of luxury cabins, including two with floor-to- ceiling windows, wraparound balconies and jacuzzis with ocean views. In 1993 the ship had a $23 million renovation and renovation of the 5,000 square foot casino to a mirrored, etched and stained glass Art Deco theme reminiscent of the ship’s legendary past.
Her future was unknown for a long time, but now she is headed to be trash.
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