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SS Norway – A Report on What a Cruise Was Like on the Legendary Vessel
Norwegian Cruise Line’s SS Norway is one of the oldest cruises I’ve always wanted to take. Their seven-day cruise departed from Miami for the Caribbean during Thanksgiving. It’s a big band parade with dance masters and four famous swing bands from the past. Perfect – I love old jazz and big band music, I love to dance but often can’t find a good partner. I signed up.
Sailing in Norway turns out to be a trip back in time. Built in 1960 as the famous SS France, she was more than 1,000 feet long with a 110-foot beam and carried approximately 2,000 passengers and 900 crew members from around the world.
As soon as you step on board, you feel the great tradition. Norwegian still retains the style and elegance of her early cruises. The ship has been refurbished many times, but the Art Deco murals, hand-laid tile mosaics, polished teak railings, and nautical antiques from the old cruise ships have all been carefully preserved. Walking on the long promenade deck, you feel like you are in the Go back somewhere in the past while on a cruise ship. When you dine, you know you’re dining where famous stars dined, you look at the murals and original artwork and you know they were there in the early days, and other people before you are sitting in this room, watching those same mural, and engage in the same lively conversation with others that you are doing now. Later that night, you might picture Cary Grant, elegant in a tuxedo, strolling the deck and leaning nonchalantly on the rail beside you.
It takes a while to find your way. Norwegian was 10 blocks long and 12 decks high. There’s an International Deck lined with sidewalk cafes and boutiques; the Olympic Deck features a glass-walled fitness center where you can work out while looking out to sea; and on the Lower Deck you’ll find a luxurious Roman spa offering Massages, aromatherapy, body wraps, sauna, steam room and an indoor swimming pool for water sports. On different decks there are two swimming pools, a jogging track, seven bars, six entertainment lounges, a grand ballroom, a dance hall, a grand casino, a discotheque, an ice cream shop, a library, a piano bar and A theater classic. There is a barber shop, laundromat, dry cleaner, masseuse and medical facilities if you need it.
Norwegian has 1,039 cabins, each with individually controlled air conditioning, private bathroom with shower, TV, 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 night we were invited to a party in the master suite. It is spectacular with wrap around balcony, living room, bedroom, dressing room and jacuzzi. Our host is a former police officer from Illinois who won a big multi-million dollar lottery and is celebrating. We had a less spectacular cabin with portholes.
Biggest job every day – choose from things to do. Broadway shows, fitness classes, choreography, basketball, golf driving and putting, paddle ball, table tennis, shuffleboard, skeet shooting, snorkeling lessons and excursions, volleyball, fashion shows, wine tasting, art auctions , lectures, tea parties for grandparents, bartenders for singles and champagne parties for honeymooners. There aren’t many kids on this cruise, but there is usually a teen program that includes a children’s playroom, activities for kids and teens, and special shore excursions. How can anyone say they’ll be bored on a cruise?
We left Miami in the late afternoon and the activities started right away. Some passengers immediately headed to the casino, waiting for the doors to open until we were over legal miles. The casino has blackjack, craps, roulette, baccarat, 200 slot machines and some new games that I hadn’t heard of. I had a great time on deck, listening to the music, eating the welcome aboard buffet and watching the shoreline disappear over the stern.
I’m already glad I made this decision. I feel like a different person. The holiday rush on land doesn’t apply here. I watched the waves lapping along the boat, the wake behind it. Fresh air. Holiday fatigue? –puff. The only traffic jam here is the line of first people waiting to enter the restaurant for another meal. The only decision is whether to be on a boat, in port or both, or play golf or tennis, go for a swim at some peaceful tropical beach, or work hard at deep sea fishing. Tonight I’ll have to decide whether to have conch fritters or prawns, fresh baked bread or blueberry muffins, stuffed Cornish hen or grilled swordfish, coconut meringue pie or that ‘chocolate to die for’ dessert. Or a little of each. And I never have to look for a parking space!
By the first night, we were meeting people and serious dancing had begun. I’ve never seen so many people in one place who love dancing so much and know so much about jazz and big band music. You can walk from ballroom to ballroom, and on the International Deck in the middle, you can sit and talk to passengers, reminiscing and comparing memories, while listening to the free 24-hour CD jukebox, stocked with a selection of years of jazz and Big Band Records.
Four bands play this week, alternating two nightly: Tommy Dorsey Orchestra conducted by Buddy Morrow, Si Zentner and his Orchestra, Bob Crosby Orchestra conducted by Ed Metz Jr and Harry James conducted by Art Depew orchestra. Every night, my favorite international café is filled with the drummers of the bands who used to play background music for old Fred Astaire movies. He still plays the familiar old brush drum arrangement for “Get Out With My Baby” and “Topper and Tail.” I met six gentleman dancers in navy blazers and white slacks and did my first dance.
After a few days at sea, crews began placing more than 50 Christmas trees around all decks. Some passengers helped put on some ornaments. In the spirit of the holidays, the video channel features classic holiday movies as well as period films, big band performances, and interviews with veteran big band stars. We’re all in the festive spirit. But it’s different here. No pressure.
Our first port station is St. Maarten/St. Martin. (The island is split in half, half Dutch, half French.) The Dutch port we call at is Philipsburg. On the other side is Marigot, with some French-style cafes by the sea. In between is the beach at Mullet Bay, with its many rock formations for photo ops, swimming and exploring. There are duty-free shops on both sides, with items ranging from cheap T-shirts to expensive jewelry and French and Caribbean designer clothes. Several shore excursions are offered. In the morning, we chose to take a 12-meter sailing boat that participated in the America’s Cup. In the afternoon, we strolled from store to store in the sun to calypso music, then stopped for a refreshing drink on a restaurant terrace by the sea, thinking about the crowds shopping back home.
The next stop is St. John’s, the U.S. Virgin Islands, 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 a couple of snorkeling/scuba diving sessions. Our sailboat took us to St. Thomas where we caught up with the boat. Most people come to town to do their duty-free shopping so they can finish their Christmas shopping when they get home. Others head to Magen’s Bay, the area’s most popular beach. Another group went snorkeling at Buck Island’s protected reef, where hand feeding fish underwater was a highlight, while others watched coral and marine life aboard the Atlantis Submarine. We had plenty of time to get back on board to rest, shower before dinner, and more big band music and dancing.
The second formal evening has three fond memories for me. One of them is a group of musicians sitting around a CD jukebox, playing old tunes and reminiscing about the past. “That was one of those good times when Major Holley played with Slam Stewart on bass.” “Who’s the drummer?” “Sounds like Oliver Jackson.” “Yeah. Remember that night…” I just Sat and listened, grinning, happy to be a part of it.
The second memory is the scene in the main ballroom at 1am. Some older people sat on the bench next to them and fell asleep, too tired to dance, but stubbornly left the wonderful music.
After 2:00 am, I started heading back to my cabin, walking past the CD jukebox as usual, getting some sea breeze, and getting into bed. The nostalgic musicians are gone, but an older couple is there, small and thin. Dressed in suits and arms folded, they reveled in memories and danced to old Tommy Dorsey tunes. There were tears in my eyes as I walked back to my cabin.
The next day was a beach day on Great Stirrup Cay, a small island in the Bahamas. I used to live on one of the outer islands of the Bahamas, so it was amazing to be back in the clear, turquoise Bahamian waters. I walked on the beach and thought about the five years I lived on the island.
Seven days later, the ship is brightly decorated and ready for a Christmas and New Year cruise. They are fully booked. But, I think, I can sign up for next year’s race. But time passes, and now she will sail no more.
History of SS Norway
Norway was christened SS France in 1960. Length: 1,035 feet, the longest passenger ship ever built. Along with Cunard’s Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, she is one of the luxury liners that regularly cross the Atlantic.
But jets came along, faster and cheaper, passenger transport became unprofitable, and sailing ceased in 1974. France stagnated in the port of Le Havre for several years until cruise pioneer Knut U. Kloster bought her for a premium $18 million for his Norwegian Caribbean line (now known as Norwegian cruise line), and renamed it SS Norway. Over the next 10 months, about 2,000 workers spent $100 million on refitting the ship.
She started her new life in the Caribbean, embarking on her first 7-day Caribbean voyage from her new home port of Miami on 6/01/80 with an international crew of 800 from approximately 40 countries. In 1990, she returned to the shipyard again, this time for a $40 million renovation that included a 6,000-square-foot Roman spa offering relaxing fitness, health and beauty programs, and luxury staterooms with two glass-enclosed decks, Two of them are floor to ceiling windows, wrap around balconies and ocean view jacuzzi. In 1993, the ship underwent a $23 million refurbishment and refurbishment of its 5,000-square-foot casino, featuring mirrored, etched and stained-glass Art Deco themes reminiscent of the ship’s storied history.
For so long, her future was uncertain, and now she is in ruins.
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