The End of NCL’s SS Norway

The Last Great Ocean Liner

In July 2008 the legendary SS Norway was dismantled at the ships’ graveyard: the beaches of Alang, India.  Ship enthusiasts had been praying for a reprieve since she was removed from service following a boiler explosion  in 2003, but several plans to save her came to nothing.

Many ship enthusiasts experienced a period of mourning. On the other hand, many cruise passengers have probably never heard of the SS Norway, and others would have considered her to be an outdated rusty old tub, anyway.

The SS Norway was owned an operated by the Norwegian Cruise Line for just over two and a half decades. However, she had a life before this. She entered service in 1962 as the ‘SS France’, a grand Ocean Liner and the last ‘ship of state’ for the French Line ‘CGT’ (Compagnie Générale Transatlantique). She quickly gained a reputation for style and excellent cuisine, serving the transatlantic route between Le Harve and New York.

In 1974 the France was laid up. The era of intercontinental ocean travel was swiftly coming to an end with the increasing dominance of the jet aircraft. This could have easily been the end of the story. However in 1979 the Norwegian Cruise Line purchased the France and spent a year converting her into one of the biggest Caribbean cruise ships of the period. In fact she was 50% bigger than all other ships in operation in the Caribbean.

She quickly became a big hit with the cruising public. Few other ships could match the range of on board facilities and amenities. For example, in the decade of Disco music – launched by John Travolta’s ‘Saturday Night Fever’ movie  and the music of the ‘Bee Gees’ – her Discothèque was the place to be each evening and was always full to capacity.

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The SS France (source unknown)

The location of the ‘Dazzels Disco’ was adjacent to the rear swimming pool. The disco had portholes that looked into the pool, which presented dancers with the unique opportunity to observe the swimmers and the swimmers to observe the dancers.

Personally, I think her attractive ‘Club International’ lounge (the former first class smoking room.) was one of the most attractive public spaces afloat.

However In her latter years, as newer, larger and ever more luxurious ships entered the market. The SS Norway’s  many odd shaped cabins, very few balconies, dated fixtures and fittings etc. became liabilities in the eyes of the cruising public. While her sea keeping abilities and on-board ambiance were a link to the past, the number of passengers that appreciated these became fewer and fewer.

I was lucky enough to cruise on the SS Norway and the feeling was quite different from that of modern cruise ship. Although much of the original décor of the SS France had been ‘Caribbeanized’ by NCL, she still had that unique “Ocean Liner” feel.

I will never forget the surreal experience of being a passenger on board the Norway’ Final transatlantic crossing. On September 11th 2001, when New York’s ‘World Trade Centre’ Tower’s fell, we had sailed from New York only a few days before and were crossing the Atlantic heading towards Scotland, United Kingdom. All the passengers were of course in shock when the news broke on-board. Many of the passengers were American and had relatives in NY.

Externally, the SS Norway’s hull was like a knife, designed to cut through the waves of the North Atlantic like hot butter. Although her superstructure had been heightened with the addition of an extra deck with balcony cabins, she still looks like an Ocean Liner and has two majestic ‘winged’ funnels. Internally she still retained many of her original features. Her two main Dining Rooms were positioned on lower decks, forward and aft, of amidships, which were very stable locations. Both were very attractive, but neither had windows, which was a common feature at the time, on such ships.

The cabins were originally divided into classes. Her tapered hull meant that many of her cabins were not the regular shapes that we have come to expect on modern ship. In fact some on the lower decks they were very small and had bunk beds.

In 2003 the SS Norway experienced a boiler explosion while she was docked in Miami. Several crew members were killed and a number of others were severely injured. After a prolonged investigation into the causes of the accident and a survey of the damages sustained, her owners concluded that she would be too expensive to repair.

It is important to note that in her final years, NCL were selling her berths at bargain basement prices. Each year, it became more difficult for her to compete with the modem mega-ships, which were commanding higher fares.  NCL recognized this and had embarked on an ambitious plan to modernize their fleets, which made it even more difficult to find a place for a ‘classic’ ship like the Norway might fit.

In 2008 we lost the  Norway, one of the last great operational Ocean Liners. I know Cunard fans will argue that the QE2 is an Ocean Liner too. However the QE2 was originally built as a dual purpose Liner/Cruiser. The France was converted into a cruise ship (Norway) but she was definitely built as a Liner. She was the pride of France, a “ship of state”.

The QE2 is currently (2016) laid up in Dubai with a very uncertain future.

The Queen Mary 2 is of course a wonderful modern Liner, but she’s not from that Golden Age when ‘The Only way to Cross’ was by ship.

However, there is one other great Ocean Liner, which is presently laid-up, dilapidated and non-operational. She is the SS United States, America’s 1952 flagship, which quickly proved herself as the fastest of all the Ocean liners. However both NCL and Crystal cruises have both claimed at one time, that they would renovate her and return her back to service. Neither of them kept their promise.

There is of course an enthusiastic Australian billionaire, Clive Palmer, who claimed a few years ago  that he would build a cruising replica of the classic ocean liner, called ‘Titanic II’. Seeing is believing.

Today there are many new mega-ships and fortunately we still have a number of smaller older ships, especially serving the UK market.  However there was only one SS France/Norway, and she’s now gone.

Malcolm Oliver

Read my SS Norway Final Transatlantic review: HERE

The SS France Returns Home

October 2018: The SS France is back in Le Havre, France. The city recently unveiled the ship’s prow, which is now installed by the city’s waterfront and cruise terminal.

The SS France was a Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (CGT, or French Line) ocean liner, constructed by the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard at Saint-Nazaire, France, and put into service in February 1962. At the time of her construction in 1960, the 316 m (1,037 ft) vessel was the longest passenger ship ever built, a record that remained unchallenged until the construction of the 345 m (1,132 ft) RMS Queen Mary 2 in 2004.

The France was purchased by Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) in 1979, renamed SS Norway and underwent significant modifications making her better for cruising purposes. She was arguably the first mega-cruise ship, mainly deployed in the Caribbean. She was sold and scraped in late 2008.

(Le Havre Tourism)

Malcolm says: The SS France was a magnificent ship of state for France. She was later converted into a cruise ship called the SS Norway, for NCL, but still retained much of her Ocean Liner appeal. I was lucky to be on-board her in 2001, for her final transatlantic crossing from Miami to Southampton. She was one of the last ocean liners from the golden era.

A serious boiler explosion caused a loss of passenger confidence and effectively ended her career. However so many people have very fond memories of this ‘classic’ ship. I suppose we should be grateful that her prow is in Le Havre, but France (or somebody) should have saved the rest of her!

143 Responses to “The End of NCL’s SS Norway”

  1. Malcolm Oliver Says:

    Thanks for the feedback Mary.

  2. Mary Good Says:

    River cruising is wonderful. Small and intimate, but also cozy,
    and enjoyable time with fellow cruisers. Food is excellent. Staff is eager to help, eager to please. Entertainment for a small ship is unreal. Ports are beautiful, tours which are included are educational and fun. You get to make friends that last a lifetime. We have been to China twice, Germany twice and looking forward to Viet Nam on our next cruise. You never know till you try it, and I encourage everyone to try it.

  3. Malcolm Oliver Says:

    Yes, I can actually take the Eurostar to Europe, but can’t you fly directly to Germany etc. quickly a cheaply?

    River cruises often stop and some little towns that you would never get to visit otherwise. River boats are more relaxing, more intimate and less like ‘theme parks’.

    I’m not trying to Brainwash you, just suggesting a whole new world! ;-)

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