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hand, many cruise passengers have probably never heard of the SS Norway, and others would have considered her to be an outdated rusty old tub, anyway.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.

11667403304_c962339f49_b

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!

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

  1. Isi Jans Says:

    On our 5th Anniversary. July 1989 we took our first cruise ever on the SS Norway. We even reaffirmed our vows on board, a beautiful free service at the time. The cabins were more spacious than any of the modern ones. The memories are wonderful.

  2. Malcolm Oliver Says:

    Thanks for the memories Paula.

  3. Paula Brown Says:

    I was on board the SS France on her last voyage from New York across the Atlantic in early September, 1974. No one aboard was aware of it being the last trip until we left Southhampton and headed for LeHavre. Then rumors started flying and the crew was obviously very upset as many of them had been on the France since its birth. So upset that they decided to strike and not pull the ship into port. We were college students on the way to Paris for the year and not in a hurry to get off anyway. That night it was very exciting and romantic in a way as the police and the press hovered around the huge liner in small craft and helicopters. We were the talk of the France! The crew positioned the ship longways, it’s mile long body blocking the entire port of LeHavre. Unfortunately for us at the time, the next morning they took us off the ship onto ferries and as the crew waived from the decks we left the France in the fog and arrived in Paris later that evening. Our trunks However never were loaded off from the ship’s hold and we lived through France’s coldest Autumn in 100 yrs with the light cruise wear we had in our one suitcase. Finally, after weekly trips. To the CGT’s offices in Paris, our trunks were delivered 2 months later to our apartment in the 7th arrondissement and it was like Christmas! Eventually, the ship’s crew gave in and the ship was brought into port for the last time as the France. I feel extremely lucky to gave had this unique experience and to have shared it with the 20 others from our UMass group. It brought us closer as a group than we would have been and was the start of a wonderful year abroad in the most beautiful city in the world.

  4. Malcolm Oliver Says:

    Thanks for the recollections. Interior images must be online somewhere. Historian John Maxton Graham has an excellent book called France/Norway. It’s on Amazon.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    We traveled on the Norway in 1998 (August) and loved it. Took our two children (age 16 and 24). One of the diningrooms reminded me of the one on the movie Titanic. There was only one elevator but the stairs were great exercise. Our cabin was huge…queen size bed, pull out couch to a full size bed, two arm chairs, side table, large square coffee table. My daughter loved it so much she asked her fiancé to go on a cruise the following summer…again on the Norway. I’ve been on several ships since and nothing will compare as far as I’m concerned. Wish I could see pictures of the interior…diningrooms, pool, cabins, theater, etc.

  6. Catherine Lawless Says:

    My family and I sailed on the Norway I believe late 80’s, early 90’s. I was very young. We absolutely loved our waiter and busboy, and at the end of our trip, we were so sad to leave! We had become so close to them in that one week we were there. We have always wondered how their lives have been and where they are. The waiter was Benji and I can’t remember the busboy. It was a huge ship! We would go for ice cream after dinner at that little ice cream place place inside. Marie Osmond was also on our cruise so we would follow her around everywhere. Such great memories!

  7. Jennifer Croft Says:

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful experiences. We loved that ship too. It’s very sad to see her gone.

  8. Malcolm Oliver Says:

    Thanks for sharing your memories Luke.

  9. LUKE G. CONLEY III Says:

    My name is Luke G. Conley III, and I was one of the fortunate hundreds who sailed annually aboard the S.S. Norway during the days when Hank O’Neil and Shelly Shire (HOSS) presented The Floating Jazz Cruises. Each sailing of The Floating Jazz Cruise, which generally took two weeks, presented the very finest in Jazz Musicians, nearly all considered to be Masters, Legends, and the greatest of all Jazz performers. It was the most wonderful Jazz experience, with unmatched ambiance and presentations throughout the ship. Each sailing presented 30 or more “Straight Ahead” Jazz performers. The Club International, Checkers Lounge, The Saga Theater and the North Cape Lounge were venues unmatched in any of the more modern cruise ships. Unbelievably wonderful “Jam Sessions” were held after hours in the Windjammer Lounge. There, the greatest Jazz musicians would “let their hair down” and play the music they loved to play to a very appreciative standing room only crowd. There will never be another ship like the S.S. Norway, and there will never be a ship that endeared itself to so many, for so many years. She will live on in the hearts and memories of those who sailed to the ports and islands of the Caribbean.

  10. Mark Wilson Says:

    The SS Norway was formerly The France and refurbished in Bremerhaven, and had finishing touches done on the maiden voyage from Southhampton to New York. She ended her days as the SS Norway. I was on board from dry dock in Bremerhaven to 1980 when she sailed from Miami to the Virgin Islands. My parents dined onboard in Southhamton. I met my wife onboard in Oslo, Norway at the christening, and my brothers cruised with me out of Miami. Fond memories of a great ship.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.