The SS Norway was registered in Oslo, given the call sign LITA (literally meaning "small"), and was re-christened on 14 April 1980, as the first super-liner employed exclusively in cruise service. On her maiden call to Oslo, senior steward Wesley Samuels of† Jamaica, in the presence of King Olav V, hoisted the United Nations flag as a sign of the ship's international crew.
She began her maiden voyage to Miami that same year, amidst speculation about her future in the cruise industry. The France had been built as an ocean liner: for speed; long, narrow, with a deep draft, as well as an array of cabin shapes and sizes designed in a compact manner more for purpose travel than languid cruising. But the Norway proved popular, and made the notion of the ship being a destination in itself credible.
Her size, passenger capacity, and amenities revolutionized the cruise industry and started a building frenzy as competitors began to order larger ships. As cruise competition attempted to take some of Norway's brisk business, the Norway herself was upgraded several times in order to maintain her position as the "grande dame" of the Caribbean, including the addition of new decks to her superstructure. While many ship aficionados believe the new decks spoiled her original clean, classic lines, the new private veranda cabins on the added decks were instrumental in keeping Norway financially afloat during the later years of her operation, as these became a common feature throughout the cruise industry. Competition eventually overtook the Norway, and she even started taking a back seat to other ships in NCL's lineup itself. No longer the "Ship amongst Ships", her owners severely cut back on her maintenance and upkeep. She experienced several mechanical breakdowns, fires, incidents of illegal waste dumping, and safety violations for which she was detained at port pending repairs. Despite the cutbacks, the ship remained extremely popular among cruise enthusiasts, some of whom questioned the owner's actions in light of the continuing successful operation of the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2, which had become a well-maintained rival operating 5-star luxury cruises still for Cunard
In spite of this, the cutbacks continued and problems mounted even as the ship continued to sail with full occupancy. A turbo-charger fire erupted on the Norway as she entered Barcelona in 1999, which pulled her out of service for three weeks.
Slated for retirement, the Norway sailed out of Manhattan's west side piers for the last time on 9 September 2001, on yet another transatlantic crossing to Greenock, Scotland, and then on to her home port of Le Havre, France. Her passengers would learn of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington two days later, while in mid-ocean. However, as the cruise industry reeled from the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, her owners decided to place her back into service - operating bargain-basement cruises from Miami, after a brief cosmetic refit that failed to address her mounting mechanical and infrastructure problems.
On 25 May 2003, after docking in Miami at 5:00 a.m., the Norway was seriously damaged by a boiler explosion at 6:30 a.m. that killed eight crew members, and injured seventeen, as superheated steam flooded the boiler room, and blasted into crew quarters above through ruptured decking. None of the passengers were affected. On 27 June, 2003, NCL/Star decided to relocate the Norway, and she departed Miami under tow, although at first NCL/Star refused to announce her destination. However, she headed towards Europe and eventually arrived in Bremerhaven on 23 September, 2003. NCL announced that constructing a new boiler was not possible; boiler parts, however, were available to repair her. In Bremerhaven she was used as accommodation for NCL crew training to take their places on board the line's new Pride of America.