Story by Anthony Nicholas
.. but the lure of that maiden crossing was, for many, irresistible. Decked in flags and looking stunning, Norway swings clear of Southampton and sets course for New York for the first time in six years.
After a triumphant fire-float and siren welcome in New York, the Norway held 'open house' for three days of celebrations before leaving for Miami, and the start of her new life, cruising in the Caribbean...
The trials went superbly and, while a lot of internal work remained ongoing, Norway was well on schedule for a summer debut out of Miami on the week long Caribbean run she had been so painstakingly revived for.
To facilitate this, NCL arranged a nostalgic Atlantic crossing for the former French Queen. Awoken with a multi million dollar kiss of life, the reborn Norway made a show stopping, ceremonial entry into Oslo for Norwegian Independence Day. As she docked, thousands of blue and yellow balloons were released from under the netted swimming pools, trailing an amazing technicolor splash against the spring sky.
Three days later, she came round to Southampton to embark passengers for New York. With her hull painted a dazzling royal blue, the Norway looked simply stunning. A thousand passengers embarked for the crossing to America- just over half her capacity.
This was fortunate, as the passenger cabins were nowhere near finished. While guests downed martinis and indulged their nostalgia for all things ocean liner, a flotilla of workmen were busy laying new carpets, unpacking furnishings and, in some cases, restoring water connections as the ship crossed on her old route.
But nothing could dilute the sense of occasion, or the welcome that awaited the reborn Norway as she entered New York for the first time in six years. Helicopters, car horns and vast plumes of fireboat spray welcomed the Norway to Manhattan. Dressed with flags, she tied up at her old berth at Pier 88. Many simply wept with joy, overcome by the sheer, almost miraculous sense of wonder and awe that the reborn Norway seemed to radiate.
Three days later she sailed for Miami, and began the week long series of cruises she had been converted for.
She was an instant smash, knocking the opposition into close orbit. Four times the size of the average cruise ship, the Norway would remain the Queen of the Caribbean for many years.
In 1983, when the industry went into a brief recession, cruise ships out of Miami built for 800 passengers sailed half full on average over a three month period. Over that same time the Norway- with berths for over 2,000- averaged a load factor of 93%. Her dominance was total, repaying Kloster's bold gamble in superb style, and starting the cruise boom that has resulted in the vast fleets of modern ships we see today. Every single one of these owes its very existence to Kloster's vision of reviving France and converting her into the show stopping SS. Norway.
As the years passed, new ships came on line, eventually even bigger ones than Norway. Two new decks, added in 1989, gave her a lot of new balcony cabins and a whole new lease of life but, increasingly, state of the art ships emerged offering cabins and the sort of facilities that could not be shoe horned into a hull whose parameters had been defined almost four decades before. Almost inevitably, the old girl began to slip.
As the years passed, she traded more and more on her sense of nostalgia, crossing the Atlantic to cruise the fjords and the Mediterranean. In this role, she proved incredibly popular yet again.
On September 10, 1996, the Norway ex- France sailed into her former home port of Le Havre for the first time in twenty- two years. The French gave the legendary old lady the kind of rapturous, ecstatic welcome reserved for royalty, with fireboats, helicopters, a hundred thousand spectators, and a spectacular fireworks display when she departed that same evening.
That homecoming- the first, but not the last- was a huge, emotional success. Yet even now, time was finally beginning to run out for the still wondrous Norway.....