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Copyright © 1995-2001 
Linda Coffman

Farewell to a Legend
September 5, 2001

by Tim Rubacky

All good things must come to an end, and today, 21 years and over 2 million passengers later, New York City bade a fond farewell to the legendary SS Norway.
A Ship of State
She first appeared in New York City in February 1962 as the SS France, pet project of French Premiere Charles De Gaulle and flagship of the French Line. Conceived as a successor to the fabled Normandie, the France immediately garnered critical acclaim as one of, if not THE finest ship on the Transatlantic ferry from NY to Le Havre and Southampton. She was "France Afloat" and for many years was billed as "The Longest Gangplank in the World" as passengers were immediately whisked to France as soon as they stepped on board.
The last great transatlantic liner ever built, she was a "Ship of State" and was a testament to French style, joie de vivre and their culinary prowess. Famed New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne raved about the food and service on board and referred to her as the finest French restaurant afloat. But as the transatlantic ferry service waned in the face of fierce competition from the airlines the French Government refused to sustain her enormous operating subsidies. After a short 12 years of service, the SS France was abruptly withdrawn from service in September, 1974.
The Ship that Started it All
After languishing in lay up for 5 years, salvation appeared in the form of an enterprising Norwegian Shipping Magnate and owner of the burgeoning Miami based Norwegian Cruise Line, Knut Kloster. Faced with a shortage of passenger capacity NCL purchased the SS France and undertook a daring and radical conversion of the ship which was to turn her into the largest cruise ship in the world. Many thought that NCL was crazy and that the industry could not sustain her need for 1800 sun & fun crazed passengers per week. But on a bright and sunny day in May 1980, the SS Norway appeared in New York City enroute to Miami. Against all odds, the SS Norway was an instant success. Once billed as the "Longest Gangplank in the World", she was now "The Biggest Week in the Caribbean".
The Norway proved once and for all, that the ship could be the destination and that ports were secondary in nature. She offered so many activities, facilities and diversions, passengers and industry observers were stunned. She was a "ship of firsts" offering more dining and entertainment options than any other and was the first to bring Broadway plays to the high seas. Week in and week out, the Norway sailed full on her Caribbean cruises. For almost nine years, the Norway was the ship of ships and no other cruise ship could come close, much less compare.
In late 1988, the Norway was eclipsed by the big and brand new Sovereign of the Seas, the worlds first purpose built mega-ship. Curiously enough, she was built at the same French shipyard as the Norway. And in rapid fire succession, dozens of newer, flashier and more efficient cruise ships came on line. All of them offering more modern amenities and creature comforts but none could compare in style or grace.
The Twilight Years
With the onslaught of new ships throughout the late 80's and early 90's, NCL sent the Norway back to Germany in 1990 for a refit and addition of two decks of highly profitable verandah staterooms and suites. And although many purists contend that her graceful profile was forever maligned, it was these cabins that helped sustain her throughout the 90's. The grand and stately ship trooped on through the 90's, still the reigning queen of the Caribbean. While there were newer and flashier ships, none had the charm and grace of the Norway and none had the ability to turn heads like she did. Anywhere she appeared in the Caribbean, or the world for that matter, she turned heads and stopped traffic. In the latter half of the decade, the ship was given several more refurbishments in an attempt to restore her to her former glory and she was sent farther afield in an effort to trade on her nostalgia and heritage.
Sadly, most of these ventures did not approach the level of success that NCL hoped for and 1999 signaled the beginning of the end. She began to suffer troublesome and expensive mechanical breakdowns and occupancy levels and profits suffered greatly as well. She was relegated back to the Caribbean full time and, much to the chagrin of her loyal fans, was to be shifted to a series of 2, 3 and 5 night cruises to finish out her career.
The End of the Line

"Bon Voyage
 is always French"

In early 2000, Norwegian Cruise Line was acquired by the Malaysian cruise giant, Star Cruises. Under the new ownership and management, it was decided that the Norway would be retired in September 2001 after a final, Grand Transatlantic voyage from Miami to Southampton via New York. A short three days ago, the Norway quietly slipped her moorings at Dodge Island in Miami for the last time.
Wednesday, September 5, 2001 brought a bright and sunny day to the Port of New York and the Norway could not have wished for a more perfect day to make her grand entrance and stage her final farewell to a city that she called home for many years. With the assistance of three Moran tugs, she was gently nudged into her berth on the North side of Pier 88, her former French line home from 1962 to 1974. From a distance, she looked every inch and 1035 shimmering feet of the grand lady that she is. But as is the case with many dowagers, her age and the years could not be concealed. Streaked with rust, scars and growth, she looked aged and worn but grand nonetheless.
All Ashore
At precisely 4:15 PM, her Public Address system chimed to life: "We kindly request that all visitors proceed ashore as the SS Norway is preparing to sail". The final departure was looming and her tugs had already arrived to help guide her from her safe berth towards an uncertain future. And at 5:00 PM, the SS Norway slipped her lines and gave three mighty blasts of her siren. Slowly and ever so gently, the three Moran tugs took charge and moved her off the pier and attempted to guide her into the Hudson. Try as they might, the Norway wasn't cooperating and some might believe that she was resisting her departure knowing the uncertain fate that waits on the other side of the Atlantic. With her stern against the North side of the slip and her bow firmly against Pier 88, it seemed as though the Norway was going nowhere. The tugs tried valiantly to move her out into the river and slowly she started to back out of the slip, but what was this? What seemed to be an optical illusion at first, the Norway was indeed moving forward back into her berth.
But even the mighty Norway was destined to lose this battle and as soon as one of the tugs scooted up her side towards her bow, they took charge of her and quickly moved her off her berth and out into the Hudson River. Thirty minutes after her lines were cast off, she was free and being pointed towards the sea. With a glorious sun blazing behind her, the Norway slowly started her trek down the Hudson towards the Atlantic Ocean, her ultimate destination and fate unknown, and she literally faded into the setting sun. Apropos of any grand lady, as she made her way down the river, she saluted all those who turned out to wish her well with three booming blasts.
With that, we bid farewell to this great and legendary ship. A ship that every modern cruise liner afloat owes it's existence to. For without the Norway, the majority of today's mega ships might not exist.
Bon Voyage is always French, and at times like this, it's awfully hard to say those words.

Notes from the Norway -- Almost as good as being there. Reports from on board the SS Norway's final transatlantic crossing.

SS Norway in Halifax -- For what are surely to become historic photographs of the SS Norway, John Sherwood has contributed these memories of her day in Halifax and her final sailing. 

"Lady in Blue"  Photographs of SS Norway's historic final appearance and departure from New York City 

SS Norway sunset postcard, courtesy Norwegian Caribbean Cruise Line. Departure screen shot from the NJ Skyline web cam.