Norway 7/7/02 review



The week before the cruise I watched the Fellini movie “The ship Sails On†and the Marx bros. “Monkey Business†all are comedies about luxury liner travel.


The ship is the SSNorway, formerly the SSFrance of 1962. She has 14 decks, 1035’ long, 110’ wide, and 200’ tall. At 76,000 tons she was the 4th largest ocean liner ever built, and until 1995, the largest in service.
It took me a whole day to walk the ship, and it was a 10 minute walk to everywhere. She needs a moving sidewalk.

The original décor of the ship is mostly gone except for some cabins, stair towers and a few public rooms.
The style is “George Jetson†modern. Like the SS United States, it was done w/o wood and brass. The materials used were etched aluminum, vinyl, laminates, and acrylic; exotic materials for their time. The critics panned her interiors at the time. It is a good, but not great example of mid-century modern, but now they are a historical curiosity. She was a ship of state and christened by Madame Pauline De Gaulle.

In 1979, the ship became the Norway, and was fully renovated; Angelo Donghia ripped out much of the Jetson’s look and replaced it with a hideous leisure suit look. What was on his mind? It is as ugly now as it was during the Iranian hostage crisis. Those 1979 rooms need redecoration badly.

She has an aft deck swimming pool and buffet with the reggae band playing or a DJ, and those who want quiet can go to the mid-ship pool where there is no music for those that want less stimulation. When there were not 40mph winds, I would got to the 14 storey sky deck forward, and watch the 10 mile vista from there. Otherwise, I would go down one deck to the glassed in lido area.

She has far more grace than any newbuild. She is a sight to behold despite the extra decks. The Windward dining room and Saga theatre are original and beautiful.

Too much of the original France is gone. Her promenade decks were turned into shopping arcades called 5th Avenue and Champs Elysees; prices matched, but quality was K-mart.

Her deep draft requires her to tender at every Caribbean island, St Thomas was a fiasco, and at best it is a cattle run. One day the tender was rocking real bad and gangplank was bouncing around, all had to run up the gang plank one at a time, as I stepped off back on ship, it had shifted 6" in direction.

Her ride is smooth, with some vibrations from the ventilators, or over propellers, she did not pitch, but would rock gently, I did get sea legs on shore.

The ship is wonderful, but I did not bond with her the way I did with the Rembrandt. I bonded with the Olympia, Canberra, and Queen Mary. The Norway, Sea Breeze, and Queen Anna Maria I thoroughly enjoyed, but did not get that extra special feel.

The Norway ship historian advised me that the SS United States was the first choice for the Norway. He had a letter of intent, but the US gov't reneged on the sale.

His reasons:
The SSUS will fit thru the Panama Canal, Norway will not. SSUS has 32' draft, Norway 35'. SSUS had more open deck space [helipad on aft deck and between funnels] than the original France did, which would have been an easier conversion to warm weather ship.

The Norway had a good cross section of America, some French, and Canadian passengers too. Young, teen, old, gay, and lesbian, white collar, blue collar, African Americans, only noticed a dis-proportionate number of seriously obese people. Many it was a first cruise. All are on board to have a good time, and prejudice barriers tend to break on a ship.

There were 2400 passengers on board. One person I met on the first day, did not see them till the last day, they were in the cabin next door. I met new people debarking the ship on the last day. Ship was too crowded for any sense of intimacy. Crew was too mobbed to be real friendly.

My dinner companions, [only people crapshoot of cruising] one was my ethnic type, the other 2 were not, plus they were the political opposite: religious republicans from SW Michigan. One never talks politics with stranger dinner mates. The two republicans and I hit it off personally and agreed not to talk politics. One of them has a husband who is a state legislator and wanted to vacation from politics. We shared a cab in St.Maarten too.

The one from my ethnic group, was a motormouth who rubbed all the wrong way. Not a bad person, but would not stop talking. Her name was Bernice, was the Marisa Tomei [with a touch of Fran Dresher] character from My Cousin Vinny but 50 years older. She would not stop talking. On formal night she wore a chrome sequin dress. One night she wore a black and white suit that looked like it came from a Holstein cow.

Other tablemates, one couple was the Seinfeldian Frank and Estelle Costanza from Johnston RI, actually central casting. The hair, voices, and body language were exact, but the did not fight in front of people.
They changed to a later seating after the first day.

In the Club I, there was every day a 1930’s style dowager wearing a pleated skirt, waltzing and ballroom dancing with a 20something Ken doll with waxed legs, he looked like Robert Goulet, she like Dame May Whitty. Normally he was in a tux. I found it comical watching them dance cheek to cheek. I think he is bought and paid for.

I befriended a nurse with 2 teenage boys from Gladwin, Michigan. She was very nice and interesting; we enjoyed Indian food together away form the crowds at the Pizza line. A couple from Boston on their first cruise, turns out we know somebody in common. A graphic designer from Canada. I met a Texas couple who are about to open a B&B, he is quiet, she is spunky open. I met a father and son from Texas both with long hair who liked hot rod cars.

The food was good, but you would never guess this was a Norwegian ship except for good fish.

People see each other as individuals.

Class of passengers automatically divides itself by the activities they are drawn to.

There is a 4pm tea with classical music, and proper attire is required. It is a very different crowd than those who go the competing Karaoke event.

The Lido buffet with hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, and Pizza attracted Middle America.
In the Sports Illustrated cafe, there was a different ethnic buffet each day [e.g. Indian, Chinese, Caribbean, Japanese, etc]. This attracted the better-heeled and cultured passengers on board. I had a second helping of Octupus.

Every other day I got up at 5am, got coffee at the Lido, went to the gym which had an ocean view on 3 sides. I watched the sunrise and ocean pass by at 22 knots while riding the treadmill and stair master. After work out, I grab breakfast from the Lido.

This ship had really good musicians. There was a reggae band on the back deck, with a good black female vocalist. A classical quartet from Poland, that serenaded the each table at dinner time Hungarian style. a jazz band, big band, and there was a FIRST RATE production of Guys and Dolls in the theatre. Even the stand up comedians were funny. The piano bar pianist did not connect with the patrons the way he should have.

There was a bridge tour and a ship history tour and lecture.

Biggest complaint is that I got little sense of the nationality of the cruise line. I had sailed on Greek ships and you felt like you were in Greece with the food and entertainment. There was little to remind you of Norway’s great history and culture.


The ship sailed out of Miami. A city that I am unimpressed with, but a very huge international port.

We had to tender every port. The ships tenders are WWII beach landing craft that hold 400 people each. They have a flat bow and catamaran hulls. The beach themselves, flat bow folds down into a ramp, troops exit, and boat backs up and refloats itself. They do ride rough.

First was St, Maarten, half Dutch, half French, I had been there as a young child, but had no memory of it. Coming in to town I recognized the court house and remember photographing it with my father’s Pentax, him showing me how to use it, in 1973. It is a mountainous island with a shopping district of Caribbean kitsch. I had a wonderful conversation with a kitty cat over a beer in one tavern. The beaches are pretty with the clear blue waters.

Next stop was St. Thomas which is the Asbury Park of the Caribbean. it is a shopping mall next to slums. Every day 5 cruise ships descend on the place, unloading 15,000 people in a 40 square mile island, and a 3 block by 3 block downtown. It became Kings Cross Station at rush hour. St Thomas is mountainous but uninteresting. Saw a few luxury homes destroyed by Hurricane Marilyn, a golf course, but little else. Either St. Thomas is ritzy or downtrodden with no in-between. I disliked it as a kid, and still as an adult.

Last stop was Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas: cruise line owns it. It has a beach, picnic cabanas, changing area. Nobody lives there. The reggae band played on. What I did was walk the nature trails away from everything. It became Gilligan’s Island. It was quiet, beautiful and quite surreal. There was interesting foliage, birds, and wild flowers. Came across an abandoned lighthouse, helipad, and some military buildings from the second world war. I find a special beauty with modern day ruins and the decay becomes a patina.

My favorite Caribbean Islands are Martinique, Aruba, and Curacao

Overall it was a very pleasant cruise. I was there for the ship and less for the boring Caribbean tourist traps.
I recommend the New England coast or Alaska for cruises.