When Knut Kloster completed his amazing ‘Sleeping Beauty’ style resurrection of the SS. Norway in May of 1980, it was with the express intention of sailing her on year round, seven night cruises from Miami to the clear, sunny waters of the sultry Caribbean. When the still not quite complete ship sailed out of Southampton for New York on May 7th, 1980, few ever realistically expected to see her back in Europe again, other than for routine dry docking.
Several factors appeared to back this up; firstly, the deep draft of the SS. Norway- well over thirty feet- would make it difficult for her to access the smaller, more desirable ports in Europe. And, in those days, even many of the bigger ports still did not have the infrastructure to cope with a ship and passenger load like the Norway could deliver. Plus, the immensely profitable, seven night circuits in the Caribbean were enormously popular.
Just how profitable the Norway was in the Caribbean was highlighted by a brief, three month recession that kicked into the Caribbean cruise run over the summer of 1983. For weeks on end, the average, seven days ships- with capacity for around eight hundred passengers each- were going out half full on average.
At the same time, the SS. Norway- with a capacity well in excess of two thousand passengers, was averaging an occupancy rate of some ninety- three per cent, week in and out. That is a stunning figure; proof, if ever it were needed, of Kloster’s brilliance and foresight in resurrecting the giant liner in the first place.
So the 1984 return to Europe of the SS. Norway to operate a short, summer series of seven night cruises came as a real surprise. NCL trumpeted it as ‘the cruise sensation of the year’, and not without good reason. The news had the same shock effect as a brick thrown through a window. In fact, NCL took advantage of the ship’s return to Europe to schedule a three week dry docking for her.
The plan was to sail the giant ship on a series of alternating, seven night cruises from Amsterdam. One run would encompass the ‘greatest hits’ of the Baltic circuit such as Hamburg, Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen- but, interestingly, not Saint Petersburg. This was 1984, and the Cold War had not quite yet thawed out.
The other run would take the SS. Norway back to her adopted country; here, the vast, beautiful ship would make a stunningly implausible sight in such ports as Flam, Geiranger and Gudvangen. There would also be one longer, spectacular cruise to the top of the North Cape and back, a truly epic odyssey for the graceful giant. This would presage the shorter, seven night runs.
Kloster had intended for his giant baby to sail from New York to Southampton on a nostalgic Atlantic crossing. However, the Hudson River had silted up so much that it would require extensive dredging to safely accommodate the Norway. The harbour authorities were reluctant to go to such expense for what they not unreasonably expected to be a one off visit.
So, the SS. Norway instead sailed up to Philadelphia. After a two night party cruise to ‘nowhere’, she embarked 1,000 passengers for an eight night, eastbound crossing to Europe. Still, some eight feet of her mainmast had to be removed so that she could pass safely under the Walt Whitman bridge.
The Norway arrived in Southampton on July 26th, joining the Queen Elizabeth 2 and the Royal Viking Sky in the Hampshire port. That evening, she left on a two day party cruise to Amsterdam, arriving on the 28th. From here, her season of seven night cruises began.
Prices for the seven night cruises began at $1,140 per person, while the fourteen night North Cape fiesta had fares beginning at $2,190. The seven night cruises were also able to be combined to create one amazing, fourteen night, back to back trip.
That short, high summer season of European cruises was a tremendous success; in fact, it was a sell out. Following her three weeks in dry dock in Hamburg, the Norway returned to Miami via the ‘sunny southern’ route, on an eleven night transatlantic crossing. Leaving Southampton on September 24th and sailing via Bermuda and Nassau, the Norway arrived back ‘home’ in Miami on October 5th, ready to resume her Caribbean circuit.
Despite the success of her short summer season, it would be 1998 before the SS. Norway would return to offer another full season of European cruises. By then, time and new builds had passed her by, and she was no longer the totally dominant force that she had once been. None the less, the fabled ship remained a hugely popular draw. Unable to compete effectively in the Caribbean with newer, more fuel efficient and amenity laden ships, she spent the next few summers in Europe, where her history, heritage and elegance would make her a constantly popular choice for starry eyed nostalgia buffs from all over the world.