Over two decades ago, when s/s France was moored forlornly at the Quai de l’Oubli (“the pier of the forgotten”) in a Havrois backwater, salvation of sorts appeared in the person of Saudi Arabian financier Akram Oujeh. Dipping into the petro-dollar surfeit that had escalated the price of Bunker-C crude prohibitively, he purchased the vessel as was from the French Line for $18-million; his intention was to convert the liner into a gambling hell that would be anchored permanently off the Floridian coast at about the latitude of Boca Raton but well outside the 12-mile limit.
By good fortune, Oujeh’s projected plan never came to fruition. Instead, Knut Kloster, chairman of
(then) Norwegian Caribbean Line took the vessel off his hands for $24-million and ordered a massive
conversion—from Norman chateau to Floridian condominium—over the winter of 1979/1980 at Lloyd-
Werft’s shipyard in Bremerhaven. Following delivery to NCL in the spring, re-christened Norway sailed
west to Miami, via Oslo, Southampton and New York, where she enjoyed 20 years of service as a 7-day ship sailing on a Caribbean itinerary. The gambling hell option seemed to have been subverted.
But not quite. Now that Star Cruises owns NCL, they decided to transfer Norway to the Far East. Out there, cruising days and nights revolve largely around non-stop
action in the casino. So gambling hell redux!
In September of this year, Norway will depart her home port of Miami forever, heading north to
New York to pick up passengers for a farewell transatlantic crossing to Southampton. There, she will
embark Norwegian passengers for a final three-day cruise to Oslo.(Interesting that the vessel is completing the exact reverse of her delivery itinerary from 1980.)
Once she has disembarked her final NCL passenger-load there, she will sail to Bremerhaven where she will be reconfigured for her new life in either Singapore or Hong Kong.
Details of that refit as well as the possible assignment of the vessel’s new name (Starship Norway?) are not officially available as we go to press. But it seems probable that France’s original tourist and first class country running the full length of the ship will be substantially reworked. The present-day Monte Carlo casino on board is sure to be ruthlessly expanded, very probably at the expense of many adjacent public rooms. One can only guess at the fate of Checkers (the old Salon Fontainebleau), the Saga Theater, Club Internationale and the North Cape Lounge. That two-decade familiar matrix of public rooms are patently at risk.
When France became Norway, there was a predictable outcry, once it was announced that the
original French interiors were to be reworked to Angelo Donghia’s specifications. But it was inevitable: Norway was bound for the Caribbean, to be employed in cruising service and embarking a very different kind of passenger. And, as it was, Donghia’s decor proved flawless and set the tone for the ship’s new, sub-tropical existence.
Now, those interiors will undergo yet a third transformation for yet another clientele. Passengers
inevitably crave preservation of everything they recall about ships they have enjoyed. In this regard, Norway has proved a perennial favorite. Passengers and crew alike hold the vessel they know or knew in jealous esteem and will forever remember her as the beau ideal of a passenger vessel.