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FLASHBACK TO MY FIRST TRIP; CARIBBEAN FLY CRUISING ON THE SS NORWAY IN 1981

THE NORWAY
The Norway as she appeared in 1981. Credit for this photo goes to the excellent http://www.classicliners.net

The purpose of this blog is not to provide readers with some glassy eyed, nostalgic trip back in time to recount how marvellous this first ever fly/cruise was. Yes, it was a life changing event, and it set my feet firmly on a path that they have never wavered from since, though that was far from being my intention at the time.

But what I want to revisit here are the actual logistics of that trip, and what was included in the fare. The time was October/November 1981 and, for those of you who do not know me personally, I live in the North East of England, several hundred miles north of London. So, without any further adieu, here we go….

My flights were booked on British Airways, round trip from London Heathrow to Miami International. If an option existed for a regional connection flight from Newcastle back then, I was never offered it by my very good local travel agent, so I suspect it might not have been in with the price package. Mind you, back then the take up for people going on Caribbean fly cruises was just a sliver of the massive market we know today. Also, factor in that I was 22 years old, literally on my ‘maiden voyage’ and, in terms of travelling savvy, as green as grass. I had never even been on a plane before that day.

I remember travelling down to London overnight on a National Express coach. It was October 31st, the coach was a full hour late, and snow began to fall quite steadily. Ominous portents, all.

There was no sleep on the long haul down to London Victoria, nor on the 45 minute long underground journey to Heathrow Airport. But I quickly learned that lugging suitcases up and down train station steps and escalators, plus shoe horning myself in and out of crowded underground trains, was a form of urban guerilla warfare that I had no wish to repeat.

Even back in 1981, Heathrow was a train wreck; an airport with all the warmth and welcome of a Dalek’s convention. It was hate at first sight.

I was on a BA 747 to Miami and, viewed from the boarding gate windows, the plane seemed immense. Of that first flight, I recall the euphoria of take off, and the fact that drinks on board had to be paid for in cash. The rest of that just under ten hour transatlantic flight is long since forgotten, but I don’t think I slept. By this stage of the trip, I was running on a mixture of fumes and sheer adrenaline.

Once at Miami and through the even then tortuous immigration process, I was met on the land side by a private transfer to the Miami Marriott Airport hotel. This was smooth and easy and, within an hour or so, I was in my (seemingly) high rise hotel room. I recall showering, ordering some room service, and then watching Star Trek; The Motion Picture on the in room television. Then sleep stole up on me and slugged me like a burglar, and I slept like a log until early on the Sunday morning.

Sunday, November 1st, 1981; breakfast outside in the sunshine- and a huge American buffet spread at that- made me suddenly realise that I really was in a different universe. There was a shared limousine van at noon that picked the small UK contingent up from the hotel lobby, transferring us from the Marriott to Dodge island, where the Norway sat waiting; a proud, pristine colossus etched in blue and white, standing calm and poised against a duck egg blue sky.

We saw Royal Caribbean’s Sun Viking first, an exhilarating sight in the brilliant sunshine. But that proud ship literally disappeared in the shadow of the vast Norway.

I was aboard before I even knew it. In those days, the Norway was so huge that she occupied both Piers One and Two on Dodge Island. I have no recollection of lifeboat drill, but do remember the Sun Viking edging downstream past the Norway, her passengers waving and cheering at us- and vice versa. Then the ropes came off, and it was our turn…..

That week- wow. It simply changed everything. We visited only St. Thomas in the Caribbean, and Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas- this was before Nassau was added to the itinerary the next year. My cabin- A080- was an inside, only slightly bigger than the average pygmy’s postage stamp. It mattered not a jot. This was the Norway, up close and for real. It was like being awake in a stunning, vivid dream for a week.

At the inevitable journey’s end the following Sunday, there was another limo pick up waiting to take me to a nearby airport hotel. In those days, Norwegian Caribbean Line (as was) included the cost of a hotel day room in the fare, just prior to the evening overnight flight home. This was hugely welcome as it gave you the chance to freshen up, grab some food, and enjoy your own private space before the flight home.

Cruise lines mostly no longer offer this, knowing full well that they can now sell you day tours to the Everglades and/or Ocean Drive before dropping you and your luggage at MIA. It’s a double win for them revenue wise, of course. Otherwise, it now means that you could end up deposited at the airport many, many hours before your flight home.

I think they put me up in the Howard Johnson Airport hotel. It wasn’t exactly the Ritz, but it was clean, comfortable, and had a bed soft enough to give me a few hours’ sleep, before the last shuttle transfer arrived to take me to the airport at about 1800.

Another BA 747 flight- this time overnight- deposited me smartly into the warm, welcoming embrace of Deathrow- oops, I mean Heathrow- at some appallingly uncivilised hour of the day. Scratch that- it felt appallingly uncivilised. I had just come off the Norway after all. At Heathrow, my pretty balloon suddenly burst with one almighty bang.

There then followed more urban warfare, getting back across to King’s Cross to connect with a surprisingly pain free, cathartic journey on a British Rail 125 that whisked me back to Durham in around three hours. The first sight of that fabulous cathedral was more welcome than I can describe. It has dominated the city skyline since it’s completion in the late eleventh century. I felt that I had been away a lifetime, but those ancient stone ramparts just gave my naivety a kind of benign smile.

So- that’s how it was. Now things are different, less inclusive, and I’m older. Victor Meldrew syndrome has begun to kick in, I fear.

And, of course, we no longer have the Norway. She is long since gone though, of course, she will never be forgotten.

For those who sailed her, loved her and cherished her, the Norway remains a permanent, imperious vision. Lit up like a Christmas tree from stem to stern, those great, winged stacks standing like ramparts against the flaring purple Caribbean twilight, she stands out into a sea of memories that she will always dominate, come what may.

How young I was. How little I knew. How much I learned in a short space of time. And, of course, how far it all led me. This is the stuff of dreams, ones that came true, and do not disappoint. Rare magic, indeed.