I have absolutely no recollection how we went about choosing a cruise, but apparently we made some really good choices and ended up booking a week aboard the Song of Norway. Our good friends Linda and Barry -- who have remained our good friends for nearly, gulp, 35 years now -- decided they could deal with a holiday also, and joined us on our adventure. Then again, perhaps we joined them!
The ship and trip remain a vivid memory for me, but the Song of Norway, one of the premier ships of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line once upon a time, has seen better days.
The painful truth is we've all seen, ahhh, better days. Age has a way of catching up with each of us in one fashion or another and certainly the once beautiful and sleek Song of Norway now comes off a distant second when placed up against the behemoths that cruise lines feature today.
But in 1976 -- America's bicentennial year, you might recall -- when I still had hair, was 20 pounds lighter and had a thing for "leisure suits," walking aboard the Song of Norway was like entering a fantasy world.
The ship's innards were a maze of color-coded and coordinated hallways, lavish public rooms and expansive dining areas, bars, lounges and one tiny casino. Staterooms were smallish, but oh-so cute -- little bed, little bureau, little chair and itsy-bitsy bathroom. Interestingly, it all felt so big!
The one feature, however, that defined the Song of Norway was the distinctive sky lounge on the funnel, a circular bit of whimsy and charm that sat high above the ship, offering a delightful panoramic view of the sea as we cruised, and all our ports of call -- Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, St. Thomas and San Juan.
All this beauty and luxury seem, well, quaint today. Now ships boast shopping atriums that soar skyward in their bellies, theaters that can hold hundreds, and multiple dining rooms and lounges. Staterooms, while still tiny, often come with huge windows, even large balconies. There are wave pools and rock climbing walls, Jacuzzis, saunas and expansive exercise rooms.
It takes only a moment to crunch a few numbers to really appreciate the difference between the Song of Norway and ships today. The original Song of Norway was 18,000 gross tons and carried 724 passengers. The ship I'll be cruising on this summer, Norwegian Cruise Line's Sky, is actually small by today's standards at 77,104 gross tons, but can hold well over 2,000 passengers. Then there are the floating cities, cruise ships as big as aircraft carriers. At the top of the list is the Oasis of the Sea, coming in at a mere 225,282 gross tons and easily able to handle well over 5,400 passengers.
Somewhat like an aging dowager, the Song of Norway has fallen on hard times in recent years. She was sold to Sun Cruises in the mid-1990s and became the Sundream, her distinctive sky lounge and much of her charm removed as part of the deal. Over the next decade she changed hands several more times, cruising primarily around the eastern Mediterranean -- Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Rhodes and Greece.
In 2006, the Dream Princess became the Dream, was anchored near New Orleans and served as a floating dormitory for students from Tulane University after Hurricane Katrina. That deal only lasted a year or so, but she has yet to sail into the sunset or been sold off as scrap metal.
Somewhere the Song of Norway rests silently moored to a dock, gently rocked by the movement of the tides. I like to think if you spot her in just the right light, you might hear laughter spilling from her decks and see glasses being raised in good cheer way up in her sky lounge.
After all, the Song of Norway is one of my memories and everyone knows that memories remain the stuff of dreams.
IN BETTER DAYS: Song of Norway (photo above) could be spotted easily by the sky lounge on its funnel, a lovely bar offering delightful panoramic views of the sea and ports of call.