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SS FRANCE – last of the great ocean-going liners.

Enjoy these great full color home movies shot by a lucky couple who traveled on the SS France Eastbound, and the SS Liberte Westbound, here combined to suggest a mythical time when such a trip might have been possible in the early 1960s. Bon Voyage!

The SS France arrives in New York on maiden voyage.

SS France arrives in New York to great celebration on her maiden voyage in 1962.

In 2006, the French Line’s SS France ended her career with a passage to India.

Her destination the beaches at Alang where she would be scrapped.

This wonderful ship was not just another rusting hulk of a cargo ship.

The long sleek lines marked the France as a ship of an altogether different class.

And, to a shipping enthusiast, the distinctive winged funnels were instantly recognizable.

This was the SS France, last of the great ocean-going liners.

Her dining room considered the finest in the world.

The decks that were once the haunt of Cary Grant and Salvador Dali lay empty.

Celebrities aboard the France: Cary Grant, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol talking with Tennessee Williams.

The restaurant that was described as “the best French restaurant in the world” had been left to the echoes and the memories.

This was the final voyage of the ship that was once the epitome of glamour and nautical prestige.

Her destination was very different from the gala receptions that once greeted the France in New York when she debuted in 1962.

The Tourist Class Dining Room.

Cocktails aboard the SS France.

It was all very different back in the early Sixties, when the France was the acme of chic.

On her maiden voyage in 1962, the smart set of Paris relocated to her decks.

Society descends down the stairs into the First Class Dining Room.  Considered the finest French restaurant in the world.

Everyone who was anyone was on board. And when she sailed into New York after crossing the Atlantic, the France was surrounded by fireboats, tugboats and tenders, all spraying water in the air in salute.

It was a more glamorous way of arriving in New York than standing in line at JFK passport control.

The final days of trans-Atlantic liners.  The terrible end.  The France, the QE 2 and the Michelangelo.  The SS United States was gone and these liners were struggleing to maintain service across the pond as jets took over.

But it was a more glamorous age: when the France arrived, four other liners were already docked on the Hudson.

The France joined the RMS Queens Elizabeth and Mary and the United States, all struggling in the wake of jet air service that now dominated the Atlantic.

Chic, wonderful glamour and a demonstration of real society – the QE 2 never achieved this but the France carried this like a regal lady until the end.

Despite the odds, the France consistently sailed with a high capacity of passengers (unlike the struggling Cunarders, which were likened to creaking ghost ships).

Even Tourist Class had a paniche today’s cruise ships, with their dreadful Vegas atmosphere, will never attain.

The France’s deep draft (35 feet) requires her to anchor and tender passengers ashore in almost every port.  This gave people ashore a great look at an impressive ship.

Cary Grant – who always preferred ship travel – used to lounge on the sundecks between films. Grant sailed on the United States, Queen Mary and Elisabeth, along with the France, the French Line’s earlier ships and even cargo-passenger ships of the Holland America Line from Europe to California.  Similar to Katherine Hepburn, many times Grant preferred the anonymity of small ships to stay out of the lime lite.

The First Class Dining Room.

Dali brought his pet ocelot on board. Perhaps the most famous passenger was the Mona Lisa. When the Louvre lent the painting to an exhibition in the US, the France was chosen to take it there.

Dali’s ocelot was not the only pet on board. The France was famous for the facilities it offered for passengers’ pet dogs. On-board kennels were carpeted, the animals had a walkway, and a choice between a Parisian milestone or a New York hydrant for them to cock their legs against.

No wood was allowed on the France because of fire regulations. So the designers dreamt up a modernist interior of aluminum, Formica and plastic. There was a 660-seat theatre and two swimming pools. And this was not some meandering cruise ship, but a liner built for speed, to cross the Atlantic in the fastest time possible. In her heyday she could cruise at 31 knots, all 66,348 tons of her.

The France was a product of the age before mass air travel, born out of French pride. At the time, liners were the preferred way of crossing the Atlantic between the United States and Europe. The Americans had the fastest, the United States.

The British had the largest, the Queen Elizabeth.

France’s two liners, the stylish Ile De France and the much loved Liberte, were nearing the end of service, and the French shipping line needed something to compete.

And so they built the 1,035ft France which, until the recent arrival of the Queen Mary 2, was the longest passenger ship built.

The France’s tragedy was to arrive too late. Even at that reception in New York for her maiden voyage, aircraft were wheeling overhead. And within a few years, air travel would turn the liners into a thing of the past.

The First Class Children’s Playroom.

The France’s decline was long and slow.

By 1972 she was one of only four transatlantic liners still in service.

The Tourist Class Ballroom.

Built for the cold winds of the north, she quickly found herself on winter cruises she was not designed for, with one swimming pool indoors and the other covered up. She went on a world cruise – and had to sail around South America because she was too big for the Panama Canal.

First Class cabins facing a unique private patio.

In the end, it was another project of national pride that finished her off. In 1974 the French government ended the subsidy that had kept her afloat and diverted the money to Concorde.

For three years the ship lay idle in harbor. In 1977, she was bought by a Saudi millionaire who wanted to turn her into a museum for French furniture, but the plan never got off the drawing board. In 1979, she was bought by Norwegian Caribbean Lines, one of the biggest companies tapping into the large new market for cruises.

Theater aboard the SS France.  The orchestra seats were for tourist class passengers and the balcony/mezzanine for first class passengers.

The France was converted into a cruise ship and, in a cruel blow to the national pride that spawned her, renamed SS Norway. The cruise company tore out the second engine room that gave the France her speed, and turned her into a plodding cruise ship. The tourist class smoking room was replaced with a casino, and the first class library with shops.

It was a preview of cruise ships to come – ghastly Vegas hotels at sea..  Blocks of condos, lined with balconies and packed with obese Americans gorging themselves on 24-hour buffets.  The hoi polio would consume food foreign to the France’s former gastronomical tastes.  All of it adding insult to injury to the great ships.

The SS France turned into the NCL cruise ship SS Norway appealing to mass market tourists.

She continued to sail through the Eighties and Nineties, but, by the beginning of this decade, cutbacks in maintenance meant the Norway was suffering frequent mechanical breakdowns and fires. There were incidents of illegal dumping of waste and sea, and at one point the ship was detained in port for safety violations. It was a sad senescence.

Worse was to come.

In May 2003, while the Norway was docked in Miami, an explosion rocked the engine room. Several crew members were killed. The ship was towed to Germany for repairs. But in March 2004, the chief executive of the cruise company announced: “France will never sail again.” The ship was sent to Malaysia and sold to an American dealer for scrap. She was renamed once again, the Blue Lady, and for months lay at anchor off the Malaysian coast.

Soon the Blue Lady was headed for the scrap yards.  There were attempts to preserve the SS France, once an icon of French glamour, but failed.  She ended up raped by low paid workers on the beaches of Alang.  Another great liner gone.

In this economy, will the Queen Elizabeth 2 meet a similar fate as Dubai hits the skids?

One of the last great ocean liners

* SS France was launched in May 1960. At 1,035ft she was the longest ocean liner in the world.

* Her construction cost $80m and took over four years. A unique design allowed the 66,348 tons ship to carry enough fuel to make the return journey from Le Havre to New York without refuelling.

* Up to 1,944 passengers were accommodated in the lap of luxury, served by 1,100 crew, including over 100 chefs.

* She was built to make 46 transatlantic crossings per year but the rise of air travel caused a declining demand for the service.

* The premier on-board restaurant was said to be ‘the best French restaurant in the world’.

* She made her first world voyage in 1974 but had to sail around the coast of South America because she was too large for the locks of the Panama Canal.

* In 1974 the French government withdrew its subsidy and SS France left service. Sold to Norwegian Caribbean Line in 1979 and renamed SS Norway, she sparked a trend for larger cruise ships.

* President Charles de Gaulle was a driving force behind the ship’s construction. He hoped she would be a source of Gallic pride and a showcase for French technology.

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