The France was the last of the big passenger ships to cruise along the Le Havre-New York City line across the North Atlantic ocean. The third ship to bear the name, it was ordered from the Penhoet shipyards in 1956 ; its construction began in 1957, it was chistened in 1960 in the presence of the President of the Republic Charles de Gaulle; his wife Yvonne was the ship's godmother. It was properly finished and inaugurated on January 11th, 1962, by the Prime Minister Michel Debre. Its inaugural cruise was to the Carribean; it afterwards started its regular New York City - Le Havre cruises, which it would cover in 5 days at the speed of 30 knots.
The ship was the pride of France. The government had subsidised one fifth of its expensive construction. It was huge, and supposed to be the showcase of French Luxury and naval industry. Its length was of 315.66 meters - about that of the Eiffel Tower. Its highest height, that of the radar mast, was of 66.90 meters, about that of the Arc de Triomphe. It displaced 57,607 tons. It would carry 2000 passengers. It brought the Mona Lisa to New York City once. It was a National Monument in itself.
Of course the line was hardly profitable. Transatlantic travel was much easier by plane; and when oil prices started to rise in 1973, it was clear France would not keep cruising for a long time. The first attempt to keep it going was around the world cruises; a rarity on that large a boat. The first one was packed, the second was not. The government decided it'd stop paying the line's deficit, and, on July 8th, 1974, the ship's disarmament was announced. On September 11th, the crew, fearing for their jobs, went on strike and started a mutiny, occupying the ship and anchoring it in front of Le Havre, blocking the harbor. Yet the ship's destiny was obvious, and after the end of the occupation the ship's was anchored for five years.
Finally it was bought, and in 1979, it was rechristened as Norway, to become a recreational cruise ship. The shock in France was strange - it was only a ship, after all - but the sale of a National Monument hurt the French's pride, in an era when France's economy was suffering. Indeed, the popular singer Michel Sardou created a song titled Ne m'appelez plus jamais France - Never call me France again - comparing its fate to that of HMS Queen Mary. The song is still aired regularly on radio
The Norway is still cruising in the Northern Atlantic under its new flag; in 2001 it was announced it'd go to the far east, probably to be used as a floating casino. However, its last few "Farewell cruises" were such a success that it is still in service near Miami.
The ship is a "cult boat"; here are two fan websites if you want to know more :