On the waterfront
Norwegian ships come and go in New York Harbor
I was always fascinated by an advertisement from C.A. Hanssen Travel in Brooklyn that depicted Norway on one end, and on the other, passengers disembarking the gangplank in America, after they had passed the Statue of Liberty. The last time I saw the ad was about 20 years ago; the company was still in business at that time and focused on vacation travel. But it was clear from the clothing and luggage illustrated on the ad that it had been created much earlier, around the 1930s. I later discovered that the company had originally been involved in transporting emigrants from Norway to America. It sparked my interest in the Norwegian experience and the New York waterfront.
Sailing nation with a proud past
Norwegians have long been a people of the sea, building wooden boats for fishing and coastal transport and then setting off into the unknown on voyages of exploration. Moreover, Norwegians have settled and worked at New York’s harbor since the time it was a Dutch colony. Many of the early immigrants came to the New World via the Netherlands where they had traveled for employment in the 17th century. The Dutch used Norwegian timber to build Holland’s sailing vessels as well as Norwegian granite to construct their harbors. Besides the use of raw materials, the Dutch employed Norwegians to build and sail the ships. It has been said, “If you could turn over the port of Amsterdam, you would see that it is built upon a Norwegian forest.”
When the Dutch crossed the ocean to found New Amsterdam in the early 1700s, they discovered that depth and easy access made New York Harbor an excellent natural port. They brought Norwegian workers, and in time, the New York waterfront became the lifeline of the first Norwegian-American community. When the shipyards moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn, so did the Norwegian settlement that at one time spanned the length of Brooklyn from Red Hook to the Bay Ridge area.
Throughout most of the 19th century, Norway reigned as one of the world’s larger shipping nations. Norwegian seamen were so successful in maritime transportation that for some time they were able to compete against the newer technology of steamships. Norwegians were key players in the development of New York Harbor, whether as maritime or construction workers or businessmen who supported all the activities there.
Nevertheless, a decline in Norwegian presence first began in the 1970s when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey moved the shipyards to New Jersey. Subsequently, the maritime-related infrastructure has been in decay for decades, and today, New York’s shoreline is being eroded by expensive high-rise residential development.
Cruising into the future
The Norwegian-New York maritime presence has not, however, been limited to transporting emigrants and cargo. Over the years, it evolved into offering vacationers dynamic cruise experiences. And today, huge vessels with stacked levels like apartment building houseboats, come into New York Harbor, courtesy of the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), with headquarters in Miami and the Bahamas.
Oslo-born Knut Kloster and Israeli businessman Ted Arison founded the Norwegian Caribbean Line in 1966. However, Arison soon left the company to found the Carnival Cruise Line. Kloster had a long family tradition in the Norwegian shipping industry. His grandfather, Lauritz Kloster established Klosters Rederi in 1924. Knut, a third-generation Norwegian shipping executive, went on to lay the foundation for the modern cruise industry and introduced many innovations.
However, NCL today has little to do with Norway beyond its name. In the past 20 years, NCL has had many ownership changes and much foreign investment from Hong Kong, Malaysia, and other countries. Yet, while NCL is not a Norwegian company, it still banks on its Norwegian origins when it comes to branding.
With the long Norwegian maritime history in New York City, it is somehow fitting that NCL’s New York departure port is in Manhattan. From this location, passengers have a choice of many destinations, including Bermuda, Canada, New England, the Bahamas, Florida, the Caribbean and transatlantic destinations. Ålesund and Bergen are the two Norwegian ports included in their itineraries.
Intrestingly, the names of NCL ships have Norwegian in their nomenclature: Norwegian Sky, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Bliss, and just last month, the Norwegian Encore was launched. The company also uses Norwegian sensibility to entice new customers, with slogans like “Cruise like a Norwegian for your next vacation” (www.cruiseweb.com).
The company markets the concept of “freestyle cruising,” meaning light-hearted, carefree vacation fun, and it employs this concept in every aspect of the cruising experience, whether it’s dining, entertainment, or accommodations. On all the ships, a variety of restaurants offer modern and classic dishes with an international twist. For example, on the Norwegian Encore, you can feast on salmon served with fresh dill in the elegant Manhattan Room, recalling the New York-Norwegian connection.
With New York City as a major port of departure, the Norwegian Cruise Line remains a vestige of Norway’s maritime past re-imagined today. For me and many other Norwegian Americans in New York, it is wonderful to see these magnificent vessels passing through the Bay Ridge Narrows. I wistfully reminisce of the huge presence Norway once held here in my hometown, and I dream of the possibilities of its evolving future in this ever-changing city.
For more information, see www.ncl.com or call (866) 234-7350.
This article originally appeared in the October 18, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.