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Nostalgia for vintage cruise ships fed online

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Remember the sleek, blue-hued SS Norway? What about Carnival's early fleet of ships, such as the TSS Mardi Gras and SS Festivale, with their red-white-and-blue smokestacks?

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Remember the sleek, blue-hued SS Norway? What about Carnival's early fleet of ships, such as the TSS Mardi Gras and SS Festivale, with their red-white-and-blue smokestacks?

Fans of classic cruise ships don't just remember them, but actually keep the ships afloat online through blogs, forums, and tribute videos. They post vintage photos and deck plans, and recount historical trivia on sites such as and

"Those who sailed the older ships feel this nostalgia, since they provided wonderful memories, overall more personality and charm over the current-day ships," said Rob O'Brien, an engineer who runs, bannered "The Classics are remembered here."

O'Brien, who lives in New York, launched the site in 2008 after he traveled on the MS Regal Empress, which departed from Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades. He was enamored with the ship's old-school charm - wood paneling, brass windows, etched bar mirrors - as well as its backstory.

"That this ship was still around, with interiors largely intact from when she debuted in 1953, was unheard of," he said of the ship originally known as the Olympia and operated by Imperial Majesty. "A ship has a soul, and many of the older ones can be felt to possess one."

While some love the history, others love the milestones commemorated on these cruise ships.

"People celebrate life-changing moments on ships, lots of marriages and lots of engagements," said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of "There is a very strong group of hardy cruise aficionados who have been cruising a long time, who want to share their experiences."

A common topic on her website: the Norway. With its navy-blue hue and twin smokestacks, this steam-powered vessel was the flagship of Norwegian Cruise Line and sailed for years from Miami on weekly trips to the Caribbean. It was called the France when it launched in 1960 and renamed the Norway in 1979.

"The Norway was magnificent and majestic," said Jennifer Hengels, director of logistics for a video-technology company in Chicago and a regular visitor of

Reading the comments and discussion threads, she said, allows her to reminisce about her first cruise on the Norway in 1994 with her then-boyfriend, in a room "so small it barely fit the two of us."

"We didn't mind a bit," she added. "It was part of the adventure."

The trip had such an impact that the next year they decided to get married aboard a liner. To mark their anniversary each year, she said, they toast each other with "the shot glass we received on the Norway, shaped like a Norse helmet horn."

After a boiler fire in 2003, the ship was put out of service and later dismantled for parts. On YouTube, fans have posted tribute videos of the ship during its heyday.

Florida Atlantic University student Mike Faust shares cruise-ship trivia on his site. One entry focused on how the Mardi Gras ran aground on its 1972 maiden voyage from Miami.

"The 'fun-ship' concept actually came from that cruise," he wrote, "because everybody was a bit drunk, and people were just having a good time . . . in the middle of the Port of Miami, on a grounded ship."

Today's cruise lines understand the importance of nostalgia. Princess Cruises tapped into people's love for the ABC series The Love Boat by reuniting the cast at Port Everglades to help christen its MS Regal Princess.

Princess, Norwegian, and other cruise-ship companies also have blogs where former passengers swap stories.

On the Princess site, couple Denise and Rick Bennette of Jupiter, Fla., blogged about meeting as teens in 1972 on the Sea Venture, which later became the Pacific Princess, the "Love Boat." After 30 years, and marriages to other people, they found their way back to each other.

"Before we got back together, I would watch The Love Boat television show and think, 'Gee, I wish my romance had turned out this way,' " Rick Bennette wrote on the Princess site.

Other people list the ships, the port, and the year they traveled. Others comment on how they used to board with mere identification buttons at visiting ports. "No security screenings . . . no sail-and-sign cards. . . . Oh, for the good old days," wrote one passenger on Carnival's "Funville" forum.

So, what happened to the great old ships whose silhouettes once cut against the Fort Lauderdale and Miami skylines?

Some companies retire them rather than invest in government-required upgrades. Or the ships might be recycled and used in Europe and Asia as casino boats.

The Mardi Gras, the Carnival line's first, was transferred in 1993 to a Greek cruise line and became known as the Olympic. It was sold to scrappers in 2003.

The original Pacific Princess, where The Love Boat was partially filmed, was dismantled in a scrap yard in 2013 in Turkey, after it began taking on water.

Some vessels head to their final resting place off Alang, India. There, ships are "torn apart piece by piece, and the steel melted down," said O'Brien, of, "and all other remaining material is used by the village."