Home >> Cruise Fiascos >> Norwegian Cruise Line has a heart. Here’s how I know (update)

Norwegian Cruise Line has a heart. Here’s how I know (update)

Photo of author

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

In May 2021, even as the cruise industry remained paused, Norwegian Cruise line began its NCL Giving Joy contest. The competition, launched to coincide with Teacher Appreciation Week, would honor 100 of the top educators in the United States. The nominees would vie for giant cash prizes for their schools. The cruise line would also award 100 dream cruises to the winners.

In August, after months of voting, Norwegian Cruise Line announced those winners in a joyful Facebook live stream event.

David Sowerby, an orchestra teacher from Caledonia, Mich, was shocked to discover he had won second place in the contest. His win meant that NCL would donate $15,000 to the middle school where he’d taught for the past 17 years. Not only that, but David and his wife, Rebecca, were awarded a dream cruise to Alaska.

In his thank-you speech, David explained that the money would buy new instruments for his school’s orchestra. He felt on top of the world.

But things took a sad and unexpected turn soon after NCL’s festive award ceremony.

This dedicated teacher would never get to hear his students play the shiny new instruments the $15,000 would buy. Nor would he get to see the majestic glaciers of Alaska aboard NCL’s Sun with his wife of 21 years.

David died last November, leaving behind Rebecca and his three teenagers.

Now Rebecca is making a heartbroken request that she hopes we can bring to Norwegian Cruise Line.

Getting nominated for the Norwegian Cruise Line Giving Joy Contest

As Teacher Appreciation Week kicked off last year, teachers everywhere were thrilled to learn that NCL was a fan. Norwegian Cruise Line wanted to find educators doing great things – especially during the unusual times that the pandemic brought – and thank them.

The announcement of NCL's Giving Joy contest in May 2021.
Norwegian Cruise Line announces its second semi-annual Giving Joy contest to recognize and thank outstanding teachers.

Happy National Teacher Appreciation Week! We are in awe of all that educators do — their unwavering devotion to students and ability to constantly adapt to ever-changing circumstances, especially during the unprecedented events of 2020. That’s why we’re re-launching Norwegian’s award-winning Giving Joy campaign and giving away 100 free cruises to 100 teachers, as well as the chance for the top three teachers to win up to $25,000 for their schools.

Norwegian Cruise Line announcing its “Giving Joy” contest

At that time, David had been in the hospital for over 65 days recovering from a significant surgery. The procedure removed his pancreas and other parts of surrounding organs that doctors suspected to be cancerous.

David had not had it easy medically over the years. In fact, in 2018, he had a liver transplant. But as he and the rest of the world was dealing with a pandemic, David faced his most difficult medical challenge yet.

“But through it all, he kept working – until this last surgery,” Rebecca told me. “He was so dedicated to his students and to music.”

While David was in the hospital getting healthier each day, he learned someone had nominated him for NCL’s Giving Joy contest. Rebecca explains:

He was really flattered to be nominated, and we both hoped he might win. For the school, of course, but also, we had never been on a cruise before or to Alaska. We imagined how wonderful it would be once he was healthy again. If he won, we could relax on a cruise and see the glaciers. Wow! It was a beautiful thought. At the time, he was getting better each day, and things looked positive. 

Norwegian Cruise Line: Congratulations! You won second place!

Throughout May and into June, NCL continued to count votes for the Giving Joy contest. And then the polls closed. All that was left was the waiting. Norwegian Cruise Line was giving away more cruises than in the previous contest, so Rebecca was a little optimistic.

Of course, what David really wanted was to win one of the cash prizes for the students. He wanted them to be able to get new instruments. The dream cruise was just a special bonus. But the cruise line would only award three big cash prizes.


And although the competition was tough, Norwegian Cruise Line soon delivered fabulous news to David. He had come in second, and NCL would be giving his students $15,000!

Against tough competition, David won second place in NCL's Giving Joy Contest!
David (with his good luck charm and trusty companion Winnie) was thrilled to win $15,000 for his orchestra students — and a dream cruise on NCL’s Sun, too!

Rebecca says David was feeling pretty good at the time, and his doctors were optimistic. He was home and continued to improve. He recorded his interview for the NCL awards ceremony from their dining room.

This David accepting his award remotely via Zoom from Norwegian Cruise Line. He won a dream cruise and $15,000 for his music students.
Norwegian Cruise Line interviews David in August via Zoom about his big win.

David and Rebecca soon confirmed their dream cruise with NCL – booking it for the summer of 2022.

“We figured by then, things would be calmed down and that would be a good time to go,” Rebecca explained. “We were so looking forward to taking our first cruise ever – and really our first vacation in years.”

By all accounts, everything was looking up for the family. But suddenly, it wasn’t.

A sudden, irreversible turn for the worse

Within two weeks of all of the excitement of winning the Norwegian contest, David started to feel unwell. His doctors had scheduled him for chemotherapy, but he could not tolerate the procedure. After a few tests and scans, David and Rebecca received devastating news.

Just After David was awarded his prize, we learned that his cancer had spread to his abdomen. The doctors gave him only three months to live. But he survived just six weeks. David died peacefully at our home, at the age of 50, with all of us surrounding him. He fought so hard.

For the next several months, Rebecca and their children tried to come to terms with their loss.

What happens to David’s Giving Joy cruise from NCL?

Four months after David’s death, Rebecca was going through some paperwork. She came across the information about the cruise she and her husband had been so looking forward to taking. Now she wondered what would become of this prize.

Rebecca wrote to Norwegian Cruise Line to ask if she could possibly still go and take one of her children in place of David.

My dear husband, David Sowerby, was the 2nd place winner in your Norwegian Giving Joy Contest. He won a cruise that we booked on the Norwegian Sun Voyage on ***** and a GENEROUS $15,000 donated to his school Kraft Meadows Middle School in Caledonia.

Unfortunately (and quite devastatingly so), David passed away from his battle with cancer on Nov. 13, 2021. As you can imagine, my three children and I are still reeling from losing him.

David and I read the rules, and we were clear that the trip must be used by the winner of the prize. I am writing to see if you would consider allowing me to take one of my three children with me (replacing my late husband). Then I could pay for an additional two cruises for my other two children. At the time of sailing, the children would be 18, 18, and 13. We could take this cruise in memory of David as he was SO looking forward to seeing Alaska.

If the answer is no, I understand — it was stated in the rules that the winner must use the prize.

I am attaching David’s obituary, not for sympathy, but so that you see that I am being truthful.

Rebecca received no response to her request. And when she called NCL, she was transferred from place to place. Then while she was scrolling around on the internet looking for ways to reach someone at NCL, she saw an article that I recently wrote.

Finding help from our advocacy team

Rebecca hoped we might be able to reach someone at the cruise line who could help her. So she sent her request to our advocacy team.

As one might have predicted after the last several articles I wrote about NCL passengers’ recent experiences, the cruise line seemed to be ghosting me a bit. That was disappointing because Norwegian had always been speedy in responding to our team and correcting passenger problems. I’ve always known the resolution team to be fair and caring to the cruise line’s customers.

Rebecca was reporting that NCL was ghosting her too.

I have emailed and called EVERY published email address and phone number from NCL and posted under my husband’s name on the winner page on Facebook as well as messaging Norwegian through Facebook as well.

Asking Norwegian Cruise Line to review this request

I’m not easily deterred, and when I read through Rebecca’s plea for assistance, I was reasonably sure that the NCL team would want to help. So I sent the request over to all of our friends at Norwegian Cruise Line.

Hello NCL friends!

This morning I have a case here that I don’t think is controversial (but it is sad), and I believe your team would want to have a look at it. David Sowerby won second place in the “Norwegian Giving Joy Contest.” As a result, NCL made a big donation to the school where he was a teacher, and he and his wife won a dream vacation — a cruise to Alaska on the Sun, scheduled for ******.

Unfortunately, David passed away on Nov. 13, 2021, after a long battle with cancer. 

David’s wife would still like to go on this cruise in honor of her husband. But she and David have three children (twins, age 18 at the time of the cruise, and a 13-year-old). What Mrs. Sowerby would like to know is if she and all of the kids can cruise together in place of David? It appears the cruise cabin David booked does have the capacity for up to four occupants.

Is this something NCL can do for Mrs. Sowerby? As always, thank you for your time and consideration! 😊🛳

Michelle to the Norwegian Cruise Line executive team

The Good news: The Sowerby family will take the NCL cruise in David’s honor

And I was right. The NCL team does have a heart, and they did want to help Rebecca and her children. I suspect her messages to Norwegian just hadn’t reached a human within the company. As soon as real people on the NCL team saw the request, the cruise line reached out to Rebecca (and to me, too) with good news.

Rebecca and her three children will be taking that cruise in David’s honor. It will be a first-time cruise for all of them (and their first visit to Alaska).

The Sowerby family will take the Alaska cruise in David's memory.
The family will cruise on Norwegian’s Sun in David’s memory.

Hi Michelle! Oh my goodness! You are a miracle worker. Not only did Norwegian respond to me – they offered a cruise to ALL of my family because of my husband’s death. Thank you SO, SO, SO much for your help!


Rebecca Sowerby

The Sowerby family in happier times. The kids and mom will cruise in his honor.
David and Rebecca Sowerby with their three children.

Rebecca is thrilled by the outcome. And although I wouldn’t call this a happy ending, I would call this outcome a success. I wish the family an incredible cruise, and I hope they make many beautiful memories in honor of David.

A joyful Update (Sept. 2022): The NCL cruise was everything the family hoped for.

We first published this article in Feb. 2022. Since that time, I’ve been in touch with Rebecca to see how the family was doing. Of course, I asked about their NCL Giving Joy cruise. Here’s a happy update from the Sowerby family:

We had the best time.  My children and I would rate our cruise an 11 out of 10.  The cruise line itself was outstanding, the food was outstanding and the way we were treated was outstanding.  When we arrived in our room we were surprised to find that not only did they honor David’s prize for my whole family but they had given us many free upgrades!  We arrived to a personal letter from the CEO of Norwegian.  The Norwegian Giving Joy contest gifted us 3 FREE specialty dining meals per person and they gave us free Wifi!  That was quite a surprise and we were thrilled. 

The family very much enjoy their NCL Giving Joy cruise in memory of David.

We went ziplining, ATV riding, dog sledding, & on the Deadliest Catch Tour.  One of our favorite activities on board was playing Bingo – as I am writing this – I can hear “Roll it, Carol” – Carol was the assistant cruise director and ran Bingo.

The family enjoyed playing bingo together on their Norwegian cruise.

The food was beyond belief and often, they would treat me to a glass of wine even though I did not purchase the drink package.

We were treated like royalty, and it was all thanks to your advocacy.  This trip brought me and my 3 children some closure after their father/my husband’s passing.  We were able to bond and spend 100% of the time with each other.  It was a trip we will never forget

The joy is on the children's faces during the cruise.

We were able to bond and spend 100% of the time with each other.  It was a trip we will never forget.

Thanks again, Michelle

Becky Sowerby

I think we can all agree that Norwegian Cruise Line truly gave this family joy during what has been a very difficult year. Thank you, NCL! ❤️(Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

Photo of author

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Maria K. Telegdy

Thank you Michelle for helping this family out in their most trying times. I usually don’t think with my heart, but this article touched me so much, I can’t barely see writing from the tears in my eyes. Thanks again for helping David’s family.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

I feel the same, Maria 🙂 Rebecca’s update made me feel joyful, too!


I just LOVE stories like this with a wonderful ending!
Such great work you do Michelle…!

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Me, too, Dave. 🙂


I was so sad for this family and I have joyful tears in my eyes over the update. Nothing can replace the loss of their husband and father of course, but at least NCL did their best to honor him by taking their of his family.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x