Touched by an Angel from California

by Melania Parnisari, Hotel General Manager, Caribbean Princess

You think you meet a lot of people–a hotel general manager aboard a Princess Cruises’ cruise ship meets thousands upon thousands of new people every year. Multiply that by my 17 years at sea, and you get the picture. I meet a lot of people!

I’ve met some amazing, accomplished people, some witty folk who always made me laugh and so many others whose kindness made my job a pleasure. But there is one, a slight, dark-haired boy of only eight years, who stands above all in my mind.

His name is Dominic Cumo and he taught me something about being tough in the face of adversity and spreading joy rather than seeking solace. Dominic has ALS—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease, one of the most daunting diagnoses one could possibly get. It’s rare among adults and almost unheard of among children. Yet Dominic suffers from this terrible disease.

As a hotel General Manager, I’m aware ahead of time of any special-needs passengers boarding the ship. We knew Dominic, who arrived on the Sapphire Princess in his wheelchair, would need extra assistance. He came with a party of 10 to celebrate a relative’s 70th birthday with a California coastal cruise.

From the minute Dominic boarded the ship, he had the crew in the palm of his small hands. He flashed a huge grin at us, instantly dispelling any apprehension we felt about his needs. He put us at ease. Us! I knew he had a huge heart for such a young guy to welcome us in such a dazzling way.

It also became clear that Dominic would be one of those natural cruisers, who immediately took to life aboard a big ship. His enthusiasm became our enthusiasm.  Yes there was a birthday celebrant in the group, but we’d do anything for charismatic Dominic.

I set about arranging for him to visit the bridge to meet Captain Ivan Jerman. Our hotel services engineer, Keith McCabe, built a sturdy ramp for Dominic’s wheelchair so he could tour the underbelly of the ship and visit Sapphire’s engine control room. Chief Engineer Giuseppe Leotta insisted on giving that tour himself.

Making Dominic happy was making me happy. I noted that Dominic, like most eight-year-olds, loves pizza. I arranged to have our executive chef help Dominic devise his own custom pizza. He was wide-eyed watching Alfredo’s pizza chef, Laurentiu Petriovici, toss the dough in the air. Then he created his masterpiece…cheese, mushrooms, peppers, red onions and pepperoni…quite the sophisticated palate for such a young boy.

The whole crew was saddened when the cruise was over for he had reminded us of an eternal (and easily forgotten) life lesson. A positive attitude, a joy for life, will do so much to lift your spirits and those of the people around you. Dominic was that proverbial ray of sunshine, a child shouldering the burden of a frightening diagnosis with unbelievable cheerfulness and light.

You probably know how the rest of this goes…his troubles made mine and most anyone else’s pale by comparison. I don’t think Dominic sees himself as troubled and that is the secret to a happy life. I think all of us on the crew who met him were privately reminded to seize the joy and not the sorrows.

As soon as he left, we posted on his Facebook page that we missed Dominic. And maybe our posting prompted his family to book another cruise with us, this time a cruise to Hawaii. We are fortunate to have him on board again, and the lesson that Dominic taught me will forever remain in my heart.

Melania is kind of a shopaholic with a passion for Swarovski crystal, clothing and shoes. When not on board she loves to spend time with family and friends relaxing on “her” lake.

Dominic on the Bridge with his family and Captain Jerman (left) and Melania (right)
Dominic on the Bridge with his family and Captain Jerman (left) and Melania (right)