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An exclusive interview with Captain Kate McCue

The cruise industry’s first American female captain

Captain Kate McCue

Posted on

02 Mar 2021

Captain Kate McCue has worked for cruise lines for 13 years, was the first American woman to captain a luxury cruise vessel and has now taken the helm of Celebrity Cruises new flagship, Celebrity Edge. Here we chat to her about everything from the toughest jobs she faces at sea to her top cruising tips:

Hi Captain Kate! You have made history as the cruise industry’s first American female Captain. Our customers are no strangers to enjoying time on the water - what was it that first made you want to embark on a career at sea?

When I was 12 years old, my parents took me on my first cruise. When we were packing the car to drive home, I told my dad that I wanted to work on a cruise ship when I got older, as the person who plans all the fun events on board. My dad told me that I could do that OR drive the thing if I wanted to.

Can you tell us a bit about your career in the cruising industry and how it is that you came to be the cruise industry’s first American female Captain?

My career on cruise ships began in 2001 as a 3rd Officer with Disney Cruise Line. With only two ships, there wasn’t much career growth opportunity so I went looking for a company that was expanding. I was hired by Royal Caribbean as a 2nd Officer and worked my way up to Staff Captain over 13 years on seven different ships. In 2015, I was sailing as a guest with my husband, who was Chief Engineer on the Quantum of the Seas, when I received a call from Celebrity Cruises President and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo offering me the position of Captain, which made me the first female Captain in history in America.

As with any career, there are probably times where it isn’t all plain sailing. What are some of the toughest jobs that you have to do as Captain?

Just as with any leadership position, I believe that there shouldn’t be a job that you’re not willing to do. Some will be less glamorous but that doesn’t make them any less important. Some of the toughest jobs have to do with things that are outside of my control i.e. the weather, but if I err on the side of safety, I can sleep at night knowing that a tough decision was the right decision because everyone is safe.

What are some personal highlights of your career?

Highlights in my career include the promotion to Captain in 2015, rescuing six lives from an adrift and sinking sailboat in 2016, making history by sailing with the first-ever all-woman bridge and management for International Women’s Day on March 8, 2020, and being able to get my crew on board the Celebrity Edge home during the earlier days of the pandemic.

The cruising world is a predominantly male industry, have you faced any challenges throughout your journey?

I have not faced issues because of my gender and I attribute that to a company which has an established culture that values diversity. The secret to my success is the people I get to work with every day, coming from over 75 different nationalities. We’re all different races, religions, cultures, backgrounds, sexual orientations and genders and because we’re so diverse we don’t pick on each other’s differences, we celebrate them. When you’re surrounded by an environment that is so unique in this way, it means that I wasn’t defined by my gender, I was defined by the job I do and how well I do it.

You have gained a huge following on social media thanks in part to your Elf Sphynx cat, Bug, who joins you on board. What made you first want to bring Bug on board?

If my family isn’t sailing with me it can get lonely for the three-month contract away from home. The idea of having a pet, whether it be a dog or a cat, was something I’d always wanted to have on board and since I’ve sailed with captains who had cats and even a parrot, they’d already set the precedent.

What’s life like sailing the seven seas with a (not so) furry companion by your side?

Bug Naked brings a sense of home and family to sailing. She constantly makes me laugh and is always there with unconditional love.

Do you have any top tips for our customers to make the most out of the on board experience?

My advice for both frequent cruisers, as well as those new to cruising, is to be willing to step outside your comfort zone. Try things you’d never thought of or had the opportunity, from the food we offer to the excursions and activities curated, there is something for everyone and you might just find a new passion on board.

Do you have any top tips for our customers to make the most out of the destinations visited?

My recommendation is to get a “taste” for the destination. Try the local cuisine, find a local artisan shop off the beaten path and talk to the locals about what they love to see and do.

What are you most excited about the future of Celebrity Cruises?

I love Celebrity Cruises and over the last year, I have seen first-hand how we treat our guests and crew. The people are what makes this company so great and that’s why I’m most excited to see their faces as they walk back up the gangway to join our ships.

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