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Captain Kate McCue on Leading First All-Female Crew for International Women’s Day

Author: Olivia Sharpe

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The instafamous captain reveals all about the special Edge sailing and manning her all-female crew

Celebrity Edge has set sail this International Women’s Day and is being manned by the first American female captain of a megaship, Kate McCue, with her all-female crew, which includes three British women, in tow for the first time in maritime history.

We speak to her about what guests can expect from the special sailing – created to help to raise awareness that only two per cent of the world’s mariners are women – what more can be done to change the gender gap in the industry and what led her to a life at sea.

International Women's Day: Kate McCue
Captain Kate McCue

How did it feel becoming the first American woman to captain a ship?

It was amazing when I got the call in 2015 to come to Celebrity Cruises as their first female captain. It took me 19 years to work up to where I am now, so to know that I had finally achieved my dream was an incredible feeling. When I was coming up through the ranks being a woman was never really a thing – it was only after becoming captain that I began to be asked that question.

How can steps be taken to narrow the gender gap?

I believe that if you “sea” it, you can be it – it’s a great time in our industry as there are many more ships coming out and plentiful opportunities for everyone. We’re hoping that through our International Women’s Day sailing we’ll inspire more women to join not only the cruise industry, but also other sectors that are traditionally seen as more male-dominated.

Celebrity Cruises has been working hard to get greater female representation on board and we’ve gone from a 3 per cent female bridge team to more than 22 per cent across the fleet, with Celebrity Edge launching with 30 per cent of the bridge team being female. In my crew, there are 72 different nationalities, all of us a minority of some sort, whether by race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. We don’t pick on our differences, we celebrate them.

What can passengers expect on the all-female cruise?

I am so excited about our International Women’s Day sailing and to be working alongside so many incredible women on Celebrity Edge. We have a great events programme lined up for the cruise featuring a female film series, brands highlighting female designers and founders, an art exhibition and auction by female talent, and panel discussions with a host of inspiring women, including Madeline Stuart, our CEO Luisa Lutoff-Perlo, and the all-female crew onboard Edge, so guests can definitely expect a lot from the cruise!

We also have a special event in the evening planned to mark International Women’s Day – all guests are invited and it will be a great opportunity to celebrate this historic sailing and the amazing women we have working throughout Celebrity Cruises.

Celebrity Cruises Celebrity Edge
Celebrity Cruises changed the cruise industry with 2019’s Celebrity Edge

When did you discover your passion for sailing?

My interest in going to sea started when I was 12 when my parents took my family on a voyage to the Bahamas over Thanksgiving. I spent the whole time with the entertainment crew and, when I got off the ship, I said to my dad, ‘I want to be a cruise director when I grow up.’ He replied, ‘You can do anything you want in the world, including drive the thing’.

After I graduated [from the California Maritime Academy in 2000, I applied to every cruise line in the industry. For about a year and a half I didn’t hear anything, so I changed my CV and applied to be a bartender on Disney Cruise Line. They said I wasn’t qualified to be a bartender as I had never served a drink in my life, but I was qualified to drive their ship, so I joined as a third mate. Shortly after that, I moved to Royal Caribbean and spent 13 years working my way up to staff captain [the second-in-command on a ship], and in 2015, I got the call asking if I would like to come to Celebrity Cruises as their first female captain, to which I said “Hell Yes!”.

Describe a typical day on board.

I spend quite a bit of time in meetings with the ship’s department heads, leading various inspections of the ship, with a little bit of admin work on the side. But my favourite part of the day and night is participating in the events with the guests and crew. I’m on call 24/7 so I always try to take a nap [in the afternoon] because the likelihood is if anyone is going to need me, it’s going to be at two or three o’clock in the morning.

That’s said, there is no such thing as an average day because the reality is that every day is different. Whether its people that you have onboard, the places that you are visiting, or even the weather, everything changes. You’re never going to have the same day twice, which is something I really enjoy about this job.

Bahamas, Caribbean
A life at sea sparked Kate’s imagination during a family voyage to the Bahamas

What do you enjoy most/least about being at sea?

One of the best things is being able to travel and experience the world – being at sea gives me so many great opportunities and I love being able to go and explore the ports we call. Meeting our guests and crew is also an interesting part of the job and we have some very memorable guests who regularly come onboard.

For me, my least favourite thing is having to leave my job and go on vacation – its three months on, three months off, but I would prefer to do a year on with two weeks off ratio! I really do live in a beautiful bubble and hate to leave it.

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