Meet the first American woman to captain a mega cruise ship

  • Kate McCue is the captain of Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Edge.
  • McCue is the first American woman (and fifth woman) to command a mega cruise ship. According to McCue, a mega cruise ship has a gross tonnage of 80,000 or more; the Celebrity Edge has a gross tonnage of almost 131,000.
  • While she works on the ship 24/7 for three months, then has three months off, McCue says she loves her job so much she would happily take less time off.
  • She likens the job of a cruise-ship captain to being the CEO of a company, with most of her time spent in meetings, managing people, and doing paperwork.
  • But she also gets time to explore the destinations where the cruise stops, documenting her adventures for her 91,400 Instagram followers. She also takes her cat Bug Naked – who currently has 28,500 followers on Instagram – on every trip.

Kate McCue, captain of the Celebrity Edge, a 2,918-passenger cruise ship, says she has too much time off work.

“We do three months on, three months off, and it’s kind of like you retire every three months,” she told Insider of her work schedule. “I would prefer five months on to two weeks off, that would be fine.”

In fact, when asked about her least favorite thing about working, eating, and sleeping all in the same place she replied, “having to leave my job and go on vacation.”

In 2015, when McCue was named captain of a slightly smaller ship – the 2,158-passenger Celebrity Summit – she became the first American woman (and fifth woman) to command a mega cruise ship.

According to McCue, “size matters,” as mega cruise ships have a gross tonnage of 80,000 or more. The Celebrity Edge has a gross tonnage of almost 131,000. McCue says that, at that size, you can’t call it a boat.

“You can put a boat on a ship, but you can’t put a ship on a boat,” she said.

To Kate McCue, captain of Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Edge, ship life is like being in a bubble

“I’m so excited to go back into my bubble,” she said, speaking of getting back to work after three months off. “Everything’s better on the ship. You know, this real world sucks, it’s sitting in traffic, going grocery shopping, cooking for yourself, making your own bed, all of those things.”

McCue said she tries to fill her time off with PR gigs, attending trainings, or finding other ways to represent her company.

McCue’s interest in cruise ships goes back to when she was 12 years old

McCue said she became interested in cruises after going on a voyage with her family. After her memorable first trip she told her dad she wanted to be a cruise director when she grew up. According to McCue, he told her: “You can do anything you want, including drive the thing.”

And drive the thing she does.

McCue went to the California Maritime Academy, encouraged and inspired by her father who had also once applied there, but hadn’t met the age requirements after a stint in the Peace Corps.

There, she got a business administration degree, as well as a license to sail “anything from a tugboat to a supertanker, and everything in between.” While McCue said she couldn’t get one without the other, the idea was also that she would have the degree to fall back on should she ever get sick of sailing. But ultimately she says it “comes in really handy,” especially as the captain of a ship, “because you are pretty much like the CEO of, for example, the Celebrity Edge, a $1.2 billion dollar business, in just that one step.”

a person standing in front of a building

McCue likens her job as a captain to that of a CEO, and says her success didn’t come overnight

“I started at the bottom. I was an apprentice officer on banana boats, which were taking bananas between Guayaquil, Ecuador, and Long Beach,” she said. “Cargo ships are fine, but I always wanted to be on cruise ships.”

Similar to pilots, who put in hours of flight time, McCue said captains must put in days at sea. She said it took her 19 years from the time she started working on ships to become a captain in 2015.

When most people envisage the job of a ship captain, they imagine hours spent looking out to sea, pushing around a large wooden steering wheel, but that’s not really what she does at all

“We don’t sit on the bridge [the ship’s command center] for hours on end because we’ve actually done that. I spent 19 years looking out the window as an officer of the watch,” she said, again likening her job to that of CEO of the ship, explaining that she’s in charge of all of the ship’s department heads.

Department heads report directly to her and include a chief engineer, a hotel director, a staff captain responsible for security as well as the maintenance of the ship, and an HR manager.

McCue said her days are spent in daily meetings with these department heads, leading various inspections of the ship, doing paperwork, and participating in events with the guests and crew. She’s on call 24/7, and takes a nap every afternoon in case something comes up late at night.

It’s not all hard work, though, as McCue said she gets to go out and explore the ports along the cruise’s stops. She documents her adventures on Instagram, where she’s racked up over 91,000 followers to date.

“There is no such thing as an average day because the reality is that every day is different. Whether it’s people that you have onboard, the places that you are in, or even the weather, everything changes. So you’re not ever going to have the same day twice, which is really cool,” she says.

a person sitting in a living room

ยฉ Instagram/captainkatemccue

McCue says she considers her coworkers family, and in part that comes down to the working environment.

“It is a unique environment where you play, you work, we sleep all in the same place. But what that means is you bond with people that you work with so much stronger than you do with people on land,” she said, adding that she now has friends in dozens of different countries. “It makes the world a very, very small place.”

Due to the nature of her job, she doesn’t get to see her husband, an engineer she met while working on a different ship, every day

“I think the secret to a happy marriage is 12 time zones,” McCue said, adding that she sees her husband of 13 years more now via FaceTime than they did when they both worked on the same ship. “He’s in Italy, I’m in the Caribbean, and I actually get to hear about his day. He gets to hear about my day and it really works for us.”

Doing the math, McCue said that when her husband joins her for a new year’s cruise they’ll have seen each other for 49 days of 2019. But to her, it’s not about quantity but the quality of their time spent together.

“We’ve got this really neat kind of around-the-world honeymoon thing going on, which is really cool because it makes the most out of the time we have, and we’re having some really epic adventures,” she said.

It also helps that she brings her cat, Bug Naked, on every voyage. Also Insta-famous with 28,500 followers at the time of writing, Bug’s account regularly offers glimpses into ship life.

“The three things I always travel with are Bug, my Louboutins, and a mermaid tail,” she said.

a person standing in front of a body of water

ยฉ Celebrity Cruises

On March 8, 2020, for International Women’s Day, McCue will be sailing a ship staffed by an all-female bridge and officer team

The captain says that Celebrity Cruises has been working hard to get more female representation on board.

“We’ve gone from a 3% female bridge team to over 22% on every single ship in our fleet. The Celebrity Edge, she came out with 30% of the bridge team being female,” she said, adding that she hopes other companies will soon follow suit. “We’re hoping that something like this International Women’s Day, we put that message out there and people start to get onboard and other companies will start to catch up because right now we have over twice the representation – actually I think three times the representation – of any company in the cruise industry.”

“It’s a great time in our industry,” she added. “You know, more ships are coming out. There are so many opportunities for everyone, whether you want to be on the bridge or you want to be in any of the other departments on our ships, it’s, it’s a great place to be. It’s an incredible environment and it’s an opportunity to travel the world and meet the best people. So that’s kind of my message.”

While the job is demanding, according to McCue, it has its perks: “People that come on cruises come for what I get to experience every single day, and I get paid for it.” 

%d bloggers like this: