Meet Captain Kate McCue

Meet Captain Kate McCue

Travel insights from Codie Liermann, managing editor of The Compass

In addition to being a “modern mermaid, red sole rockin’ Mum to wanderluster @bugnaked” and the captain of Celebrity Beyond, Captain Kate McCue has taken on the role of inspiring and entertaining her more than 3.7 million social media followers. She provides glimpses into her everyday life as a mega cruise ship captain, and the energy she shares with her audience is contagious.  

Eager to learn more, The Compass caught up with Captain Kate McCue to hear about her experience as a captain and her journey to get there.  

Q: Can you tell me a bit about your career path and how you got started in the cruise industry? 

A: First, let me say: expect a marathon, not a sprint. Good things come to those who put in the time and effort. 

I went to California State University Vallejo, California Maritime Academy, a four-year university (that is) part of the Cal State University system, which has a program on Marine Transportation, and graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and a 3rd Mate unlimited license to sail anything from a tug boat to the world’s largest super tanker and everything in between.  

Similar to the aviation industry, the maritime industry requires that we accrue a certain amount of time in order to upgrade to our next licenses. Where aviation pilots require flight hours, seafarers require a certain amount of sailing days which varies depending on the country you are in.  

Since beginning my career at sea as a Cadet at California Maritime Academy in 1996, I have worked my way up the ranks from Apprentice Officer, 3rd Officer, 2nd Officer, 1st Officer Deck, 1st Officer Safety, 1st Officer Navigation, Chief Officer Safety, Staff Captain, all the way to Captain. 

Advancement and positions depend on the segment of the industry you sail in and the company you sail with. It took me 19 years to be promoted to Captain, which is pretty typical in the cruise industry. Promotions depend on availability.  

Q: What made you want to become a Captain of a cruise ship? 

A: When I was 12 years old, my parents took me and my brother on a four-day cruise to the Bahamas. When we got off the ship, I told my dad that I wanted to be the Cruise Director and plan all the fun events onboard the ship. My dad said, “You can do anything you want, including driving the thing.” That is where the seed was planted, and after 19 years at sea, and a steady progression through the ranks, I was promoted to Captain in 2015. 

Q: What is your favorite feature on Celebrity Beyond? 

A: The beautiful $1.3 billion Celebrity Beyond is a modern marvel with her hardware and design, but my favorite “feature” is the 1420 crew who give the ship a soul and create a wonderful experience for our guests. 

Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises
Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

Q: I can imagine your responsibilities vary and each day at work might look a bit different. What are some of your favorite parts of the job? 

A: You’re right. Each day is different. I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. Each day finds us in a different place, surrounded by different people, different weather and different circumstances. And the variety of my position is so unique. For example, I oversee things like safe navigation of the ship and our guests to their destinations, but I also have a hand in delivering the best experience to our guests and crew. I love the variety! 

However, one of the perks of the job that no one told me about as I came up through the ranks is how this position allows me to make an impact in our guests’ vacation experience as well as the memories we help create.  

On a professional level, I love that I’m able to pay it forward by giving my crew opportunities to be better tomorrow than they are today. Helping them grow is what inspires me about my work. The people are everything, and I couldn’t do my job without them! 

Q: Becoming a cruise ship captain is not an easy journey. Did you encounter any hurdles along the way? 

A: I love this question because I don’t have a stereotypical answer that comes to mind. That’s because I have been blessed to work for a company that values diversity and inclusion.  

The crew across our fleet of ships come from 60 to 75 different nationalities. Everyone is a minority of some sort, be it race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, etc. Because of this, I’ve found that we don’t pick on each other’s differences, but rather we are in a unique environment that celebrates those differences. Therefore, being a female onboard wasn’t what defined me. 

Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises
Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

Q: Do you have any advice for those in the travel industry working towards a position that might not be easily attainable? 

A: The opportunities are there, and I would encourage anyone who wants to pursue a life in travel to jump in wholeheartedly.  

You don’t need to follow in anyone else’s footsteps. Forge your own path by bringing your unique personalities and perspectives to each job you do. The formula for success in the travel industry is the same as any industry. Understanding who you are and knowing what you want is key. Surround yourself with diversity. Be your authentic self, approachable and vulnerable. Be kind. Be supportive and willing to pay it forward. 

Q: Our editorial team loves cats, and we’d love to hear a little about Bug Naked and your experience traveling with a pet onboard. 

A: One perk of the Captain’s job is that we can have our family sail with us onboard. However, my husband also works at sea so he can’t join me for long periods of time. I figured out pretty quickly that it can be a bit lonely, but having a pet onboard combats that. 

Bug is happiest at sea, chasing endless summers, surrounded by her large extended crew family, floor to ceiling windows with constant sunshine pouring in and the attention of our amazing guests. We host “Bug Trivia” onboard so the guests have a chance to see our famous hairless feline! 

What’s in Captain Kate’s Carry-On?  

“Captains are usually assigned to a specific ship for two to three years and our onboard accommodations afford us the luxury to leave uniforms and personal effects in the Captain’s cabin, thus cutting down on luggage, so I only need to travel with a carry-on.  

What you will find in my carry-on is my cell phone, earbuds, a pair of Louboutins, my passport and most importantly, the best sidekick in the world – my hairless cat, Bug Naked (though I don’t put him in my carry-on, but carry him on!).” 

About the Author

Codie Liermann is the managing editor of The Compass. She began her career in the industry as a travel advisor prior to working as an editor. With a passion for creating valuable content for travel advisors, she aims to develop meaningful relationships with all types of travel companies in order to share their unique messages with the travel agency community.

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