What Leaders Can Learn from Celebrity Cruises’ Capt. Kate McCue

Read the article on Women Leading Travel & Hospitality

by Cindy Bertram

When it comes to career milestones and industry firsts, Capt. Kate McCue, Celebrity Cruises is a true inspiration. On  Sept. 13, 2015, McCue became captain of the Celebrity Summit, and the first American woman to be captain of a cruise ship – in this case, a mega cruise ship. McCue was 37 years old at the time, so she was also one of the youngest cruise ship captains ever appointed.

McCue became interested in sailing and cruise ships as a young girl. After finding a cruise ship brochure at home, she convinced her parents to take her on a cruise. McCue was 12 years old at the time, spent a lot of time with the cruise director, and truly loved the experience. She told her dad that when she grew up, she wanted to be a cruise director. Her dad told her she could do anything she wanted to do and continued to encourage her. And that’s what started her on the path to her dream career. McCue decided to attend California State University’s California Maritime Academy and graduated from there in 2002.

After graduating from the California Maritime Academy, it did take a bit longer for McCue to land a position working on a cruise ship. But that finally occurred when she got a job working as a third mate. She then successfully moved up. In 2015, McCue was asked to become captain of the Celebrity Summit. And she’s been with Celebrity Cruises since then. McCue is currently captain of the Celebrity Beyond, She sailed out on the Celebrity Beyond for its maiden voyage in April 2022 from Southampton, England, and continues to be captain of that ship.


  • Don’t Give Up – When McCue graduated from the California Maritime Academy, she started getting her applications in to all the cruise lines. But she didn’t hear anything back. So she decided to change her resume a bit, and actually applied to be a bartender on a cruise ship. That cruise line got back to her and said she was not really qualified to be a bartender, but they saw her other qualifications. And she ended up joining that cruise line as a third mate. She worked at that cruise line for a while and then worked for another cruise line. And during those 13 years, McCue worked her way up to becoming a staff captain. Becoming captain of the Celebrity Summit truly made McCue’s dream come true!
  • Smile – McCue is well respected within the cruise industry, and she’s definitely broken ground for women moving up as well. She smiles a lot, because she’s so happy working her dream job, and has fulfilled an ambition she had when she was a young girl. “When you’ve wanted something so bad, since you were 12 years old, and your dreams have finally come true, you can’t help but smile,” she said.
  • Find Ways to Break Down Gender Barriers – When McCue was offered and took the position to be captain of the Celebrity Summit in 2015, this was a sign that gender divisions within the cruise industry were starting to change. And McCue helped take this to a new level when she led the first ever cruise ship sailing with an entirely female bridge and officer team on the Celebrity Edge. This was a historic moment and took place on March 8, 2020 on International Women’s Day. The crew of women were from around the world, representing more than a dozen nations.
  • Utilize Social Media Channels in a Positive Way – McCue has over three million followers on TikTok along with hundreds of thousands of followers on other social media platforms. Sharing fun, real stories is one part. Another? McCue’s cat, an elf sphynx cat known as Bug, sails with her. And her cat Bug has her own Instagram account, Bug Naked, with over 60,000 followers. Using social media channels is a way to give people greater insights when it comes to the life of being a cruise ship captain.
  • Truly Interact with Guests Onboard the Ship – McCue is well known for interacting with the guests onboard the ship. She truly enjoys talking with them. She’s known for wandering around between tables in the dining rooms where she can meet more people. And when McCue is on the Celebrity Edge, she has a room next to the Bridge, and guests can take a tour of her office.

Big smiles and interacting with guests and the staff onboard the Celebrity ships are key things McCue is so well known for. And her caring, energetic personality truly makes her extraordinary.