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The 43-year-old Celebrity Cruises captain has amassed nearly 3 million followers on TikTok, regaling them with videos about life at sea, her career and videos of her cat Bug Naked.
Her time in the cruise industry has stretched across two decades and a variety of ships and cruise lines. But her desire to spend her life cruising came much earlier, on a family cruise she took at age 12.
"I said to my dad, at the end of the cruise (that) I wanted to be the cruise director. And dad said, 'you can do anything you want the world, including drive the thing.' "
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USA TODAY chatted with McCue, who was the first – and remains the only – female American captain of a major cruise ship, about her next career move and how she has made a life in cruising.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Q: How did you start your career in cruising?
A: "When it was time to go to college, my dad reminded me of that conversation, because I didn't know where I wanted to go and what I was going to study exactly. And he suggested California Maritime Academy, which is one of the maritime academies in the U.S.
"At the end of the four years, I got a business administration degree and a license to sail anything from a tugboat to the world's largest super tanker.
"I graduated in 2000 and I sent my resume out. While I was waiting for a response, I was working at Maersk Sealand, which is container ship company in Long Beach, California.
"And after about 18 months, I hadn't heard anything. So I changed my resume. And I applied to be a bartender with Disney Cruise Line.
"When they got my resume, they looked at it and said, 'well, she's not qualified to be a bartender,' because I have never served a drink in my life. 'But she is qualified to drive our ships.' So they passed my resume to the correct department, which was the marine department. And that's where I got hired as a third officer, which was the entry-level position on the bridge."
Q: What other ships have you worked on?
A: "Disney Magic, Nordic Empress (which was) Royal Caribbean, Brilliance of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas, Independence of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, Rhapsody, of the Seas and Jewel of the Seas.
"And then it was Celebrity Summit. Celebrity Equinox, Celebrity Edge and now Beyond."
Q: What's your secret to success?
A: "The reason for my success is the people that I work with."
Q: Are women represented in cruise leadership?
A: "I think the representation isn't quite there.
"When I joined in 2015, 2% of our bridge team fleet-wide (crew members managing navigation) was female. And today, I think it's over 27% now.
"I think why we don't see the representation necessarily is because, you know, women have different objectives and goals in their life and, and when family comes into play, I don't think there have been established."
Q: How do you hope things evolve for women working on cruise ships?
A: "As we have more women coming into these positions, you know, we find ourselves in these unique situations that they've never the office, shoreside has never really thought about or had to think about.
"(From the top, Celebrity is) open to accommodating our concerns and addressing policies that have never existed before."
Q: How do you see the industry moving ahead to become more inclusive? And are you hoping to elevate other women to this point?
A: "Absolutely. This is where my tagline is, 'if you can see it, you can be it.'
"I've been given this platform (as a female captain) and if I didn't use it to normalize a woman in this position, then the next woman coming up through the ranks will go through the same thing that I did. So that's where I found social media to be a really amazing tool – one to normalize the position, to show kind of an inside look into a captain's life."
Q: You have a large presence on social media. How else are you using the spotlight?
A: "We've hired quite a few people that I've met only through social media. So (giving) career advice, (I am able) to be accessible to everyone.
"For people (who) never thought that going to sea was a career that they would be interested in, and then they see it on social media and then that really piques their interest. I've been able to help – and not only myself but also you know, some of the officers that I work with, they're also heavily involved in social media – and become kind of guidance counselors in where to go in order to study to have a career at sea, it's phenomenal.
"People (who) come on the ship that follow me on TikTok, we already have kind of a connection they know about me or about Bug (Naked), the cat, and there's this nice familiarity.
"With that following, there's also a great responsibility to lead by example. But I hope it continues to grow. Because the more it grows, the more it means that the word is out there, that there are positions and options, like I've had in my career. I hope that that will garner more interest, not just from women, but anybody (who) wants to go to sea."
Q: What is it like to spend your career and life at sea?
A: "When you're on board the ship, you're in a bubble. So many things are within your control.
"It's the idea of going on a cruise, everyone has the same objective and that is to have a good time. Our crew is (aiming) to provide for their families. So everyone has this kind of positive attitude about a unique experience – which is your work experience.
"I've only sailed international ships, which means, you know, an international crew. And I love that because it's like having the entire world under one roof."
Q: What is the path like from apprentice officer to captain?
A: "So, from apprentice officer to third officer, then it's second officer, first officer deck, first officer navigation. first officer safety, chief officer safety, staff captain, and then captain."
"I always say that to get to a captain's position, it's a marathon, it's not a sprint. And you want it to be a marathon because you don't want to fast track. Because every day you gain more experience with a situation maybe you haven't been in before."
Q: Do you have any advice for people looking to start a career in the cruise industry?
A: "If your goal and your dream job isn't the one that's available at the moment, (get) your foot in the door.
"And if you have the right attitude, that's going to take you very far."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Meet Kate McCue, Celebrity Cruises captain and TikTok sensation