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What it’s like to be a cruise ship captain

(CNN) – Whether the cruise ship Celebrity Edge is crossing the Caribbean or meandering through the Mediterranean, Captain Kate McCue writes night assignments for her team every evening.

It always indicates how many people are on board the ship.

It is important, says McCue, “to understand the gravity of responsibility”.

Celebrity Edge is one of Celebrity Cruise Line’s largest and fanciest ships. It cost $ 1 billion to build and can accommodate nearly 3,000 passengers and over 1,000 crew members.

McCue’s job is to take over this huge floating city and navigate it safely around the world.

After learning the ropes with Disney Cruise Line, McCue rose through the ranks at Royal Caribbean, joining Celebrity Cruise Line in 2015 to lead the Celebrity Summit – a promotion that made her the first female U.S. cruise captain.

She later moved to Celebrity Equinox and has been running Celebrity Edge since September 2019.

Today, McCue spoke to CNN Travel over a video call from her home in Las Vegas, where she recently returned after unexpectedly spending months at sea after the coronavirus pandemic.

Unexpectedly choppy water

Covid-19 brought the cruise industry to a standstill – virus-infected ships were quarantined and passengers were denied disembarkation. The ports were closed and the cruise lines tried for months to bring passengers and later crew members home.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a no-sail regulation for ships traveling from U.S. ports.

The weight of responsibility for running a cruise ship has never been so evident.

McCue’s second stint on Edge began in December 2019. The plan was for her to work three months on board and then three months off.

The last voyage of McCue’s December-March route coincided with International Women’s Day, a special celebrity sailing in which the ship was manned exclusively by female officers.

“It was a high point in my career being on a ship manned by what we called Oceans 27,” says McCue.

“But this is the cruise on which everything came to a head with Covid.”

McCue’s helper, who was supposed to come from Greece, never came.

“We all found out that the flights from Europe were canceled,” she recalls.

McCue’s husband, who also works in the cruise industry, was on vacation aboard Edge at the time.

As Covid’s worries increased and uncertainty increased, he traveled back to Vegas and McCue planned to follow him.

Kate McCue has been leading Celebrity Edge since 2019.

Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

“I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be home in two weeks, no problem.’ Fast forward to seven months later when I finally signed out earlier this month. “

McCue spent the spring, summer, and early autumn days navigating the choppy waters of Covid-19 cruise restrictions, trying to be the best of their staff.

She kept abreast of updates from the cruise industry but said she needed to limit her general news consumption to stay healthy in the face of great uncertainty.

“Because of regulations and closings in countries around the world and situations that cropped up, you couldn’t have written a Hollywood script that could contain all of the things that came our way,” says McCue.

Complex CDC policies, a lack of commercial flights, widespread travel bans, and closed borders made it difficult for crew to disembark.

Some crew members spoke to CNN at the height of the crisis, saying they felt abandoned by the cruise lines. The situation has reportedly had an impact on the mental health of employees.

McCue says the crew gathered around one another on Edge, and they celebrated every time a crew member successfully disembarked the ship and reunited with loved ones.

“It was important for me to stay as long as possible to make sure the 1,350 crew we had on Celebrity Edge – and all of the crew we had in our fleet in the Caribbean – we could get off, got off.” . “

Celebrity Edge, one of several ships of the Celebrity Cruise Line anchored in the Caribbean, became the “mother ship” – the ship that was designed to bring disembarking crew members to Miami for check-out. The ship also took supplies and mail from Florida to the other ships.

When McCue disembarked in October, only four crew members remained on Edge – and she says they were all back to work.

“I look back on this 10 month deal as the most satisfying deal of my career,” said McCue.

“There were no stripes, there were no positions, there were – in the end – 80 people who only knew each other as a family. And that was really cool.”

In fact, it was bizarre for McCue to disembark and step out of the Celebrity Edge bubble, just as excited as she was to see the family again.

“I was petrified to get out,” she says.

Postcards from the edge

With Celebrity Edge spending months in limbo, McCue also documented life on board through her Instagram account.

She opened the account when she first started at Celebrity, encouraged by the PR team to show social media users a bit of seafaring life.

It currently has 204,000 followers and counts.

“The way I always looked on Instagram was yes, it’s a glimpse into the captain’s life, but it’s also my digital photo album. And whether people love it or not, that wasn’t really my concern. Mine The concern was to be able to go back and look at the memories I’ve made since I became captain. “

From photos of sunrises with cotton candy on the horizon, to videos of dolphins dancing in the waters below, to clips of crew shirts passing the time, McCue’s Instagram is a whirlwind look at life on board the ship.

This summer, she began experimenting with TikTok, which she believes is “just for fun” – although it already went viral on a clip responding to a sexist comment – and with YouTube, where she asked more in-depth questions about life at sea answered.

“I’m looking forward to the day when, to be honest, it’s no longer about being the first woman,” says McCue.

Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

As a cruise captain, no two days work alike – even before Covid – but McCue says one thing most days have in common is a wake-up call courtesy of Bug.

On days at sea, it is important to McCue to be available and accessible to guests as they enjoy life on board.

On port days, it takes about one and a half to two hours for the ship to dock. Once the ship arrives, McCue sometimes cruises and explores the destination with the guests. If she stays on the ship, she will conduct inspections and meet with the crew.

McCue eschews the tradition of the captain’s dinner – she decided that prioritizing time with a small group of guests wasn’t the best way to get in touch with passengers. Instead, she stays in busy areas of the ship and chats with guests while they enjoy their day.

In general, McCue says she was able to shape her job herself.

She remembers her time at Royal Caribbean and became first of all staff captain – secondly, the ship’s captain. McCue had to go through the mandatory psychological assessment to ensure employees were ready for the job.

“In the end, I sat down with a gentleman to go over the results,” recalls McCue. “And he said, ‘Everything was perfect. But I think you tend to smile too much.'”

When McCue started at Celebrity, she came back to that feedback and tried her best to play poker.

“I was so focused on it that I haven’t been able to enjoy what I wanted since I was 12 years old, what had come into play. So I said, ‘Throw this out the window, I’ll be me.'”

McCue spent months at sea because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

McCue spent months at sea because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Courtesy Celebrity Cruises

These days, McCue likes to bring her personality and big smile to her role – and it’s advice she gives others: you can take your job seriously, do the job well, and be yourself.

It is important to McCue to offer these words of wisdom and serve as role models for other young seafarers, but she hopes that one day they will become redundant.

“I’m looking forward to the day when, to be honest, it’s no longer about being the first woman.”

McCue says it was initially “overwhelming” to have her in the spotlight as both captain and first captain.

“I found it almost a little unfair because when the men got promoted they had to do their jobs. And they had to do their job 100%. I felt like I had to do my job 100%, but then I had to do the same to be a woman.

“But then I realized that if I don’t, who else will? If I don’t, how will people see it?”

Right now, McCue is looking forward to the cruise resumption and is confident that the industry will recover from 2020.

Their long-term goal is to get a ship out of the shipyard in a new building.

Your ultimate dream? Become a godmother of a ship.

“I don’t think the ship’s captain was the godmother at any point in history. So we released this to the world. I don’t know who will hear that, but keep your fingers crossed.”

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