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What Captain Kate Carries Onboard


TUG Review Crew
TUG Member
Jul 19, 2014
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From the WSJ

Sept. 1, 2015 5:30 p.m. ET

Passenger cruising has been around for centuries, but until recently, it was assumed only men could steer ships. An American woman had never earned the title of captain of a major cruise ship, Celebrity Cruises says—that is until Sept. 15, when Kate McCue will take over the cruise line’s Celebrity Summit, a 965-foot-long ship at 91,000 gross registered tonnage that sails to Bermuda, New England, Canada and the southern Caribbean, carrying 2,158 passengers and 950 or so crew members.


Capt. McCue caught the maritime bug during her very first cruise to the Bahamas 25 years ago. “I told my parents I wanted to be a cruise director when I grew up,” she recalls. Her father, who was in engineering, had higher aspirations. “My dad said, ‘You could do that, or you could do anything you want—including drive the thing,’” she says. The seed was planted. When Capt. McCue, now 37, was ready to apply to college, her father reminded her of that long-ago conversation and encouraged her to apply to California State University’s California Maritime Academy, “the same place he wanted to apply to after the Peace Corps, but didn’t get into,” she says. “The ratio of men to women was 15-to-1,” Capt. McCue adds. “There were eight girls in my graduating class.”

While working her way up the ranks, Capt. McCue has learned in nearly two decades to keep her packing extraordinarily light. She carries only a Lululemon Back to Class backpack, even for her 10-week assignments, which this year took her to ports as far as Dubai and Vietnam and as near as the Caribbean and Bayonne, N.J.

The cross-body pack has a zip-off bag that functions as a purse, which is useful when flying from her home in Las Vegas to embarkation ports. “When they say you’re only allowed one personal item on the plane, I just zip the purse on to the front and it becomes one bag,” she says.

Inside, six pairs of shoes take up the bulk of the space: Lucky Brand ballet flats in nude and in black, red Toms slip-ons, Havaianas flip flops, a pair of cream heels from Target and black platform patent Christian Louboutins: “I pack everything around those so they stay safe. If I have to check the pack, I take those out and wear them instead of my Nike Free sneakers.”

Nearly all of her clothing items do double duty, from the Lululemon Both Ways dress that can be worn on a rickshaw ride in Kochi, India and to the Captain’s gala onboard ship on the same evening. Cropped black yoga pants go from the gym to port excursions; an asymmetrical DKNY sweater acts as a scarf in a pinch, and a reversible bathing suit means she need only carry one. “My uniform stays on board and is dry cleaned and pressed for me. And that is what I’m wearing 90 % of the time,” Capt. McCue says.

Any hygiene items Capt. McCue could want are already onboard, so her toiletry kit is mostly minimal makeup. A notebook, thank-you cards and some candy share space with an iPad loaded with Fall Out Boy’s latest album and the fifth season of Game of Thrones.


She also carries some sentimental items—a love letter from her husband of six years and a glass jam jar filled with marbles given to her by her best friend. The marbles belonged to her friend’s uncle who died last year, she says. He collected the marbles as a child, and after his death, his family periodically planted them in special places where they thought he’d like to visit, “so I asked if I could have them,” Ms. McCue says.

She has hidden the marbles in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa (on the 126th floor), in a souk in Muscat, Oman, and at the base of the largest Buddha statue in Malaysia and at the top of a glacier in Alaska. She takes pictures of their locations, which she posts on Facebook, and buys a trinket nearby to send back to her friend. “They help me get off the ship,” says Ms. McCue, who was recently on a cruise in Turkey. “I didn’t feel like going out, but I knew I had to put the marble somewhere in Istanbul, so I left one at the Blue Mosque,” she says. “It’s like geocaching, but more lo-fi.” When the jar is empty, she will send it back to her friend for a refill.

On the ship, the captain is on call 24-7. Back home in landlocked Las Vegas—“where are all good sailors come from”—she jokes, life is quite the opposite. “One of the best parts about the job is that I’ve always done 10 weeks on, 10 weeks off,” she says. “So I live like I’m retired every three months. It’s a really rough life.”
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TUG Review Crew: Veteran
TUG Member
Feb 10, 2007
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Twin Falls, Eye-Duh-Hoe
Nice article. Congrats to the Captain! We've been on Summit, and will take her sister ship, Infinity full transit of Panama Canal to Chile in a couple of months.

I am not sure how much help Cap'n Kate's packing tips would be to the average TUGger who doesn't have 950 crew members at their beck and call, and freshly dry-cleaned uniforms to wear 90% of the time. Not to mention almost daily ports of call where absolutely anything can be procured.

Here's the take away, ladies: (my wife agrees) Pack all your shoes. Buy the rest in your travels.