Preparing for my short time onboard Celebrity Beyond, I was of course interested in touring the ship's spaces -- capturing the sparkling interior design, tasting a bite from Le Voyage, taking a sip of one of the line's hallmark martinis.
However, what excited me most was Captain Kate McCue. Her Instagram account, with 335,000 followers, is a hotbed of enthusiasm about All Things Cruise (and of course Bug, her hairless cat) that takes viewers on a photographic and sometimes video-led journey of what it's like to be a ship captain, but also what it's like to live and work on ships.
Frequently, the cruise industry is examined under the lens of a "floating hotel." We compare entertainment, bars and restaurants, casinos, spas and more. But it's rare -- if ever -- that we isolate what's unique about a cruise ship, apart from the fact that it moves, and apply those concepts to a land-based resort.
I'm talking, of course, about an advantage that every avid cruiser -- and cruise executive, for that matter -- holds in the highest regard: the crew.
A recent post shows Captain Kate, as she's known, surprising a young woman on staff with a promotion to first officer -- just 2% of the mariners in the world are women. Captain Kate's candid look behind the scenes of the bridge, and the entire process of shipbuilding in the case of Celebrity Beyond, is not only a huge show of passion for Celebrity Cruises and her very visible position, but a place where an equally passionate cruise community can come to share in their joint fandom.
When Lisa Lutoff-Perlo was appointed CEO of Celebrity Cruises in 2014, only 5% of the crew on the bridge were women. That number has jumped to 32% across the fleet, and on Celebrity Beyond with Captain Kate at the helm, 70% of the bridge is staffed by women. Women in guest-facing roles make up 45% of the Beyond's crew.
"One of the neat features that we have in today's times is social media. It's a huge, powerful tool in getting people interested in a career that I didn't know was available when I was growing up," McCue told a group of journalists during a press conference onboard Beyond. "The number of times, daily, that people say, 'I didn't know that was a career option for me,' -- that's why I put it out there into the world, because positions are available for everyone on our ships. It puts a face behind the badge."
A photo posted a few days prior to the first revenue cruise shows Captain Kate wheeling a stylish suitcase through Southampton that says "Beyond" and asks: Who's going Beyond with us? The post racked up more than 200 comments in two days and includes new and repeat guests waxing ecstatic to get onboard for honeymoons and anniversaries or lamenting that they haven't yet sailed with Captain Kate and "staying tuned" for more Beyond content.
To me, there's no better marketing for a vacation than that.
"When I came to Celebrity from another brand, I asked, 'What makes us special, what makes us different?'" McCue told the audience. "We don't have slides, but what we do have is incredible crew members. This ship [Celebrity Beyond] in the shipyard was amazing when it was being built, but it didn't come to life until the moment our crew members walked onboard. They brought their heart, they brought their soul, and they brought their enthusiasm -- especially those who have been sitting at home for the last two years. And that is what really brings this ship to life."
The idea of cruise passengers forming bonds and even friendships with crew members is not a new concept. Yet, the exuberance showcased across Captain Kate's account (reciprocated by the likes and comments of followers), brings the idea of just how devoted guests can be to a brand, a ship, a maître 'd -- a captain -- to the top of your social media feed.
Maybe long ago you stayed at an all-inclusive and liked your friendly bartender. But would you follow them to another resort? Would you book an entire vacation surrounding who was working the reception desk? In that context, it sounds ridiculous, but it's not uncommon for cruisers to stay loyal to a cruise line like Celebrity, and even a ship, because of its crew.
For many, sailing with Captain Kate is like sailing with a celebrity (no pun intended). Personally, hearing her speak was high on my busy, 48-hour to-do list.
And, as I expected, the welcome I received from the crew on Celebrity's dazzling new ship was unmatched.