Rebecca Tobin
Rebecca Tobin

Ever had a hankering to know what the captain's quarters look like on Celebrity Cruises' newest ships? Kate McCue earlier this year threw open the doors to her suite on the Edge, and nearly 100,000 people peeked in.

It's just one post in the social media life of McCue, also known as Captain Kate, also known as @captainkatemccue to more than 200,000 Instagram followers. For the past couple of years she's been delighting fans and educating them about life on the bridge, juxtaposing shots of lightning storms with videos of the engineering team removing the injectors from the engines (soundtrack: Imagine Dragons' "Whatever it Takes") and otherworldly photos of her swimming off the ship in a mermaid tail -- and running through it all, her enthusiasm for captions with nautical puns.

"I 'sea' what you did there," she riposted when I called her out on it during a recent phone call. McCue was home on a brief shore leave and professed to be glad to talk social media and take a break from the house renovation she's embarked on with her husband, the fleet chief engineer of Virgin Voyages, aka @chief_nikolapetrovic.

A Celebrity spokeswoman confirmed that McCue was the line's biggest social media star; in second place is McCue's hairless cat/sidekick, Bug (@bugnaked, 44,500 followers).

The captain's quarters tour was a good example of what McCue really aims to do with her social presence, which is to make the seafaring life accessible and relatable, particularly to women. She and Celebrity CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo had briefly touched on the strategy during an interview last fall when they were promoting a sailing helmed by the first all-female bridge team. "A lot of the women that are on our bridges are active on social media, and they catch the attention of a lot of other women," Lutoff-Perlo said at the time.

McCue picked up on the theme during our conversation last week and reiterated her phrase: "If you can see ('sea') it, you can be it."

"When I first started applying to cruise lines I didn't have a contact; social media wasn't a thing," she said. But through her channels, "I get messages all the time, 'how do I get into this,'  and 'this is the situation I'm in.'" She also uses it to explain her role as the ship's master to passengers  and, of course, to school the occasional hater.

McCue has three primary accounts: Her Instagram, which she called her "digital photo album"; a TikTok, where she can show off her self-professed goofy side; and a YouTube channel, where she produces more educational content -- a recent video, for example, was titled, "Repatriating cruise ship crew during a pandemic."

When she joined Celebrity as the first female captain of a major cruise line, the line suggested she open a social media account, and it gave her a crash course on how to post and tag. "I knew nothing of Instagram," she recalled.

But her skills and Insta fame grew accordingly, to the point where many of her pictures now look professionally enhanced. Does Celebrity give her a team to plan and produce her content? McCue laughed -- no, it doesn't. "That's a lot of trial and error and a tripod. Also a lot of time on my hands to play with it and see what works."

The free time was a reference to the fact that the ships haven't welcomed passengers since March. Obviously, she's busy: McCue is still in command of a 131,000 gross-ton cruise ship, a serious job by any measure. But in the down times, she is everywhere on the ship, suitably masked. Trying on theater costumes. Cooking in the galley. Disinfecting and sorting packages. Making coffee in the espresso bar. In one older post, she's on the bridge in full regalia (an image of her and other women officers -- her "sea-sters" -- wearing sky-high Christian Louboutin heels was captioned "heart and sole"); in another she's wearing Celebrity coveralls to help reorient an osprey that got stuck on the open deck ("on a wing and an osprey'er").

 

The crew gets into it, she said, and they'll help her with shots. And they'll come find her when they see something unusual, fun or inspiring that might make for interesting content. In the osprey example, she said, "I think it was security that called and said, 'we've got a bird, call the captain.'" 

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