Interview with Jewel of the Seas Staff Captain Kate McHue
On board a party on the Jewel of the Seas wasn’t I delightedly surprised when the Captain announced his staff Captain and out walked…Kate McHue! I wanted to jump up and do a little “Hurray for girl power!” but I didn’t want to seem like that oddball passenger everyone wishes would move a little further away.
So I kept my glee hidden until after when I saw her standing in the entrance of the Safari club greeting passengers. Walking up to her I remember saying “Hiiii” and smiling wide, remembering after a few seconds to follow up with a few more words in the English language, which led me to, “You’re the Staff Captain!” to while she smiled and replied “Yes” and I went on rapid firing something about “so cool”, “my blog”, “interview you”, and to my surprise she made sense of the mash of thoughts, said “Yes, that would be great.” and it was arranged. Below is the bulk of the interview, and if you see Kate on board, tell her that you like Captain America too. 🙂
Where are you from?
Originally from San Francisco but home is Las Vegas now.
What made you go into this line of work?
When I was 12 years old I went on a cruise with my parents and when I got off the ship I told my Dad that I wanted to be the Cruise Director. That was the career path that I had chosen and my Dad looked at me and he said “you can do that, or you could drive the thing.” And I didn’t really think about it again until it was time to go to College and I didn’t know where I wanted to go what I wanted to do, so he suggested a couple of places. One of them was California Maritime academy, and it’s where he had wanted to go to school when he got out of the Peace Corps and they told him you’re too old, we have age requirements, they had all kinds of requirements back in the 70’s, they didn’t allow women in and all kinds of stuff.
That was always in the back of Dad’s brain. So I said what it this California Maritime Academy, because I was looking to go to college, and he said well it’s part of the Cal State University system, it’s Cal State Vallejo smack dab between San Francisco and Sacramento and he said so it’s a four year college you take …whatever degree you want to go for and at the same time you’re taking courses to get a license to drive a ship and I really didn’t think so much about the part of driving the ship, because where I grew up we weren’t close to the water ’cause I actually grew up in Augusta Georgia.
So I said, well that sounds pretty good and it’s out of state from Georgia to California where all my family was. My family was actually in San Francisco and Sacramento so I was smack dab in the middle, and I said that sound really great, then said tell me more about this Maritime part of it, and he said “well every year you’ll go on a cruise, a training cruise” and I remembered when I was 12 and how much I enjoyed going on a cruise. So I applied and I got in. I applied there and the Coast Guard Academy. And the Coast Guard Academy seemed a little bit more military than I was looking for.
So they took me to California, dropped me off for orientation and we sat down and they were going through some of the things and had a stack of uniforms and they passed the uniforms across the table to me and I looked at ’em – Khaki head to toe and said “no, no no no no, you don’t understand I’m here for college, I’ve seen the movies, I know what College is all about. I don’t wear uniforms in college.” And they said “here you do and every morning at 7:00am you’ll be down on the Quad for inspection.” And I was like “Dad what are you doing to me!” (laughs) So that’s how it was, we wore uniforms and it was a ratio of 15:1 men to women. Which was not too shabby.
The summer cruises that we went on, you’d take your courses – heavy course load – Business Administration was my degree and then the Maritime Courses on top so celestial navigation, Marlin spike that kind of thing and then during the summer when you would normally be off as a college student we were going on these training cruises. The first year you were standing outside in the pouring rain in the cold and chipping paint and learning how to de-rust things and operate power tools, and then the second year you get a little more navigation, the third year you actually take over the watch as a navigational officer, at the end of four years you take all your exams for your degree and then you also take your U.S. Coast Guard exams to get your license.
So you can’t get a U.S. Coast Guard license to sail anything from tug boat to super tanker without getting your business degree to fall back on and vice versa. If you did one you had to do the other. And the idea is when I decide I don’t want to go to sea any longer I have the degree to fall back on. Since then things have changed now they offer different majors and you don’t actually have to go to sea when you graduate but when I graduated that’s how it was, and it was a very, very good system.
Before I graduated I’d been to places like Easter Island, down to Chile, Asia, I mean I traveled places that a lot of people will never get an opportunity to and that was even before I graduated.
So how long have you been in this industry?
I started in ’96 at CMA and then I graduated in 2000. I did go work on land for a shipping company for a year and a half and I decided you know what I don’t like the 9 to 5 I’m going to go out to sea use my license and do…midnight to 4am. So I started with Disney cruise line for a year and a half and then I’ve been with Royal for the last 10.
So what the most exciting part of your job? The most challenging?
Every day is different. Every day is a different port. You wake up and there’s a different situation you have to handle, there’s a different emergency there are different people. That’s probably the most challenging and the most interesting part of this job. Never have the same day twice. That was one of those things that I wanted to get out of the office from. It was getting a little redundant.
What is your favorite port to sail out of and also your favorite port to be in?
My favorite port of all time would have to be Venice. We were doing overnights in Venice when I was on the Brillance of the Seas. Just sailing in is so iconic and so beautiful…that’s one of those places that you also get some time off, and the most romantic day of my life. Throw the wedding out the window and the proposal and everything, but I was by myself in Venice and it was October so it was the rainy season and it had started to rain and I was sitting in the front window of a Chinese Food restaurant by myself and I was watching all these lovers and couples that were huddled under umbrellas walk through the and it was just…and I was by myself, you know when it can be romantic and you’re my yourself that’s something. That’s probably my favorite place.
What would you say to a young person (especially young girls) that look at you and say: I want to be you one day?
Do it! Be cautious of the unknown but go for it. Because I had no idea what this was and when I look back and it’s been ten years I would have never thought that this was the path that I would go on but I kind of just went with it. So try new things and if it doesn’t work out there’s always something else, at least give it a try.
When you actually do have free time what does Kate enjoy doing?
I like to go to the gym. That’s pretty much it. If we had somebody to teach Zumba here they would be my new best friend.
My husband he’s…Chief Engineer he relieves Lorenzo who’s Chief now here on Saturday…
We sign on together normally and we sign off together, and so any free time, I get to spend with him.
What would you tell a guest who says it’s their first time on a cruise and asks: “What should I do to have fun?”
The Quest game show. (laughs) That’s kind of my favorite! I would say even if you don’t feel like going out on the Port go out, just put your feet on the ground so you can say that you’ve been there done that. Do a little exploring in every place we go…Try the local fare. On board. Get involved in as many activities as you can. Because they have stuff going on what the first…you wake up all the way through ’til you go into bed in the middle of the night. As long as you’re part of that you’re going to have a great time.
It depends on what you’re into but if you participate in the activities you will have a good time.
Do you have a favorite ship?
Oh gosh…yeah. You know every crew member,…I think that there’s something that ties them to one particular ship and mine is the Mariner of the Seas and that’s where I met my husband and that’s where we spent five years, so that will always be home. And it’s one of those things where if you leave and are transferred to another ship, if you get to go back and visit r you end up going back on board for whatever reason when you walk on you feel like it’s home, and even more so than your land based home.
We do ten weeks on ten weeks off in the Marine department…so you’re pretty much living a double life but here I’d say you kind of have a little more tied into it because you’re always switched on you’re always present, always in the moment at home you kind of switch off and that’s vacation mode so it doesn’t have the same connection as it does when you’re on board.
So you’ll find some people that…want to stay on board all the time. There’s a captain on Tom Cruise’s Scientology ship that we were in port with in Aruba last cruise, or two cruises ago. The captain lives on board. He never goes home. For fifteen years he’s lived on board.
With that we ended the chat with me telling her a bit about myself and discussing her Captain America earrings. She’s an interesting, friendly, persona that’s a real inspiration. It was great meeting her and I hope to run into her again on another Royal Caribbean cruise. Thanks Kate!