The evolution of a cruise industry first

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Lonesome George’s tragic death five years ago might recently have taken on new poignancy had he had any sense of “firsts” and “lasts.” But even if he’d lived to see it, George – thought to be the last of his kind – was a giant Pinta Island tortoise, and would doubtless have been unaware of the first female captain to ply the seas around his ancestral home in the Galapagos Islands.

When appointed this summer by Celebrity Cruises, Capt. Nathaly Albán became the first woman in cruise industry history to command a ship in the Galapagos and the first female captain from Ecuador, her home 620 miles east of the archipelago. Her ship is the newly revitalized Celebrity Xploration, a 100-guest catamaran that oozes exclusivity as it shows those guests the remaining wonders of Charles Darwin’s living laboratory.

Albán often told her family that she’d earn that distinction. It came after she served in other roles on other ships, including a stint in the Ecuadorian Navy, and after graduating as one of only six women in her class at Ecuador’s La Escuela de la Marina Mercante Nacional.

A somewhat maternal view of life at sea may not be exclusive to female captains, but it shows when she speaks of hers.

“Life onboard ships are very different from a life on land, and it is sometimes a challenge,” Albán says. “Step by step, we are reinforcing this lifestyle – the ship becomes our home and the crew is our family.”

That seafaring family’s response has been positive, supportive and trusting, she continues. And passengers react similarly when they meet this captain.

“The guests often congratulate me,” Albán says. “Most people who congratulate me are women and feel proud to see another woman in command of a ship.

“There have also been a few male guests who hesitate a bit when they see I am in charge. But I think their reaction is normal, given some of the cultural differences in our society.”

It’s part of being a pioneer, and “of course” she would advise more women to go after a maritime career.

“Today we have many brave women who dream of breaking paradigms, with examples of overcoming all obstacles,” she says. “This includes our president and CEO, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo.”

For her part, Lutoff-Perlo says Albán’s “firsts” are a bonus, not the reason why she was appointed.

“The best person for the job is the best person for the job, no matter their gender, race or where they are from,” Lutoff-Perlo says. “Capt. Nathaly Alban was supremely qualified to be the captain of Celebrity Xploration and since she began, has led the crew with the experience and confidence she has gained over the years.

“The decision was easy.”

Albán’s appointment follows that of Celebrity Summit’s Capt. Kate McCue, the first American woman in the cruise industry to command a mega ship.

These promotions have led parent Royal Caribbean Cruises to claim the lead in putting women in the driver’s seat. It doesn’t intend to lose that distinction.