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The billion dollar boat

Aileen O'Reilly gets a sneak preview of Celebrity Cruises' latest ship, Apex, which sets sail this April

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Celebrity Apex

Celebrity Apex

The deck areas will be as stylish as sister ship Celebrity Edge

The deck areas will be as stylish as sister ship Celebrity Edge

Celebrity Apex under construction

Celebrity Apex under construction

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, CEO of Celebrity Cruises, with Aileen O'Reilly

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, CEO of Celebrity Cruises, with Aileen O'Reilly

An upmarket cabin aboard the Apex

An upmarket cabin aboard the Apex

Celebrity Apex

When it comes to the wonders of the world, we immediately think of iconic sights such as the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, staring up at Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro… But a ship? In 2019, Time magazine voted Celebrity Edge one of the world's Top 100 places to visit.

Fifty-two awards later, the cruise liner's slightly bigger, flashier sister is about to be revealed - Celebrity Apex, which will welcome her first passengers on April 1.

Over 1,000-feet long and with a tonnage of 129,500, this ship may be classed as small to mid-sized in cruise circles, but she is hugely impressive - with no fewer than 16 decks (two more than her predecessor). But like her sister, the Edge Class ship boasts the weird and wonderful $20m floating Magic Carpet - a deck the size of a tennis court, which moves up and down on the side of the ship between four of the 16 decks, and serves a different function on each one.

The finishing touches are being put on Apex right now at Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard in Nantes, France, and I got a chance to see her up close.

In the months to come, you might find yourself rubbing shoulders with 3,000 fellow passengers, who'll be housed in 1,467 cabins, but for now, it's just the cruise line's team and hundreds of shipworkers on board.

Design duo Jouin Manku are once again the creative force behind the ship's distinctive Grand Plaza, with its giant illuminated mix of lights and music. Sweeping staircases take you from this spacious, airy atrium to the cafes and four speciality restaurants - The Tuscan, The Normandy, The Cyprus and The Cosmopolitan, each seating 380 guests.

The reimagined light-filled, garden-inspired Eden restaurant is in the hands of chef Cornelius Gallagher, the ship's vice-president of Food & Beverage Operations. Formerly executive chef at Oceana seafood restaurant in Manhattan, the culinary tour de force has been recognised by Food & Wine magazine as one of the best new chefs in America.

Meanwhile, interior designer Kelly Hoppen has created a chic, contemporary oasis throughout each of the 16 decks, redolent of the 1930s heyday of elegant cruising.

Dramatic

Apex also boasts the fleet's most technologically advanced theatre yet, with its new 23-foot-tall curved 4K LED screen, as well as a 28-foot circular scrim and eight 20K laser projectors, creating a 360-degree wrap-around picture for audiences.

However, it's the new Tree of Life that is setting pulses racing - the 20-foot tree, embedded with 3,000 LED leaves, sets the stage for what promises to be one of the most dramatic new productions at sea.

Health and wellness have also gotten a makeover with a first-at-sea partnership with F45 Training, one of the fastest growing fitness networks in the world. Meanwhile, the spa offerings have expanded to include 120 health and beauty treatments.

If you're in the money, there are two Iconic suites measuring 1,892sq ft each, two penthouse suites measuring 1,378 sq ft each, six Edge Villas and four Royal suites, which are a class above the normal cabins. In the cheaper range, each Edge cabin has larger verandas and bigger bathrooms.

Such a ship demands an equally impressive Godmother - a title which Reshma Saujani, CEO of Girls Who Code and best-selling author of Brave Not Perfect, wears with ease. Recognised worldwide as an inspiring tour de force, Saujani exploded onto the political stage when in 2010, she became the first Indian-American woman to run for the US Congress.

"Reshma is bridging the gap in the historically male-dominated technology industry," Lisa Lutoff Perlo, Celebrity Cruises' president and CEO, reckons. "She is evolving the image of what a computer programmer looks like and does, inspiring a whole new generation of girls and women to bravely pursue this field. Because she is a game-changing visionary, she is the perfect Godmother for a game-changing ship."

Celebrity Apex launches this spring in the UK. She will then go on to European destinations, including the Norwegian fjords, the northern coast of Spain and Portugal, as well as making a 10-night Capital Cities cruise, visiting Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Oslo and Paris.

The multibillion dollar cruising industry is growing, with latest worldwide figures expecting 32 million of us to cruise this year, up from 17.8 million passengers in 2009.

Hardly surprising then that once I finished the tour, I was whisked off to another part of the shipyard to witness the steel-cutting ceremony for Celebrity Beyond - Celebrity's third Edge class ship, scheduled to launch late next year.

Celebrity Apex - the facts

  • Her price tag is $1bn
  • Apex was the first cruise ship to be designed entirely in 3D
  • 1 million working hours of engineering went into her evolving design, many of them after building work was already well advanced, in response to issues as they arrived
  • Her hull was completed inside of six months - built upside down with a central steel spine from which everything projects, allowing for floor-to-ceiling windows
  • 300,000 pieces of steel were cut and assembled to build the skeleton of the ship like a jigsaw
  • 60km of wiring was fed in every week during the 18 month building process - that's 4,320km of wiring before completion
  • The use of a 'Parabolic Ultra Bow' ensures smooth sailing by cutting through the water more efficiently and using far less energy to do it
  • The ship is assembled out of 43 blocks - fully wired staterooms were slotted into place every 20 minutes by 1,400-tonne cranes on wheels
  • Each Celebrity Edge ship is built in 18 months, but takes four years of design and planning
  • Prior to her inaugural sailing, an artwork collection valued at over $4m will be installed.