SHANGHAI — River cruise giant Viking's move into ocean cruising hit another milestone on Thursday as the company officially named its fourth ocean ship, Viking Sun, along the riverfront area of Shanghai known as the Bund.

With Shanghai's soaring skyscrapers including the iconic Oriental Pearl tower as a backdrop, Chinese banker Yi Lou sliced a large red ribbon to trigger the smashing of a bottle of traditional Norwegian aquavit against the 930-passenger vessel's bow.

Lou's company, China Merchants Bank Financial Leasing, financed Viking Sun and another Viking vessel debuting later this year. The aquavit was a nod to the Norwegian heritage of Viking's founding family.  

Lasting about an hour, the evening ceremony was an elegant affair featuring performances by the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra and acclaimed Chinese operatic tenor Dai Yuqiang.

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Norwegian singer Sissel Kyrkjebø, one of the world’s top crossover sopranos, also performed during the event. Shanghai television personality Michelle Wang served as master of ceremonies.

The event marked the first time a cruise ship had been named along Shanghai's Bund.

"I do not think we could have asked for a more spectacular place for the naming ceremony," Hagen said during brief remarks to hundreds of invited guests. "This is, of course, a very proud day for Viking Cruises."     

The staging of Sun's christening in Shanghai comes as the line exhibits increasingly global ambitions that include more voyages in Asia. Currently in the midst of a sold-out, 141-day world cruise from Miami to London, Sun is a pathfinder of sorts for Viking — the first of the line's ships to call in China and other Asian countries. But it's just the first of what likely will many more Viking vessels to head to the region in coming years. 

Already, Viking has revealed that its still-under-construction fifth ship, Viking Orion, will be sailing to Asia soon after it debuts.

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While Viking is just beginning to market ocean cruises to China, the line has a long history of offering tours to the country by river ship. Viking has been selling river cruises on China's Yangtze River since 2004 and says it is one of the largest sources of North America travelers to China.   

The Shanghai event also comes as Viking moves aggressively to expand into the business of selling cruises to Chinese travelers. As Hagen noted in his remarks, Viking recently dedicated six of its 56 river ships in Europe to the Chinese market. The vessels have been revamped with Mandarin signage and staffed with Mandarin-speaking crew and guides. 

Since debuting in 2015, Viking's ocean cruise division has made a mark in the industry with a formula that centers around small ships, a focus on the destination experience and more time in ports than is common at many ocean lines. The company also is setting itself apart from many cruise operators with a "no nickel-and-diming" philosophy. In a relatively rare twist, Viking offers a shore excursion in every port that is included in the fare. Also included in the fare is beer and wine with lunch and dinner and unlimited WiFi access — something that can cost up to 75 cents a minute at other lines.

Sun is a sister to fast-growing Viking's first three ocean ships — Viking Star, Viking Sea and Viking Sky, which debuted in 2015, 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Like the earlier vessels, Sun boasts a modern, Scandinavian-influenced design, and its cabins are large by cruise ship standards. Even the smallest rooms offer 270 square feet of space. In addition, every cabin comes with a balcony.

Continuing its world cruise, Sun will depart Shanghai on Friday and head westward to Southeast Asia and India before visiting the Middle East via the Red Sea. It'll then pass through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean and Western Europe. The 35-country, 64-port voyage will end in London on May 5.

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