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AOL climbs aboard cruise line

Princess Cruises is preparing to add surfing to its activity agenda--surfing the Web, that is.

    Princess Cruises is preparing to add surfing to its activity agenda--surfing the Web, that is.

    The cruise line said Thursday that it plans to launch its first America Online Internet cafes aboard its ships to offer passengers Net access.

    The announcement is the latest effort by the travel industry to beef up its services by giving people e-mail and Web access from either the skies or the seas. Boeing said earlier this week that it is working with wireless technology company ViaSat to develop a receiver and transmitter system that will provide broadband Internet access and e-mail to travelers aboard Boeing's and other manufacturers' aircraft. The aerospace giant said the service is scheduled to begin in 2002.

    In addition, European commercial airline Virgin Atlantic Airways said last month that it will offer airline passengers the ability to send e-mail via a laptop computer or seat-back video screen. British Airways and Singapore Airlines also have been bolstering their high-tech efforts to extend in-flight Web services to all passengers.

    "There has already been a huge move in the last couple of years (where) you see online players trying to get the travel companies to offer their services online, and now it's just moving the other way," said Patrick Thomas, an Internet analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings. "I just find it almost too bad when someone on a cruise feels the need to e-mail someone. But the world is so fast paced right now and...you have a lot of people in need of these services."

    Princess Cruises said the Net cafes will have computer stations set up for new and existing AOL members to surf the Web and access e-mail. The cruise line said its first cafe would debut aboard its new Golden Princess, which is set to sail next month in the Mediterranean.

    The inaugural cafes will feature 25 computer stations. AOL, a division of AOL Time Warner, will also offer a personal home page template, "My Princess Cruise," that will let passengers create personalized pages about their cruise, complete with pictures featuring Princess-themed graphics. The template will be available on AOL Hometown, AOL's community home page.

    Princess Cruises is part of P&O Princess Cruises, an international cruise company.