By Travel columnist
updated 6/13/2006 5:54:32 PM ET 2006-06-13T21:54:32

Before I left home to travel on my recent Alaska cruise, I booked my shore excursions, ordered my in-cabin bar setup, booked my dining reservations and let the cruise line know my preferences for fruit, snacks, daily paper, pillow and duvet. Finally, many cruise lines have updated their Web sites to allow passengers to book many amenities and special requests in advance of departure.

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The Internet has become an indispensable tool for vacation research and planning. Most cruise Web sites have long allowed passengers to research ships and itineraries, book a cruise, and fill out customs and immigration forms online. But only recently have some of them stepped up to meet passengers’ desire to book shore excursions, spa appointments, restaurant seatings and other cruise experiences before they even get on the ship. Convenience and customization – it’s a great recipe for shipboard satisfaction, and I think we’ll see more of it as time goes on.

Following is a list of cruise lines that offer advance bookings online.

Carnival Cruise Lines: Guests can book shore excursions as early as 180 days before sailing and as late as five days before sailing. They can also order “bon voyage” courtesy gifts like flowers, chocolates and wine. Carnival is looking into more options like booking supper club reservations and spa treatments; however, no decision has been made at this time.

Celebrity Cruises: Passengers on Celebrity can book shore excursions on the Web site up to 10 days before sailing. They can also set their communication preferences, purchase onboard enhancements and make arrangements for special occasions.

Costa Cruise Lines: Costa Cruise customers can book shore excursions and order special services like spa treatments and dinner reservations. They can also order such bon voyage gifts as Italian gourmet chocolates.

Cruise West: Guests on Cruise West can make advance bookings for shore excursions and fill out a form noting their special physical and dietary needs. They can also purchase logo wear and other items in the cruise line’s gear store.

Crystal Cruises: Crystal Cruises has more advance booking options than any other cruise Web site; options include shore excursions, spa services and Creative Learning Institute classes. Reservations can be made anywhere from 180 days to seven days before departure.

Disney Cruise Line: Guests can use their “mouse” to book shore excursions and such onboard services as spa treatments and baby-sitting.

Holland America Line: Passengers with reservations can book shore excursions and bon voyage gifts that include everything from wine to flowers.

Norwegian Cruise Line: Guests already booked with NCL can make advance bookings for some tours, and can reserve bon voyage gifts such as wine, logo wear, chocolates and flowers. In late fall, NCL will launch a new Web site that will offer many enhancements, including more advance booking options.

Oceania Cruises: Both individual shore excursions and extensive pre-cruise tour packages can be purchased in advance through Oceania’s Web site.

Orient Lines. Passengers can place online orders for bon voyage gifts, including a selection of wines, champagne, flowers and gift certificates for onboard purchases.

Princess Cruises: Princess Cruises’ “Personalizer” function allows passengers to reserve shore excursions and spa treatments. The site also allows customers to order a variety of special gifts, either for one’s own cabin (a liquor package, for example) or as a bon voyage surprise for someone who’s sailing.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises: RSSC offers guests with deposited reservations some innovative online capabilities, including the opportunity to reserve a table at one of the line’s popular alternative restaurants (where reservations are required) up to 60 days before departure. Guests can also book shore excursions and request a personalized bar setup and snack items; they can also specify their bedding preferences. RSSC also plans to offer advance bookings for its shipboard Parisian Carita Spas in the near future.

Royal Caribbean International: Royal Caribbean allows guests to book shore excursions online, as well as pre- and post-cruise tours. Guests may also order such bon voyage gifts as logo wear, wine and chocolates online.

Silversea Cruises: Guests booked on Silversea can take advantage of a new feature called “My Voyage” on the cruise line’s Web site to schedule appointments for spa and beauty treatments and to book shore excursions as early as 60 days before sailing. Guests can also register for early embarkation online.

Spur-of-the-moment planning doesn’t always work on a cruise ship. Shore excursions often fill up quickly, and services like spa appointments can be overbooked in the blink of an eye. Savvy cruisers surf the Web long before they sail. Advance bookings are convenient, and they make for a personalized vacation. Best of all, they save you from rushing around the ship trying to nail down reservations in the first hours of your cruise. Instead, you can actually sit back and enjoy your cruise from the minute you step on board.

Tripso wants to take you on a cruise for a cause! See how far New Orleans and Cozumel have come since Katrina and Wilma. Join us October 26, 2006, for four nights on Carnival’s Fantasy, one of the vessels that Carnival offered for hurricane relief. Chat with your favorite Tripso columnist and contribute to a worthy Gulf Coast relief organization. Space is very limited. For more information, e-mail us or check out our cruise page.

Anita Dunham-Potter is a Pittsburgh-based travel journalist specializing in cruise travel. Anita's columns have appeared in major newspapers and many Internet outlets, and she is a contributor to Fodor's "Complete Guide to Caribbean Cruises 2006." E-mail Anitaor visit her Web site anitavacation.com.

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