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Set sail with 'wave season' cruise deals

Even though we're still in the midst of a cold winter, it's not too early to set your sights on warmer climates. Kate Maxwell of JetSetter.com reveals why now is the perfect time to book a cruise to save money, and shares her tips for choosing the right boat for you.

Itching to get away from the chill of winter? You’re in luck. It’s currently “wave season,” the period from January through March when cruise bookings surge and cruise lines roll out their best deals.  

Last year was a tough one for the cruise industry, so cruise lines, hoping for a better 2013, are encouraging guests to book early. From added perks such as on-board credits and cabin upgrades, to reduced deposits and even free airfare or kids-sail-free packages, now’s the time to plan ahead. Don’t worry, you don’t have to travel during wave season, you just have to book your trip during this period in order to get the most bang for your buck.

Here are some tips to remember before you book: 

Prices change all the time, so do your homework. New sales launch every day, so check back often and always do your homework. To find the best itinerary at the best price, check different room types and dates, just as you would for flights or hotels.

Travel during the off season  Consider traveling during “shoulder season,” April in the Caribbean and April, May and September in the Mediterranean, when rates are cheaper than in peak season. These destinations are less crowded and cooler at this time of year, too. And for rock-bottom prices, take a chance and sail to the Caribbean during hurricane season (typically June 1 through Nov. 30).

Find out when the ship was built or renovated. Older ships tend to mean better deals, because cruise lines are constantly upgrading older ships and rolling out new ones. Cruise lines often launch great sales for brand new ships and their maiden voyages, too.

We shopped around for the best cruise deals out there for a family of four. Here are some of our favorites:

1. Sail to the Bahamas for three or four nights on Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas from just $209 per person for an inside room. Plus, if you book an oceanview room by Feb. 15, Royal Caribbean will throw in $50 of onboard credit per room (or $200 onboard credit per room if you book a suite), which you can spend on spa treatments, shore excursions and more. Choose from a three- or four-night trip; the three-night leaves on Fridays; the four-night leaves on Mondays, and both depart from Miami, Fla. with stops in Nassau and CocoCay (Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas). Meals, select beverages and all entertainment are included this fare; specialty dining and beverages are additional. (www.RoyalCaribbean.com)

2. Experience Disney at sea with Disney Cruise Line’s three-night Bahamian cruise during select dates in September. Book now through March 15 (or while available rooms last) for rates starting at $399 per person for the first two guests for an inside stateroom, plus $50 of onboard credit. For guests three and four, rates start at $141 for kids ages 0-2, $279 for kids ages 3-12, and $300 for kids ages 13 and older. The ship departs from Port Canaveral, Fla., with a stop at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, and the deal is valid for cruises on Sept. 5, 12, 19 and 26. You’ll enjoy family-friendly fun on board, with Disney musicals, character meet-and-greets, fireworks at seas, even “worry free” phones where crew or kids can contact parents anytime and anywhere on the ship. Food and non-alcoholic beverages are included in the fare; alcoholic drinks are additional. (http://disneycruise.disney.go.com/special-offers/)

3. Norwegian Cruise Line’s brand new 4,000-passenger ship, Breakaway, is setting sail for the first time this spring. Be among the first to experience the ship aboard its inaugural seven-night transatlantic cruise on April 30, departing from Southampton, England for New York City—her year-round home port. Rates for the first two adults start at $999 per person, including airfare from New York to London. Rates for the third and fourth guests start at $499 each (flight not included). Food at seven restaurants on board the ship is included in the rate; specialty restaurants and alcoholic beverages are an additional cost. (http://www.breakaway.ncl.com/) 

For more getaway ideas and fantastic deals on the best hotels in the world, check out www.jetsetter.com/today.

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