Image: Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line
Thinking of taking the kids on a cruise? Disney Cruise Line is letting kids sail free on its three-night Bahamian itinerary.
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updated 1/8/2009 2:38:14 PM ET 2009-01-08T19:38:14

Huge blow-out sales are one of the few upsides to this down economy. Just like the suffering retail sector, the cruise industry is facing a significant supply surplus, with many new ships afloat but only sluggish advanced bookings on future sailings.

In the cruise biz, early January through mid-February is known as “wave season” because it’s traditionally the heaviest booking period of the year. This is a time when cruise lines and agents float some of the most attractive promotions.

What’s different about this year’s wave? Better deals and more of ’em — from slashed prices on cabins and “kids sail free” promotions to cash-back rebates, onboard credits and discounted excursions. If you’ve been thinking of taking your kids on a cruise, this is a fabulous time to go for it.

For the first time ever, Disney Cruise Line is letting kids sail free (except for taxes) on its three-night Bahamian itinerary. Children 12 and under can sail for free on most dates from Jan. 22 to May 28, 2009, when traveling with two full-fare guests in the same stateroom.

The offer covers a variety of stateroom sizes, ranging from standard inside staterooms to deluxe family cabins with private balconies. Act fast, since there are a limited number of staterooms available for this special offer. Book online or by calling Disney at 800/951-3532, or go through a travel agent. Be sure to mention booking code FREE.

Or perhaps you’d like to spend some of Norwegian Cruise Line’s money, with the help of its new “Freestyle Resolution” promo. Book a sailing by Feb. 1, and you’ll get an onboard credit of anywhere from $30 to $500 per stateroom. The amount of credit is calculated on a sliding scale, based the length of the cruise and category of stateroom. For example, a family booking an inside stateroom for a three-day sailing would get a $30 credit. If you booked a suite for a six-day sailing, you would get $500 to spend as you like. Book online or by calling NCL at 866/234-5647, or go through a travel agent. Mention code PGWAVE.

Following our government’s lead, Holland America Line has implemented a Vacation Stimulus Package of its own by lowering fares, reducing the required deposit by 50 percent and deep-sixing the fuel supplement (provided that the price of crude oil stays below $70 a barrel).

Current offerings include a seven-night cruise of the Mexican Riviera starting at $449 per person if you book an inside stateroom or $499 per person in an outside stateroom. Holland America has also put its Alaska cruises on sale, for departures after May 1. You can hop onboard the May 10 sailing on the Statendam, for example, for as little as $429 per person.

Check out the family cruise deals page of the cruise consolidator CruisesOnly, which features a selection of family cruises priced up to 74 percent below brochure rates, along with some very nice sweeteners thrown in for good measure. We spied a three-night Bahamian cruise on Carnival Cruises advertised at a starting price of $179 per person, including a stateroom upgrade of up to four categories plus a 15 percent discount on shore excursions.

Don’t forget the big three booking engines. Over on Travelocity, the cruise specials include Celebrity Cruises’ winter sale, featuring a four-night Caribbean sailing starting at $249 per person with an onboard credit bonus.

A word of caution: Always read the fine print. Sometimes government taxes and port charges are not included in a discounted ticket, which can mean that your total bill ends up being heftier than anticipated. Find out exactly what all additional taxes and fees will cost before booking.

WeJustGotBack.com is an authoritative online guide to family trip-planning. The site features reviews of kid-friendly hotels and resorts, expert planning advice, readers' travel tips, destination insider guides, vacation deals, and more. Subscribe to our newsletter to hear about resort specials and exclusive, money-saving offers.

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