01/20/2014 09:31 am ET Updated Mar 22, 2014

How to Find the Best Cruise Deals for Families

Trying to plan your 2014 family vacation? Whether you're a family of two or 20, a cruise offers a fun-filled and convenient vacation. Unpack once and explore several destinations, or never leave the ship and find something for everyone. Many of the newest and largest ships cater to families -- virtually theme-parks-at-sea with hidden gems (i.e. adults-only areas) for relaxation. If you know how to score the right deal, it can be a cost-effective vacation as well.

With these tips and deals from Travelzoo, you can score an unforgettable family cruise vacation including all meals, accommodations and entertainment for less than $100 per person per day.

1. Book now and plan ahead.
  • "Wave Season" just started and runs through March. This is the time of the year when cruise companies offer some of the most aggressive deals of the year. Families should start to look for deals now and book early for their 2014 cruise vacation. Carnival Cruise Line is even going as far as rewarding cruisers that book early by offering early saver discounts and price protection. Cruisers that book months in advance can rest easy knowing that they got the absolute best deal. Carnival will honor the lowest price, even if fares drop after you book.
  • Families are often looking to travel on very specific dates (on holidays when kids are out of school, over summer vacation or for a special occasion), so it's best to book early to secure the exact dates you want.
  • Cabins that can comfortably accommodate more than two people (sometimes referred to as "quad cabins") or upgraded cabins such as suites often fill up first -- so it's best to book early to secure the exact cabin you want. For families with small children, keep in mind that you may not feel comfortable booking a balcony cabin for safety reasons. Look for adjoining inside or oceanview cabins. You may get an even better deal by getting two adjoining cabins versus splurging on a suite.
2. Look for value-adds that speak to your interests
  • Many major cruise companies are enticing potential travelers by adding on extras or "value-adds" to their wave season deals. Onboard credits are a popular value-add because you can use them however you want -- shore excursions for the kids, spa treatments for mom or mai tais for dad -- you name it. You can even use onboard credits on souvenirs from the ship's gift shop. Norwegian Cruise Line is offering100 in onboard credit per cabin on Alaska and Hawaii cruises.
  • Celebrity Cruises is offering deals that include unlimited drink packages for the first two adults in each cabin -- and the third and fourth person (when sharing the same cabin) get unlimited soda packages. This is a huge value when you consider the drinks package alone could cost you as much as $44 per person per day.
  • Other cruise lines offer "kids sail free" promotions when sharing a cabin with two adults. For example, on MSC Cruises, kids 11 and younger always sail free and kids 12-17 sail at a reduced rate.
3. Check on special discounts
  • Most cruise lines offer discounts for seniors, military, police officers and union members, so be sure to tell your cruise agent if you fall into one of these categories when booking. Royal Caribbean even offers deals for police, firefighters and EMTs with deals starting at $129 per person.
  • There are also specials for residents of certain states. For example, Disney Cruise Line offers discounts for Florida residents. Check with your cruise agent to see if there are resident specials for cruises leaving from a port near you. If you can drive to the port, you'll also save time and money on adding airfare to your cruise vacation.
4. Check airfare first
  • You may find a great deal on a Mediterranean cruise only to find out that airfare to the port city is outrageous. When choosing a cruise, look at the port cities (is this Alaska cruise roundtrip from Seattle or one way from Vancouver to Anchorage?) because adding on airfare can get pricey -- especially for a large family. Some cruise agents offer discounts when adding airfare to the cruise, so be sure to ask for airfare discounts when calling to book. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line is offering up to $1,000 in air credits when you book you cruise with air.
  • Often when you book airfare through the cruise line, you also have the added benefit of knowing that they will schedule the flights to get you to and from the port in time. And if your flight is delayed, they'll work to get you on the next flight to get to the port in time. Royal Caribbean offers one of the best air programs called ChoiceAir.

Darlene Carenza is a producer at Travelzoo and based in Miami. Travelzoo has 250 deal experts from around the world who rigorously research, evaluate and test thousands of deals to find those with true value.