If you've traveled Europe and discovered how dreadfully expensive it can be then the idea of a cheap European cruise might seem a bit far-fetched. Well, I guess everything is relative. No matter how sweet a deal you find it is still going to be a fair bit more expensive than taking the family camping for the weekend. That being said a cruise can be a very economical way to see a large chunk of Europe in a short period of time. Yes, comparisons show that in many cases it can be cheaper than traveling by land, especially when you take into account the cost of accommodations, food, car rentals. However, even if you are getting a great deal compared to traveling overland, it is still going to cost a pretty penny. Here are a few ways you can lower the cost of a European cruise vacation, and get more bang for your buck:

Visit a travel agent - In this internet age where up to the second information is at your fingertips with the click of a mouse many people are starting to disregard travel agents as a potential information source when trying to find deals. This is a mistake. These are people who have their finger on the pulse of the travel industry and have established many contacts and relationships during their time in the industry. Often they will hear about deals through the grapevine that you'll never stumble across online. In addition they can be a valuable resource in planning the trip itself. Armed with personal knowledge from their own trips or from the anecdotes of their clients they are in a great position to tell you which cruise ships, ports of call and shore excursions might best fit your tastes and your budget. A travel agent can also be of great assistance if you run into any problems on your trip. Though you may ultimately book your cruise vacation yourself you should at least make a trek down to your local travel agency to cover all your bases.

Visit the websites of the cruise companies operating in the region - There's something to that old saying of getting it right from the horse's mouth. Many cruise companies post their best deals right on the front page of their website. You may be able to find the best deal available by dealing directly with them.

Ask in travel forums - Travel forums like the one found at The Lonely Planet website are teeming with experienced travelers more than willing to share their knowledge and opinions with you. Simply by asking where to find a deal you may be directed to a hidden gem that you otherwise never would have found. These fellow travelers can also educate you on what to see and what to avoid on your European cruise, as well as providing critical reviews of particular cruise ships, and commenting on the quality of the cabins, food, amenities, and services.

Travel during shoulder season - Regardless of whether you travel by land, sea or air, and no matter where you are going at certain times of year it is going to be high season, when the weather is nicest. During this time prices will be at their highest since this is the most desirable time to be traveling. Cruises are no different. However, at the beginning and end of cruise season, called shoulder season, better deals can be had. Also, if you are willing to travel during this season you are less likely to encounter crowds and the overall experience will not only be cheaper but also more pleasant.

Book passage on a new ship - Though new ship launches are relatively rare, if one happens to be launching within your vacation window then you might have the opportunity to save some money. Obviously a new luxury cruise ship is a major investment for the company and they want to make sure their maiden voyage is a roaring success. To that end they will often offer discounted fares in order to make sure the ship's first sailing is completely booked.

If you are 55 or older, check for discounts - Many cruise companies offer discounted fares for passengers in their 50s and beyond. These discounts will vary from cruise line to cruise line and may be different in high season than they are in shoulder season, but even a savings of 5% is better than nothing.

Traveling with friends? Book as a group - If you are traveling with a large party you can often get great cruise discounts. If you are having trouble cobbling together enough friends and family try advertising locally to see if anyone is interested in taking the same trip. Booking together will not only save you money but you might make some new friends to boot.

Book your next cruise while aboard your current one - If you decide that cruise travel is right up your alley and you'd like to do it again check with the sales office aboard the cruise ship. Anxious to procure future business while travelers are enjoying their current vacation cruise companies will offer some great deals if you are willing to sign on the dotted line to book your next vacation with them.

Book with the same cruise company on a regular basis - If you are a frequent traveler be advised that many companies offer rewards programs and deep discounts for their most loyal customers. If you like their ships and their service then it is a win-win situation and you don't have to pound the pavement of the information superhighway looking for the best deal every time you are planning a new vacation.

Is your schedule flexible? Find a last minute cruise deal. - If you are one of the lucky people that has the luxury of taking off at a moment's notice then often the best deals can be found by booking at the last minute. Cruise companies want their ships to be as full as possible, so they will usually offer deeply discounted fares in order to try and make sure they are close to capacity when they set sail.

Good luck planning your cruise vacation. By following these tips you will help ensure you find the best deal available and have a travel experience you'll remember for a lifetime without breaking the bank.