A slumping economy, a floundering housing market, and fears of a recession have many of us pinching pennies and looking for bargains, especially in Europe, where the U.S. dollar has lost nearly 40 percent of its value in the last five years.

"Though the downturn of the U.S. dollar is a deterrent to sailing in Europe this year, the cruise lines are doing their very best to make it very worthwhile," says Jean Simpson Mallory, manager at White Travel Services in West Hartford, Conn.

That means bargains galore for cruisers, Mallory says.

Bill Kraus, president and CEO of cruiseclubofamerica.com, agrees.

"There appears to be a glut of ads offering onboard and shore-excursion credits as well as prepaid gratuities as a booking incentive," he says. "There also are more air-inclusive promotions being offered to Europe by various cruise lines as a means of combating the higher cost of airfare."

Mallory adds, "It is almost shocking to put in print the offer of $399 [$479 including port charges] on a seven-night Mediterranean cruise aboard Norwegian Cruise Line's new ship, the Gem." The ships sail round-trip from Barcelona, stopping in Valletta, Malta; Naples, Civitavecchia and Livorno, Italy; and Villefranche, France, on cruises departing Oct. 25, Nov. 2 and Nov. 9.

Azamara Cruises "is offering unheard-of shipboard credits of up to $800 per stateroom on its European 'Premiere Event,' " applicable to all sailings and itineraries, she says.

The Yachts of Seabourn adds its own discount for the well-heeled: two-for-one offers on business-class air plus a 40 percent saving on many Europe sailings. On the luxe line's 13-night transatlantic from Fort Lauderdale to Lisbon, fares aboard the Seabourn Pride start at $2,998 - half the regular rate - plus a shipboard credit and a complimentary shore event, Mallory says. And Celebrity Cruises has a discounted 14-night, transatlantic trip on Nov. 29, sailing from Barcelona, Spain, visiting Malaga, Madeira, Lanzarote, Tenerife, La Palma and St. Maarten, and ending in San Juan. Outside cabin fares begin at $999, including a port charge of $229.

MSC Cruises is offering "Suite Deals" on select seven-night Europe sailings on its Sinfonia, departing from Civitavecchia through May 25, that amount to savings of 60 percent off brochure rates. For example, a suite on Sinfonia's April 13, seven-night western Mediterranean itinerary is $1,599 per adult double occupancy, plus $71.50 per person for government fees/taxes and a fuel surcharge. The ship calls at Genoa, Italy; Monte Carlo, Monaco; Valencia, Spain; Valletta, Malta; and Tunis, Tunisia.

Cruiseclubofamerica's Kraus points out a bargain on Regent Seven Seas: Suite fares start at $4,925, including round-trip airfare, for a seven-night cruise aboard the Navigator from Athens to Monte Carlo on June 7. That rate is per person with double occupancy and includes port charges.