As a matter of policy we do not endorse any particular travel consultants, agents, or agencies over another. We do recommend that the prospective cruiser look for agents affiliated with organizations such as CLIA or NACTA, which provide accreditation programs and training for member agents.
I will tell you that any agent has access to the same individual booking rates as AAA or anyone else, even if you booked direct with the cruise line. It is all supposed to be a level playing field. It is sometimes a good thing to find an agent with blocked out group space for a particular cruise. They can offer you an overall better deal with onboard perks and credits to your cruise account.
Welcome to cruisereviews.com! I haven't used AAA, yet I know of people who do. An important consideration is the actual agent you are working with within the office. I always recommend, as Dave also mentioned, a travel agent who has earned designations offered by CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association). You can find a list of CLIA-certified agents near you by going to their Web site (Welcome | Cruise Lines International Association) and putting your zip code in the Cruise Expert Finder box on the right, about halfway down the page. There may be CLIA agents within your local AAA.
Home based travel agents make up a sizable percentage of all travel agents these days. As the economics of running a storefront agency have become difficult in the last several years, many agencies have closed, and their owners and agents have opened offices from home. These agents are just as professional as an agent sitting in a store; they have just responded to the opportunity to change their business model to a more efficient one.
Cruise lines recognize travel agencies because of their professionalism and productivity, not their geography. A CLIA certification is earned by travel agents through their knowledge and expertise, no matter where they sit when they help their clients.
My agent works out of her house as has done so from the beginning when she got into the travel business back in the mid-90s. In fact I've never met her. It is all e-mails and phone calls, and has been that way since we started using her services in 1996. We aren't even in the same State!
As Sandy said, having a nice office downtown or at a strip mall doesn't mean anything other than business overhead. Do you buy a car based on how nice the salesman looks in his suit?