Just took our first cruise ever in late June and are wanting to go again in late October, same cruise line, different ship and itinerary. First time we used a local travel agency and felt we got a really good deal, but am wondering now if would be better to book directly with the cruise linem themselves, or use a travel agent. We want to get the best deal we can. Any input will be appreciated.
Stay with your travel agent. Booking direct with the cruise line will not save you money over the travel agent. Everyone obviously wants a "good deal". However; that can have many meanings. You want value for your money. Perhaps you're looking at a particular destination or itinerary that one cruise line is better than the other. The travel agent can advise you on tips like that and give you the pros and cons. If you were to call cruise line X, they aren't going to say "well cruise line Y is really better in that destination." Cruise line X would just book you. So if you booked X and had an unpleasant experience, was it really a good deal?
You are not going to get a cheaper price booking directly with the cruise line. The price offered by an agent (unless they have a service charge) will not be different. In fact, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Norwegian Cruise Line all have policies which restrict any discounting via commission rebates or by several other enticements.
Actually an agent might have blocked out group space for a cruise, and in that case they can offer special pricing and perks which the cruise line itself cannot offer if you book with them.
Just remember that you don't pay the commission, the cruise line does. But your price is the same. So for example, if I pay Carnival $700 for a cruise I booked online with them, they keep it all. The same cruise can be had for $700 from my agent, but then she gets her commission percentage from Carnival, which comes out of that $700.
Not to beat a dead horse here... but I have done it both ways. Through direct booking with the cruise line and through a TA. I prefer the TA because I don't have to worry about it. IF you get a good "personal vacation planner" with Carnival it can be a pleasant experience. But they are not going to watch for price drops for you (why would they) and they will only book what you ask them to instead of say... finding a balcony and a inside room close by for nearly the same cost so that you are not crowding a family into one cabin... If you get an inexperience PVP or one that quits before your cruise... well good luck with that.
On RCCL you don't get to have a PVP... you get the next available agent each time you call which can be a BIG hassle.
If you have a TA that you have dealt with and like them, there is no reason not to continue that. BUT if you are talking about a discount travel agent online then the same issues can arise as having a PVP.