'Not your father's AAA'

For more than a century, AAA has served Washington State residents.

“People have been members for a long time, and our employees have been employees for a very long time as well,” said Jennifer Cook, a spokesperson for the organization.

But with that long history — 112 years worth to be exact — has come a push to challenge and reinvent what people have come to expect from AAA. Among those efforts has been the opening of all-encompassing Cruise & Travel stores, first in Tacoma and later Spokane and Alderwood, all in 2014. Now the concept has expanded to Interbay at 1523 15th Ave. W.

“It is definitely not your father’s AAA anymore,” Cook said. “ … This is a travel experience from the moment that you walk in. It’s vibrant and it’s exciting and it has everything that you could possibly want to plan a trip anywhere.”

The location itself isn’t a new one, with the storefront just off the Magnolia Bridge for more than a decade. But a year of planning and remodeling work has transformed the space from what Cook compared to a DMV location to something more inviting.

“They walk-in and they just stop and look around with this wow factor on their face,” she said. “They’re surprised to see that this is what AAA looks like now, because it is a 180 degree turn from what it used to look like.”

The store is designed to bring together all the elements of the travel experience, offering everything from passport photos to international driving permits, to travel gear and planning materials.

“We have everything in one place,” Cook said. “You can go from start to finish to plan the most amazing vacation you’ve ever had.”

That also includes the assistance of travel agents.

“A lot of people need the assistance of a travel agent, because travel can be difficult to plan,” she said. “If you do it online and something goes wrong, you don’t have anybody to help you.”

The shop even offers AAA-branded and brewed coffee for shoppers to sip as they peruse the store.

“The idea was to give a full sensory feel to it, so there’s smell, the audio oftentimes will kind of match the destinations or feel of travel, and then of course visually it’s pretty stimulating.”

Along with all the travel wares and planning help, insurance advisors are also on staff to discuss personal-lines insurance products available to members and non-members alike.

The new Interbay store follows the model set by the first three Cruise & Travel locations, with some minor tweaks. Cook said there’s a bit more retail on the floor compared to the others, despite a smaller overall space to work with. 

“We had to kind of condense the version of those stores into this one,” she said, “but mostly they all look and feel the same.”

As more locations reach the point of renovation or consolidation — as was the case in Alderwood, where outlets in Everett, Mill Creek, and Lynnwood were combined into one larger, central location — the Cruise & Travel concept could expand further.

But for now, those in the Seattle area have the latest spin on the idea.

“This is the new travel,” she said, “and we encourage everybody to come check it out, and see what travel looks like in the future.”

AAA Cruise & Travel is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, go to www.aaawa.com.

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