New building for Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola Makes A Better World

In 1990, when Coke opened The World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Georgia, it was one of the Seven Wonders of Roadside America, part of an elite fraternity that included House on the Rock and Precious Moments Inspirational Park. The World of Coca-Cola, an evolutionary leap from traditional factory tours, was the most self-indulgent, over-glorified, lavish shrine to a product that we had ever seen, and we told others to see it, too.

Seventeen years and 14 million visitors later, The World of Coca-Cola closed its doors for good on April 7, 2007 -- only to reopen seven weeks later in a building twice the size, a mile-and-a-half up the road.

Bottling plant.

The New World of Coca-Cola is a tall, bubbly glass of superlatives for a new generation, and Coke's most ambitious combination yet of size, cost, and self-promotion. The old HDTV theater? GONE: replaced by a motion-master ride in which you wear 3D glasses. The fake Coke bottling line? GONE: replaced by a real Coke bottling line that gives every visitor a special souvenir bottle of real Coke when they leave. The futuristic Spectacular Soda Fountain, which shot Coke into your cup from 20 feet away? GONE: period. We asked someone in the Coke marketing department if they didn't think that the Fountain was a viable view of the future. "Well, yeah," she replied, "I guess it was BACK THEN."

A decade-and-a-half is an eternity in soft drink years, and Coke clearly felt that it was worth the trouble and expense -- $96 million -- to not only update its shrine to itself, but to throw the old one into the non-recycling bin. "People that go to places like this are expecting far more out of the experience than they did in 1990," we were told by Petro Kacur, a spokesperson for the company. "What we have done with the New World of Coca-Cola is given people the ability to experience the richness of their attraction to the brand in a whole new way."

History of Coke.

This kind of talk makes our faces numb, so we asked Petro for some specifics. He told us that the New World of Coca-Cola has an art gallery that showcases creative representations of Coke products. It has a Portrait Wall that displays photos "of people around the world that have been touched through Coca-Cola's social responsibility programs." He also told us that unlike the old "linear" World of Coca-Cola, the New World is designed so that people can wander anywhere that they want, and see any part of the attraction as many times as they like. This same approach was employed by another food attraction, Cereal City USA, that went out of business in January 2007, but we didn't have the heart to tell that to Petro.

A hallmark of the New World of Coca-Cola is interactivity, the kind of busy-hands approach to the public that's used in every kiddy science museum (Petro winced when we suggested that comparison). Visitors to the New World are encouraged to use electronic kiosks to design their own Coke pop art, or to try to reproduce the Coke script by hand. There's also a "living exhibit" where visitors can contribute their own Coca-Cola stories to a repository assembled by the company -- part of Coke's strategy to bond with a generation that expects to be able to express its opinion about everything.

Still, the interactivity only skews one way. You won't be able to crawl though a giant, cavity-ridden tooth at The New World of Coca-Cola, or don a high fructose corn syrup blubber suit, or pour Coke on a car hood and watch it outdo molecular acid. Not that we really expected it... But if anyone could take such brand-harrying hoohah and spin it into brand lifestyle fun, it's Coke. Well, maybe Micky D's could, too...

Petro told us that The New World of Coca-Cola was sold out on Memorial Day weekend Saturday, and Coke's track record as a tourist destination is "a testament to the power and draw and demand there is for people that want to experience what is the world's most-loved brand."

"What we have built is an attraction that we think will stand the test of time," he told us. "People who come here can learn what the Coca-Cola company's values are and what the company stands for -- along with having a lot of fun!"

[06/06/2007]
Address:
121 Baker St. NW, Atlanta, GA
Directions:
On the corner of Baker St. and Centennial Olympic Park Drive. SOUTHBOUND: I-75/85 exit 249-C onto Williams St. Turn right onto Ivan Allen Jr Blvd. The parking garage is on the left at the second traffic light. NORTHBOUND: I-75/85 exit 249-D onto Spring St./W. Peachtree. Turn right onto the Spring St. ramp toward Centennial Olympic Park Drive. Bear right onto Centennial Olympic Park Drive, then take a quick left at the traffic light onto Ivan Allen Jr Blvd. The parking garage is on the left at the second traffic light.
Hours:
Daily 8 am - 6 pm, off-season 9 am - 5 pm. (Call to verify)
Phone:
404-676-5151
RA Rates:
Major Fun
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