The New World of Coca-Cola
"We are here because we love Coca-Cola," declares a Coke tour guide to several dozen tourists waiting to enter the New World of Coca-Cola. The tour guide is not exaggerating; mere curiosity doesn't draw over a million people a year to an attraction about a soda pop. We love Coke. Let us in!
Coca-Cola became a bubbly beverage behemoth thanks to its deliciousness -- and to a century-plus of slick marketing and promotional giveaways. That's a lot of history to fill an attraction. The waiting room is packed floor-to-ceiling with samples: a 15-foot-tall bottle opener, an original Norman Rockwell painting for a Coke calendar, a pair of Coca-Cola logo-plastered hip-huggers from 1972.
The tour guide calls out Coke brand names to excite the crowd: "How many of you folks drink Powerade? How about Coke Zero?" Then the door opens and everyone funnels in to watch an animated film, The Happiness Factory, where freaky-but-cute creatures try to describe their Coca-Cola jobs and love for the company. A film of real people would have been too boring.
Once freed from the theater, visitors can roam the New World of Coca-Cola at will. Some pose in the lobby with the Coca-Cola Polar Bear, others ponder the "Live Positively -- Personal Stories of Inspiration" display. We'd prefer more bear and less inspiration, but it's the New World's job to try to elevate Coke's identity branding. Examples of positive living in the display include Dr. Carolyn Moore, whose work for Coca-Cola "forms the scientific foundation for new beverages being developed to meet the wellness needs of consumers."
Most visitors head for the Milestones of Refreshment gallery, a walk-through history of Coca-Cola. The holiest relics in Cokedom are here, including John Pemberton's original secret Coca-Cola formula and one of the world's two oldest Coke bottles. Visitors are encouraged to test their strength on an old manual capping machine; it takes 750 pounds of pressure to cap just one bottle, and the operator had to cap 350 an hour. Those were the days before The Happiness Factory....
The back end of the Milestones offers glimpses of Coke's power. Here you'll find the 1982 Best Picture Oscar for Gandhi (Coke owned the movie company) and, hanging from a ceiling, the 1995 zero-gravity Coca-Cola Space Dispenser that flew as a science experiment aboard the Shuttle Discovery.
Missing from the Milestones is the disastrous April 23, 1985, debut of New Coke. Its story is relegated to a back corner of the "Pop Culture" gallery on another floor, where a looping video of an apologetic Coke executive shares space with an Andy Warhol silkscreen and the Coca-Cola couch from American Idol.
Visitors walk past a scaled-down version of an operating Coke bottling plant (a sign boasts of its sustainable packaging) and eventually arrive, thirsty, at the only place in the New World where they can actually drink a Coke: the "Taste It!" lounge. Serve-yourself spigots dispense dozens of all-you-can-guzzle global Coke beverages such as Smart Watermelon from China and Bibo Candy Coco-Pine from South Africa.
It's an over-caffeinated soda-sampling melee, dark as a nightclub, noisy as a bus station, with a floor so sticky that it once ripped off the flip-flops of a little girl -- or so we were told by a server at the tea-and-water bar.
You're allowed one sustainably packaged Coke as a souvenir, then exit outdoors to admire a 27-foot-tall Coke bottle suspended in a fake slab of ice. You can also pose with a statue of Pemberton on the front lawn. He stares blankly, holding out a glass of Coca-Cola made of a block of solid bronze, apparently to prevent admirers from pouring Coke into it for novelty snapshots. The New World of Coca-Cola may still have to mop its floor, but it doesn't have to hose off its founder.