Is there another soft drink besides Coca-Cola? In Georgia there is not. When I was a kid, the words Coke and soft drink (or soda, for those north of the Mason Dixon line) were synonymous. When you went to a restaurant and ordered a meal, you would ask for a Coke to drink. The waiter or waitress would then ask you what kind of Coke you wanted, and that is when you would specify Coke, Sprite, or Mr. Pibb. Sometimes, you got the dreaded question, “Is Pepsi OK?” It was always asked apologetically. Of course, the only answer to that was, “No. In that case I’ll have a sweet tea.”
Coke is it. It’s the real thing. Coke adds life. Have a Coke and a smile. You can’t beat the feeling. Coke would like to teach the world to sing.
Coke is Georgia, and Georgia is Coke.
Nowhere is that more evident than at the World of Coke in Atlanta, where I recently spent a fun morning with my kids and our cousins from North Carolina. This museum to one of America’s most iconic brands is a celebration of the history of Coca Cola and its impact around the world. It also has air conditioning, which makes it a great way to kill some time with the kids when it is hot enough outside to melt asphalt.
The genius of Coca-Cola advertising is on display from entrance to exit. More than one hundred years’ worth of road signs, wall hangings, and print ads cover the walls from floor to ceiling. Vintage Coke machines are displayed throughout and brought back memories for me of stopping at old country stores and getting out to get a Coke while Daddy put gas in the car. A bottle cost 45 cents back then, so I had to scrounge up a quarter and two dimes in the backseat. My kids had to put up with a constant stream of “I remember that!” all the way through the building. One room was playing the “Here Kid Catch” commercial with Mean Joe Green over and over. I made the kids watch it twice.
As a kid, I was always fascinated by the folklore surrounding the Secret Formula for Coca-Cola—only two guys in the entire world knew the formula, but they each only knew half, and they were not allowed to fly together. Remember that? World of Coke does not exactly debunk the myth, but they do have the honest to goodness secret formula locked away in a real life vault. I saw it with my own eyes. The vault, that is. The pathway to the vault is a walk through time from the first fizzy glass of Coca-Cola poured at Jacobs’ Pharmacy in Five Points in 1886 through different owners, the rise of copycats, and the establishment of Coca-Cola headquarters in Downtown Atlanta. There are interactive games to play on your way through the exhibit as well.
The museum also touches on parts of Coke’s history that are more controversial. Remember the disaster that was New Coke? Remember how it tasted like over-sweetened, flat Pepsi? Remember where you were when you found out Coca-Cola Classic was coming back? (I was at basketball camp at North Georgia College.) There is an exhibit to that dark 79 days in Coca-Cola history, and it is one you do not want to miss. There is also an exhibit of pop art, sculptures made of Coke cans, and an interactive “Design Your Own Bottle” game in the same room to occupy your kids while you contemplate whether Coke generated the controversy on purpose.
The highlight, the grand finale, the pièce de résistance is the Tasting Room. This room is full of flavors from all over the world just waiting for you to try. This was my kids’ favorite room of all, and I will admit that it was mine too. The products are arranged by world region, and flavors run the gamut from fruity sweet to slightly bitter. When you go, you must try Beverly from Italy. It is indescribable and must be sipped to be fully appreciated. The machine has a sign encouraging you to take a picture of your friends drinking it and then to share those pictures on World of Coke social media. That is a good indication of what you are getting yourself into with this drink.
Afterwards, we were off to the gift shop, where they have every Coca-Cola logo item you can possibly imagine, including scratch and sniff t-shirts. We settled for Coke flavored lip balm.
This summer, when the kids are driving you nuts and it is too hot for sane people to go outside, World of Coke is a great place to visit. It took us about two and a half to three hours to complete the tour. While you are at it, stitch together a whole day of entertainment by visiting World of Coke in the morning, having lunch at CNN Center, and then spending the afternoon at the Georgia Aquarium next door.
Did I mention it has air conditioning?
Karla Jacobs is a member of the Georgia Commission on Women. She lives in Marietta with her husband, two kids, a dog, and some fish.