Friday, September 19, 2014

Tours Go Better With Coke

Hello readers. I want to issue you an apology. I've been sitting on these Georgia posts for WEEKS and just have not had the energy or time to sit and get my experiences to you all. Is it weird I'm starting to get anxious about how many people know about the blog...and how far I have yet to go? I mean, in 2011, this was just a kooky idea I'd come up with, and now I have organizations and museums checking out my posts across America (even my JOB wants to use my post from those dreadful mansions in Rhode Island for a presentation to a NATIONAL museum organization). Even my friends try to help, forwarding me special event Groupons and trip suggestions for new states. While I'm happy about all of is a bit...different. I'm dedicated to seeing this through...even if it takes beyond 2016 (which I'm hoping it does not...I need some passport stamps!). ships don't stamp passports. Hence why mine is still super bare

Anyway, enough about my emo development as a travel blogger (is it safe to call myself that?). Let's talk about Atlanta. I used to live in Atlanta for a very brief period of time and yet the only "touristy" thing I ever did was visit the Underground...a bunch of generic stores with stuff I was never interested in purchasing that are literally, underground. Since I was coming down for Labor Day to see my god family and friends, I didn't want to make my schedule TOO jam packed (people tend to frown at rigid itineraries) but did want to get some sight seeing in. Enter the World of Coca-Cola.

This was the first thing I did when I came to Atlanta. I had my suitcase with me, and took the Marta train (which had vastly upgraded since my last ride on it ten years prior!) straight from the airport down to the area where pretty much everything major to do in Atlanta is situated. I walked a few blocks and eventually got to the tour building (it's pretty huge) and paid for a general admission.

The line to get IN...should've taken the hint but noooo...
Let me just go ahead and warn you now. There will be a LOT of people. You WILL stand in lines as if you are waiting for the newest roller coaster at your favorite amusement park. Once you get inside, a group of about 70-80 people are ushered into a small lobby with some jumbo-sized decorated Coke bottles...and one poor soul standing at the front trying to keep everyone interested by telling jokes and doing magic tricks. Now, if you know anything about me, I HATE not being able to hear what my tour guides are saying. And with people of all ages, races, and levels of quiet present, I pulled a young man to the side and pleadingly asked if there was a more exclusive, less crowded tour option. He and another of his co-workers brought me back out to the ticket booth, and upgraded me to a VIP tour for only $12 more. TRUST ME. IT'S WORTH EVERY DIME! Not only do you get priority access to EVERYTHING, you get discounts on pictures in the gift shop and other neat swag that the general public does not. You also get a dedicated tour guide and special earbuds so you can take an actual tour, not just aimlessly roam around and hope you can figure out what you're looking at.

Travelin' T, coming to you live from the VIP...tour
Now, you do a LOT on this tour, so I'll just give you brief descriptions of the different phases of the visit. First you enter a room full of Coke paraphernalia from all around the world. An employee warms up the crowd with jokes, encourages you to take pictures, and talks about highlights of artifacts in the room.

I was up front with my fellow VIPers
From there you enter a huge theater with a 10 minute movie that shows a bunch of different people celebrating random life occurrences (like a first grandchild, or a surprise birthday party) and how Coca-Cola is a part of all of that (you know, good times). We were specifically asked to not take photos or video in here, so I obliged. From there though, you go out into the actual museum (I think it's safe to call it that) where VIP folks had to put on our headphones. We had the chance to (cut the line) and take a picture with the biggest creepiest polar bear you can imagine though, which other than the hurt faces of the kids I got to cut in front of, was pretty hilarious to do.

Next we went into a mini production section (the slowest and smallest Coke bottling factory in the world!) where we learned about technological innovations in the making of Coke. The bottles we saw being made are special in that they make all the souvenir bottles you get at the end of your tour (but we aren't there yet...)

FIZZY-Bot making bottles of Coke
Next you go into the most museum-ish part of the building, the story of how Coke was invented, and how the company (and product) grew and expanded over the years. Here is where you'll appreciate that personal tour guide most, because it was SO crowded and there were SO few captions what without their explanations you'd miss a lot of cool information.

Probably the coolest part of this section was getting to hold an actual Olympic torch. Remember the 1996 Olympic Games were in Atlanta, and Coca-Cola was a huge sponsor.

Can't you just hear the Olympic theme now?
Next is a section I nicknamed the "hater and biter" section. It talks about how so many companies tried to mimic Coke and make fake versions of the drink or to somehow tarnish the Coke image. It's here that you will get to see the vault that contains the secret Coke recipe that for years was stashed in an old lock box at a Suntrust bank.

Nothing like the real thing indeed...
Guard in front of the vault
Now before I go is the only part of the tour I was ready to punch someone in the face. In this section you are CLEARLY TOLD to not cross a certain line because an alarm will sound. So what to these dummy parents let their kids do?? Cross the security line...which caused our earbuds to give a VERY loud screech and mechanical wail each time one of those little grubbers laughed and danced across it. I yelled at one woman to "get her kids together"- that REALLY hurt my ears!

From there you enter a room full of art inspired by or made from Coke and Coke materials. Tucked away in the bottom of a case was a bottle of the old "New Coke" that I'm sure most company reps would like to pretend never existed (this tickled me to see...I vaguely remember the huge brouhaha changing the formula caused).

From there we were taken to a 4D theater (and I was starting to wonder how much longer we would be on this tour). While you wait in line (again, much like a roller coaster set up) you watch a video of a woman that looks a LOT like Tracie Thoms ask a bunch of random people on the street what kind of flavors they like...or something like that. I wasn't paying much attention (or rather, didn't know I should have been paying attention). She runs off the screen saying she needs to find someone named Brigsby, and then you enter the theatre. No pics, you know, I was kind of in the moment. But you watch what seemed to be a 15 minute video of her and this Brigsby dude act goofy and discover more ways Coke is all over the world. It's 4D because the movie is in 3D (yes you get glasses) but your seats move and air and mist spray on you to coincide with the action on the screen as well. It was fun, if not a little corny.

Finally, after nearly 2 hours of tour guide led fun (thank you Deepak!) You are given an exclusive pin and dumped into the tasting room. Here you can sample Coke products from every continent (though really, if you are from America and you only stay at the North America're pretty lame). This was fun in a way...some very interesting flavors from Africa and Asia (it was getting close to the time I needed to meet my friend so the rest of the world had to wait) but MAN those floors were STICKY!!! I almost broke my flip flops TWICE because the soles stuck to the floor. They should really have someone there whose sole purpose is to run a damp mop over the floor to clean up spilled pop.

The tasting room
After that, you picked up your souvenir on-site made bottle of Coca Cola and headed into the gift shop where there was a TON of red and Coke themed merchandise. Inside tip, that polar bear pic I took earlier? I got 30% off the purchase of it because I was a VIP tour member.

Thank you FIZZY-Bot!
I had to leave mine in GA with a friend's not TSA carry-on friendly :-/
She's going to mail it to me though :-)

Overall, I had an amazing (if not exhausting!) time at the World of Coca Cola. They truly have set the standard for what a food or beverage factory tour should be (though to be fair, it wasn't a full fledged facility like other places). Please, if you can, buy the VIP ticket. It will really save part of your sanity. A special shout out should be given to the ENTIRE staff there. Not. One. Employee. was rude, unfriendly, or unhelpful. I was almost a little scary how nice they were. I was very impressed and pleased!

So. More on Georgia to come. I didn't do all the tours I wanted to do...but boy oh boy did I EAT a lot while I was there!

As always, thank you for following me on this journey and reading my blog. Even if it kinds freaks me out a little bit I appreciate your time taken to read it. See you on the next adventure!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Super Sonic

This is going to be a very brief post. I've since gone and come back from Atlanta, Georgia for my Labor Day vacation, but I would be remiss if I didn't include this entry for my friends that are in the number of fans of Sonic Drive-In restaurants. My friends rave about the slushies and all the varieties and options available to diners. I'd never eaten the food before (I've never actually lived close to one), but because I was there at the National Headquarters for Sonic, I figured I needed to remedy that.

View of the Sonic HQ from the Water Taxi
I must say that yes, the menu was a bit overwhelming to a new customer. There are literally dozens of drink flavor combos- and you can mix and match them. Let alone at least 15 meal options. The cashier was very friendly once she realized that I was a complete rookie. Oh- and this is another interesting thing. Apparently most (if not all) Sonic restaurants are drive-ins only- something my friends pointed out in amazement as we sat in the spacious and COOL bright blue and yellow dining room.

I will be honest and say I don't remember how much I liked the food- I didn't hate it, but I wasn't in love with it the way some folks are (like my sorority sister who was super excited that the headquarters location had a menu item that was discontinued in her home state of Virginia). I certainly would eat there again- and yes the slushie was delicious (I had a cherry/lime/pineapple flavor going)!

In the meantime, I am going to try and get these Atlanta posts out in a more timely fashion. Not too sure what the rest of my travel schedule will look like for the rest of this year, but I know 2015 will be super busy!

As always, thank you for taking the time to read my blog, and I'll see you on the next adventure!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Best Of The West

The last attraction I visited while in Oklahoma City was the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. It seemed to be completely removed from most of everything else in Oklahoma City...or at least the Bricktown area I spent a large portion of my OKC time in. When I entered the museum, I was warmly greeted by a gentleman dressed in a cowboy outfit who apparently took a liking to me right away because we chit-chatted for nearly 20 minutes. He gave me his "business card", and it names him as Mr. Jerry Lee Tyner, BRS. Old West Aficionado, Serendipity Songster. How cool is that?!

This really got you in the mood for the rest of the museum! Kudos!
Turns out he was a docent, and he told me all sorts of facts about the museum and artifacts in it. Most of the conversation focused on a giant white statue directly behind us that depicts a Native American atop a bronco. It's an item featured often in materials about the museum, and when you see it in person, you are going to be simply breathless at how huge it actually is. Turns out it's nearly 100 years old, and the man who posed for the sculptor also posed for the Native profile on the buffalo nickel. How the sculpture ended up in the museum was an interesting (and lengthy) tale about World's Fairs, far away little towns, bureaucratic battles, bronze replacements, and the struggle to preserve plaster that was taken apart for decades.

From here, it gets a little complicated. See, this museum is HUGE. A LOT bigger than it appears to be. The above pictured statue sits in the middle of the east and west wings. I'll talk about the east wing first since I spent the least amount of time there. That's where the cafeteria is, as well as a gallery of Western art the museum has purchased over the years. There's a giant statue of Abraham Lincoln, a smaller bronze one of John Wayne, and some newer artifacts that have recently been acquired by the museum. However, most of the gallery space lies behind Lincoln, and no photography is allowed there, so I didn't go in.

The west wing, however, was PACKED with information and things to see. Even at a slightly hurried pace I didn't get to see it all. It seemed every time I tried to backtrack I found myself in a new room with more artifacts, paintings, or exhibits that taught me about another aspect of Western American culture.

There were areas that showed various Native American clothing:

A section that talked about television westerns (I'm a Rawhide and Big Valley fan myself) where I learned about the first and only African American western star Herb Jeffries aka "The Bronze Buckaroo" (he recently passed this past May at the age of 100):

An area that talked about the history, sport, and evolution of the American rodeo:

A small section that seemed to depict hunting in the early days of the frontier:

A very well done section that discussed the military, including the contributions of African Americans, Native Americans, and women:

A very expansive section that talked about the "basics" of cowboy culture (like different types of hats, rope ties, horses, saddles, etc.) as well as the different kind of cowboys there were. This was an area I wish I would have spent more time in:

There was even an interactive "town" where you could walk in and out of different shops and listen to a shopkeeper tell you about what their average day is like. It was very similar to the McKinley Memorial and Museum I visited in Canton, Ohio except it was larger, newer, and didn't have creepy mannequins incorporated into the shop areas:

There was also a very large gallery full of smaller statues and gorgeous paintings depicting western scenes. One painting in particular had pinks and blues so vibrant and, almost neon looking that I was sure it was a modern piece....but was painted in 1916! No photos allowed in there, and as we know, I (usually) follow the rules. There are also outdoor gardens, but as I was running out of time, my camera battery was dying, and it was over 100 degrees outside, I didn't go and wander about.

This museum was beautiful, and very well put together. But what I loved most was how much I learned there. Did you know that there were cowboys in Hawaii and Canada? I sure didn't. I also learned a lot about the more obscure parts of American history, and about the cultural and economic impact this had on our developing nation. You can go over more than 200 years of history in about two hours, and I think that's pretty cool. I also appreciated that multiple cultures were featured, and that both men and women were portrayed throughout the museum. I also enjoyed that rather than having the material portrayed as a "cowboy versus Indian" theme, both topics were blended throughout without lessening their individual importance. If you have two or three hours to spare in OKC, do yourself a favor and visit this truly amazing and unique museum.

 Well, I thought I was done with Oklahoma but it turns out I have one last very brief entry to go- my first meal at Sonic! I'll try to get that out before this weekend- after all I'll be headed to a "new" state: Georgia! (I put those quotes there because I actually used to live in Atlanta for a very brief period of time...but never ever did any touristy stuff. Shame on me!)

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog. As always, you can check out my pictures on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, and I'll see you on the next adventure!