Whatever Happened To Orbitz Soft Drink? A Brief History Of The Lava Lamp Beverage
Is it just me, or were companies in the '90s ultra experimental with their food and drink inventions? Clear Pepsi, green ketchup, Pop Tarts Crunch Cereal, and, perhaps the front-runner in toeing the creative versus unable to be consumed line, the soft drink known as Orbitz — you know, that juice-ish drink that most closely resembled a lava lamp. Whatever happened to that stuff, anyway?
Described by marketers as a "texturally enhanced alternative beverage" (I'm simultaneously laughing and screaming at that one), Orbitz quite literally burst onto the scene in 1997 as beverage company Clearly Canadian's futuristic brainchild. Pretty much everything about it immediately repelled consumers, from the taste — Pineapple Banana Cherry Coconut was one, single, incoherent flavor — to the tiny, neon balls of gelatin suspiciously suspended mid-juice.
How did those balls stay put, no matter how vigorously you shook the bottle? The Orbitz technique was twofold: First, the balls had a nearly equal density to the surrounding liquid, allowing them to seemingly defy gravity; and second, they were kept in place by a substance called Gellan Gum, which mimicked the connective abilities of a spider web. I'm not kidding. A spider web.
The ad campaigns were equally bizarre with one key catchphrase being, "The drink with balls." When that line inexplicably seemed to gross people out, marketers went in a different direction, declaring Orbitz a new age beverage that hailed from Planet Orbitz. Seems cool, right? Well... maybe I should just let the drink's now defunct promotional website speak for itself with its opening headline (courtesy of the Wayback Machine): "Prepare to embark on a tour into the bowels of the Orbiterium." I don't know about you, but I suspect the mention of the word "bowels" in the same sentence as a consumable beverage may have been too much for many.
Creators of the drink were apparently banking on people buying it exclusively for its appearance, which, to be fair, was intriguing. Never before and never again has a drink looked like... that. But though Wikipedia defines Orbitz as a soft drink, it should be noted that it was not carbonated. It was a flat, fruit-flavored liquid with flavorless balls mixed in. Appealing? Not appealing? You be the judge.
Finding clever ways of describing flavors like Vanilla Orange and Black Currant Berry has practically become a sport on message boards, with answers ranging from, "It tastes like water that came out of a vase used for flowers" (Raspberry Citrus) to "Each gelatinous blob busting in my teeth like some twisted boil full of sugary pus" (Vanilla Orange). It should be noted that the latter quote was in response to a particularly foul fan concoction, the Orbitz Martini.
Even BuzzFeed has jumped on board, featuring Orbitz in its "Discontinued Sodas Taste Test" video. The consensus? "This may be what a lava lamp actually tastes like." Woof.
Due to its un-drinkable-ness, Orbitz was discontinued within a year of its release. Orbitz, the travel company, bought the website domain name, and by 1998, it seemed as though the last trace of the Orbitz soft drink had been wiped from the face of the Earth. But then the beverage experienced an eBay Renaissance beginning in 2012, because nothing ever dies for good these days, thanks to the Internet.
Orbitz now has collectors paying upwards of $30 for a single, unopened bottle. Whole cases can easily run over $100, and the hype was loud enough that in 2013 Clearly Canadian Beverage Company announced they would be releasing a limited edition run of Orbitz, with the potential for it to become an annual treat. That promise never materialized, which, to be honest, is probably for the best. Let's face it: No one buying Orbitz is buying it for the taste. People bought it in 1997 because it looked cool, and people buy it in 2015 because it still looks cool. And so it is, and so it remains, in this great country of America.