Friday 31 August 2007

Grand Lakes' Loos May Be Most Regal in O-Town

JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes
4040 Central Florida Pkwy
Orlando, FL USA 32837
(407) 206-2300

Where is it?

There are dozens of public toilets in this luxury hotel. The one visited was on the G Level, across from meeting room Amarante 1. To get there, enter through the main entrance, head north through the hotel's shopping area (where you'll find a Starbucks and John Craig, among others) until you reach the escalators. Go down one level, turn right, then immediately left. The bathrooms will be on your left about 20 feet down the hallway.

What's it like?

The JW Marriott Grand Lakes is an enormous hotel in the south part of Orlando, filled with many fine dining options (and the best macaroni and cheese in town by far!), top-notch golf and spacious rooms. As expected, their public toilets are immaculate stations, supremely clean, spacious, classy, sophisticated and comfortable. Quite a mix, considering that most toilets of this caliber offer only a selection of those qualities, not all of them at once.

The facilities themselves are pristine: Roomy stalls and urinal areas, sparkling, in perfect working order, and offering much privacy. The bathroom itself holds about 10 stalls, which makes it a bit daunting at first (so many choices!) but once you've settled in you'll feel nothing but comfort and coziness. If only there were vending machines in the stalls -- I would have been there all day!

The vanity is highlighted by a row of ornate mirrors, as well as various wicker and glass decorations. A pleasing floral scent greats you the instant you open the door (making even the smelliest of deposits seem unembarrassing), and a soundtrack of hip-yet-soothing new-age-inspired house music plays on the sound system above -- just loud enough to excuse any noises you might make but so loud as to cause you to feel rushed or uncomfortable.

Other highlights include: a temperature control set cooler than expected (which makes a pleasing counterpoint if stepping in from outside -- the entrance to the pool is only 50 feet away); the golden lighting that shines down from the ceiling (really embodies the luxury mindset here); the choice of drying your hands with terrycloth or paper towels (you deposit the former in a wicker laundry basket when done -- another nice touch); and some of the silkiest, most flowery smelling hand soap I've ever tried.

Marks out of 10:

10. It ain't heaven, but it's close. I actually asked about rent prices before checking out of the hotel -- sadly, it was out of my range.

Comments to the Management:

Sheer perfection. Keep up the good work.

Wednesday 29 August 2007

Lone Windex Bottle Patrols Bathroom Ineffectively at Super Buffet

Super Orient Buffet
4525 S Semoran Blvd
Orlando, FL USA 32822
Phone: (407) 380-5583

Where is it?

From the front entrance, head to the back wall of place, staying to the right of the buffet tables. You’ll see a small doorway there (a little hard to spot amid the continuous stretch of wood paneling covering the walls, mind you, but not impossible) to the right of the double doors leading to the kitchen -- the bathrooms are there.

What’s it like?

Though still popular with people from the neighborhood (and those willing to venture a few miles north of the airport to get something to eat that isn't chain-restaurant based), this once decent locals buffet now stands as one of the city's lesser Oriental eateries, with a wide, all-you-can-eat menu of flatly fried foods, off-tasting noodle and rice dishes and an assortment of other sketchy items that probably should be left at bay on your go-arounds. (Granted, I was in the minority on this -- most of the people there, and there were many -- were having four or five plates' worth of the stuff, but I could barely stomach one.)

A former pizza hut, the interior, as previously stated, consists primarily of medium-toned wood paneling and a sharp, bright lighting that accentuates the drab carpeting and steam rising from the many chafing dishes, as well as the spaciousness surrounding the buffet itself.

The toilets extend the tackiness to a degree, although they are more crammed, weathered, darkened and soiled than expected. (Clearly the restaurant's interior has received a face lift in the last five years, but the bathroom looks like it hadn't been touched up in years.) My visit also featured a run-in with a local who spent more than 5 minutes combing his hair (he was nearly bald, it should be stated) at the bathroom's lone sink. In fact, I had to stand behind him a few minutes and clear my throat several times before he got the hint that someone was waiting to use the sink. (I guess he didn't see me staring back at him in the mirror?)

If that weren't odd enough, the sink and floor was covered with standing water and paper towels -- it was as if someone had started to clean the place but had given up on the task because it seemed too arduous. (Either that or my combing friend had more to hide than a receding hairline.)

Stranger yet, a lone bottle of Windex sat atop the vanity here, looking like a guard that no longer had any idea what it was protecting. An more than apt metaphor for this loo, I'm sorry to say.

Marks out of 10:

4. Serious work needed to improve the facilities here, metaphor or not.

Comments to the Management:

Someone stopped caring here, it seems. Time to bring the passion for your business back, I say. Or, at least give that lone Windex bottle a friend -- he looks lonely, all there by himself, and that only adds to his overall ineffectiveness.

Wednesday 15 August 2007

Ahmed's Wide Spaces Mask Small Toilet -- and Possible Political Contempt?

Ahmed Restaurant
11349 S Orange Blossom Tr
Orlando, FL USA

Where is it?

From the main entrance, traverse the length of the cooler counter (filled with frozen foods and other takeout goods) that runs along the right-hand wall until you hit the back wall. From there, look for a three-dimensional American flag with a bald eagle sticking out of it that's hanging above a closed door. Go through the door, which will bring you to a long, spacious, stretching hallway that extends all the way to the back of the restaurant and is filled with colorful large-canvas art.

Ironically enough, the doors to the bathroom are found immediately on the right after passing through the door, so there's no need to go down that hallway, even if you feel like you should.

What's it like?

The restaurant itself is spacious, modest, homey and relaxing, and the place serves some of the best Indian food and kabobs in town.

But the bathroom is a very small place indeed, with barely enough room to fit the toilet, sink and other accouterments -- let alone a person. It was clean, and certainly serviceable, but the smallness of the place was unexpected, especially considering the sense of spaciousness imparted by the hallway outside and the dining room.

As mentioned earlier, that hallways is long, stretching, colorful -- like a hallway one would find outside of a theater or art exhibit, the sort of hallway that invites you into something even greater. That's not the case here. It's small, tight-fitting and claustrophobic.

Another note: The 3D wall hanging of the American flag with the bald eagle provides an interesting conversation piece. Are the owners trying to suggest that if you go through the "American" door and down the "American" hallway, you'll just end up in the toilet? Quite possibly!

Furthermore: The hallway leading to the toilets is long and filled with distractions, yet the bathrooms are found at the head of the corridor and are easy to find. Does that mean that the owners wanted to make finding the toilets easy as an be for Americans, that Americans might not be able to find the toilets if they were, say, at the end of the hallway because of the many distractions found there? Quite possibly as well!

Marks out of 10:

7. Would be a 6, but the possible anti-American sentiments (whether true or not) generated some heated debate after my visit, which is something you don't expect from a toilet.

Comments to the Management:

While a little more space would be great, please continue with the implied political messages.

Monday 13 August 2007

Atomic Toilets

Atomium Square 1020

Where is it?

You need to pay for entry at the ticket office next to the Atomium. Enter the complex and take the lift to the top. You’ll exit the lift in to the restaurant. You are forced left. Follow all the way around and just before you meet the lift again you’ll see the toilet to the left.

What’s it like?

Despite their ability to make extraordinary beer, the people of Belgium are an odd sort. I guess being squashed between France, Germany and Holland as they are does that to you. This amiable oddness shows itself in fairly harmless ways it must be said, like their love for the Atomium. This structure can be seen clearly over the Brussels skyline. But why on earth I hear you say build a building in the shape of an Atom? Well I’ll let you get the answer to that question, but at least they included a toilet at the very top!

This is one of the oddest buildings I’ve gone looking for a toilet in. And the first thing to note is that I think the top floor only has a ladies'. Well at least that's what the front door seems to signify. OK lets say it's probably unisex. Well, at least 3 men had used it before I did, and I thought it was worth the risk in the name of toilet journalism!

So what did I find? Well these are not the most luxurious toilets in the world, and they could do with a little more capacity. Nevertheless, when you consider they are in a relatively small ball hanging above the city, they are plenty big enough. They were also fairly clean. Add to this an automatic flush and plenty of hot water in the tap and they were functional enough. Nice shiny fittings that are more than in with keeping with the space age exterior of the building. Overall, I’d have to say I was impressed.

Now we have to consider which atom the building represents. Wii2O?

Marks out of 10:

7. Perfectly functional.

Comments to the management:

Maybe you could clarify for the international visitor if this is a unisex toilet?

Friday 10 August 2007

It’s a Mystery for Morse

The Trout Inn,
195 Godstow Road,
Lower Wolvercoate,
United Kingdom

Where is it?

This one is a bit of a trek. From the front entrance go left and up the steps to the bar. Go past the bar and down some steps in to the smoking area of the restaurant. On the left there is a doorway that leads to the toilets. Males on the left and females straight on. If you are outside by the river enter the pub and head right before you hit the bar. Again, go past the bar and down some steps in to the smoking area of the restaurant. On the left there is a doorway that leads to the toilets.

What’s it like?

This is one of the watering holes frequented regularly by John Thaw in Inspector Morse. The Trout had a fire a while back, so the facilities were relatively new and of good quality. They were also so cavernous you could store a few corpses without them being noticed. Now the Trout has just had another refurb and I must say I’m impressed! The general style of the place is great and it’s raised what was at risk of becoming a little tired and made it funky and hip. The outside is the best place to sit with a good view of the river and peacocks wondering around. You couldn’t want for a better place to sup your summer pint.

The male toilets seem to have lost a lot of space, but this is probably more to do with the dark, dark green décor. Still, the fixtures are sleek and fit well with the feel of the place, and the soap is cool too. My one adverse comment would be about the artwork. The silhouettes of naked ladies are all rather 1980’s and rather crass. Go back to postingto what you used to do posting the daily news headlines of UK and US websites and newspapers in frames just in your eye line. That’s was some real thought about the entertainment factor, although it was right annoying if you don’t get to the end of an article on a speedy stop. Now all you do is make us think you are dirty old men!

Marks out of 10:

9 for the general feel of the place.

Comments to the management:

It’s a mystery why the pictures are there!

Thursday 9 August 2007

SaniFair Still Led By Technology

Bruchsal West
A5 Fahrtrichtung Sued
Near Frankfurt

Where is it?

The same format as before, so you know the drill. Go through the main front doors , down the spiral staircase, and pay your 50 cents.

What’s it like?

I was really impressed by the SaniFair experience. So, when I found they ran the toilets in the services near Frankfurt it was with glee that I took my 50 cents to pay for entry.

The same superior quality was on offer as at Bottrop. This time I took a little time to take things in. You can get through these toilets without touching anything that hasn’t been cleaned since its last use. Everything is automatic. I hate piped music, but for some reason it still had a calming and welcoming effect on me – all very soothing.

These toilets were fairly busy – I’m sure they could become Germany’s number one tourist attraction! Anyway, I couldn’t get much in the way of extra photos, but I did take the opportunity to take a video of the toilet seat cleaner in operation.

So here there it is.

Marks out of 10:

11. My awe grows greater...

Comments to the management:

Can I have the UK franchise?

Wednesday 8 August 2007

SaniFair Vorsprung Durch Technik

Bottrop Süd
A2 Fahrtrichtung Ost
Near Essen

Where is it?

Go through the main front doors and head around to the left. Go down the spiral staircase. Head right, paying your 50 cents.

What’s it like?

There’s nothing like the German Autobahn. An advised limit of 130km hour is now suggested across the network, but you know that they don’t make VW’s, BMW’s, Mercedes and Audis (especially the A8’s) with that in mind. The Germans disregard the suggested speed limit when the road is clear and my 1.9 Tdi is sluggish in such company. Still, it is nice to know that you can make the best use of a clear stretch when it arrives.

With Sanifair I’ve found another reason to admire the German road network. These must be the most technologically advanced toilets I’ve ever seen. What might start with mild disgruntlement at having to pay, soon turns to admiration. These toilets are spotless. People were actually looking around in amazement!

There was plenty of capacity, so you didn’t feel hassled by other users even though it was fairly busy. You are also soothed through your visit with piped music that is unobtrusive and actually calming. The lighting is nice bright and modern. Just on this basis you’d be happy.

Then there are the technical facilities. Entering the stall I thought the toilet looked a little over styled. But, it was only when I waved my hand in front of the sensor to set off the flush that I realised everything had a purpose. At the back of the seat a blue arm extends out. Then the toilet seat rotates. Yes, every time the toilet is flushed the seat is cleaned. Wow!

Then you look at the quality of the fixtures. Just look at the triple (yes I said triple) toilet roll holder. How cool!

I have to say I am in awe.


Marks out of 10:

10. If it wasn’t beginning to look strange I’d have stayed for longer.

Comments to the management:

Superb! You’d pay a euro just to see the toilet do its stuff.

Tuesday 7 August 2007

Woman Invades The Men’s Room

BP Service Station
Aire de Chateauvillain Sur Orge

Where is it?

Go through the main front doors of the service station. There are a host of drinks machines to the left and the shop and payment area to the right. Go straight between them, down the corridor, and turn left.

What’s it like?

When it comes down to it the weakest link in a machine is always the human being. My car can do up to 600 miles on a tank of diesel, that’s at least 6 hours in the car (on the unlimited autobahn I’d have to add if you were doing the math). I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait that long to pee. This is why we all have to stop at a service station now and again.

Actually, it was the need to take on fluid on a afternoon drive from Cannes to Calais that called for this stop at the BP station on the A5 at Chateauvillain. To be sure the shop is fine, the staff are friendly – and the Orange Coke on sale caught our eye – but then, just before departing, I decided I’d better take advantage of the facilities.

This is where things went downhill. In need of a refurbishment is an understatement. It is now unusual to find graffiti strewn over toilet doors, as well as the general state of disrepair and neglect that this place had. Fixtures with gaping holes around them, holes where fixtures had faced impromptu removal filled with chewing gum, and a particularly dirty toilet bowl left me wishing that I had waited for the next stop en route.

Nevertheless, you’d have to say the staff do clean the place. It raised more than some comment from my fellow travellers – my French is not so good so I can only speculate on what was being said – when a woman employee came in unannounced and proceeded to clean. More than one eyebrow was raised, indeed. And did I actually see a Frenchman embarrassed in front of a woman?

Marks out of 10:

2. BP need to pay for a refurb here

Comments to the management:

Invest some money and fix things quicker. I’ll let you off the invasion – the joy of seeing embarrassed Frenchmen…

Monday 6 August 2007

Weird Waitress: Messy Toilets

Flynns Bar & Brasserie.
16/17 The Courtyard
GL50 1SR
United Kingdom

Where is it?

From the front entrance head straight towards the bar. Then head left. The door to the toilet is hidden from view behind a pillar, but it is there. Honest!

What’s it like?

What to say about Flynn’s Bar and Brasserie? Well to be frank this is a place I would give a miss. Why? Well it is a combination of things, and whilst the food was passable for the price I can’t but think that a couple of pounds more elsewhere would have put a smile on my face.

Let me start by talking about the waitress. She was well presented enough, but not overly smart and seemed quite efficient at first. But then you quickly you find out that she is damned right strange. Neither the person I was with nor I are, have been, or will be her “honey”. I began to wonder who boiled the bunnies in the kitchen. So, that was off putting fact number one.

Next is that the place is extraordinarily hot. It wasn’t a particularly warm day, but the heat in the place. On top of this they lit candles on every table. I’ve been in cooler restaurants in Africa – and they have the common sense to try and cool things down.

So was I in a good frame of mind when I headed for the toilet? Well at least the toilets might provide a break from the hot weirdness of the restaurant. Oh foolish me. What I was presented with was a ghastly mess. The floor was covered on toilet paper. It was if the Andrex puppy had got off its lead, popped down to Flynn’s, got pissed and then couldn’t resist running riot in the toilets.

Add to this the sneaking paranoia that you might be stabbed any minute and that the toilets were sweltering rather than just hot, and the fairly clean and sleek décor of the place is just forgotten.

Oh for the Chinese up the road.

Marks out of 10:

4. If you set about cleaning them you might get a 7.

Comments to the management:

Clean the toilets, and add some air conditioning and you might get a decent score.

Sunday 5 August 2007

Thumbs Up For Rangetsu

8400 International Drive
Orlando, FL USA

Where is it?

Go over the bridge from the car park and through the main doors. Head left towards the reception – the toilets are directly to the right through the door.

What’s it like?

Rangetsu has to be my favourite restaurant in Orlando itself. It has style and good food to boot. My advice is to sit at the Sushi bar and watch your meal being made, you’ll also be able to get the advice of the chef on what’s good that day. Still, if you take a table the variety of food you can order is greater and you’ll have a little more comfort.

I’ve been here two or three times and never had the need to stop by the toilets. I wasn’t expecting much as the restaurant speaks for itself and guessed they didn’t need to put too much effort into the conveniences. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

These toilets get a big thumbs up from Eyal, and I have to agree. Good quality tile back up the urinals, to give a comfy but stylish air. The double sink is spacious with individual soap dispensers that fit nicely by the tap. Even the paper towels are of a quality I rarely see elsewhere. But what has to top it off is the bonsai tree. OK, you have to question if it is plastic or not. Still, the thing is it is the first plant in a toilet that I’ve seen that actually works. This is not the usual insignificant, half dead, nonsense that you often see passing as a plant in a rest room. It sits there small, alive and proud, perfectly appropriate for its setting. Mr. Miyagi would be proud!

Marks out of 10:

9 for style and efficiency.

Comments to the management:

Cool toilets to go with great food – and a plant that adds to the rest room – we couldn’t ask for more.

Saturday 4 August 2007

Possibly the Highest Toilets in Europe?

Seegube Station
Next to Leingartner's Seegrube & Hafelekar Restaurant
Seegrube Lift (1.905 meters)

Where is it?

Take the Seegrube lift at Nordpark in Innsbruck. Once you have got off the lift head straight past the exit on the left and entrance to the restaurant. The toilets are through some fairly heavy grey doors.

What’s it like?

From potentially some of the lowest toilets in the world to some of the highest. High up above the tree line in the Austrian alps I was not that sure what I’d find in the way of toilet facilities. On previous winter visits to French resorts in the Alps I’ve always been presented with some fairly rudimentary and dirty toilets. With this in mind my expectations were not high on this visit. Nevertheless, the drive from Munich had made a wee stop essential. So what can be said here?

Well I’d have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Innsbruck itself has a lot to offer for the summer visitor. And I’d have to say the trip to these toilets must be one of the most scenic in the world. The lift is newly refurbished and although at 19.50 euros return is a little expensive, is a trip you should not miss.

The toilets themselves are also surprisingly good. In fact they were well beyond my expectations; maybe because this is Austria and not France? When it comes down to it these were well thought out and high-grade toilets that would be at home in any restaurant. The designers had thought about who would be using them and there was lots of space for skiers with bulky clothing and equipment. The materials were also heavy so that they’ll wear well. They were also very clean, except for the floor that having been recently cleaned had muddy boot marks from the various walkers who had taken a break.

So overall, a good place to pee in a spectacular setting!

Marks out of 10:

8. A must see.

Comments to the management:

Keep up the Austrian efficiency.

Mile Under Club Limited By Grubby Toilets

Under the English Channel
United Kingdom and France

Where is it?

Drive to the channel tunnel and on to the train. There is a toilet in every third carriage. Once parked get out and walk forward, it will be on the left hand side.

What’s it like?

This is a cool place to go for a pee. You may have heard of the mile high club, but what about the mile under club? Well maybe you’d want to give that a miss (given what I say below), but taking a pee in a technological marvel of the age (the tunnel, not the train obviously) is certainly something to write home about – well at least write a blog on!

We parked right next to the loo that made this a convenient stop. Three steps around the front of the car and you were there. Still, a sticky door handle could have easily added a significant delay to the proceedings. Given the achievements of the channel tunnelers (tunnelling from both ends they came together in the middle only 5cm of centre) it’s a pity the toilets were not more impressive.

OK it might be impressive that the toilets had soap this far under water, as it might that they had obviously been cleaned. To give credit where its due, the push button flush was surprisingly advanced for otherwise basic toilets too. But then you are left with pokey aircraft like toilets that are in bad need of refurbishment. They are grubby because they have aged. And they smell terrible, being completely airless. Finding toilets here that are so basic is a real let down, especially as the terminal buildings are so plush. My advice is use the terminal toilets. Use the train toilets at your peril.

Marks out of 10:

4. Worth giving a miss.

Comments to the management:

For such a great way to travel, these toilets stink (literally).

Thursday 2 August 2007

Blinded by the lights at Bill's Elbow South

Bill's Elbow South
The Oviedo Marketplace
1280 Oviedo Marketplace Blvd.
Oviedo, FL USA 32765

Where is it?

A little confusing to find. The place has two entrances, one closer to the mall's food court entry and one in which you enter from an outdoor patio. Either way, once you're in, go right until you're past the indoor bar, then veer into the little hallway behind the front-most dining room (the hallway is in between that and the semi-open kitchen) to find the restrooms.

A sign painted on the wall will give you the general whereabouts, however if taken literally the sign will also lead you into the kitchen, so tread carefully, lest you want to come face to face with a line cook......

What's it like?

This modest tavern, a local favorite for years that was once nestled in a hard-to-reach spot in the middle of Oviedo (and felt a little more colorful there), took over this spot (where the Oldenberg Brewery and Restaurant, a high-end brew pub with good food and drink, once stood) more than five years ago. While much of the original tenant's elegant dark wood decor remains, that place no longer feels elegant or stuffy. Instead, the spot has been filled with plenty of country charm, including a menu filled with comfort food favorites and tons of NASCAR photos and pennants. Not exactly the greatest comfort food spot in town, but it's certainly worth a stop if you're in the neighborhood, especially if you like chicken fried steak.

The toilets, like much of the decor, look exactly the way Oldenberg left them, though the wear and tear on them since Oldenberg's departure is apparent. The floors are covered in sleek black and white tile, the walls in sheer white tile and off-white paint, the counters are shiny metal and dressing room lights line the sink vanity area.

Of course, the decor here doesn't quite fit with the down-home-country vibe of the rest of the place, but then again it isn't too out of place either, since the ornamentation everywhere here is a bit piecemeal.

The bathrooms are clean for the most part, however the combination of tile and metal creates an awful echo in here which may make some visitors feel a bit awkward, especially during a noisier visit. Also, the bulbs along the vanity burn very, very bright -- so much so that they blind you for a minute when you enter.

Those same bulbs burn very hot too. When you hit the vanity after your stop, to wash your hands, you'll feel the heat emanating from them. A little jarring, if you think about it: One minute, you're relieving yourself, then next you're feeling like you're under a heating lamp at McDonald's. (Warning: You may want to apply some sunblock if you plan on staying at the vanity for more than a minute!)

Marks out of 10:

7. Perfectly acceptable, barring a few missteps.

Comments to the Management:

Needs a little touching up to hide the wear and tear and also you might want to consider lowering the wattage of the bulbs around the vanity.