Wednesday 31 December 2008

Best and Worst Toilets of 2008

2008 proved to be a landmark year for Where’s the Toilet?

We managed to review more than 150 bathrooms around the world, including some in some faraway and exotic locations as Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Australia and more, and also visited toilets in some famous settings, like the Grand Canyon, the Hermitage Museum, Universal Studios Orlando and Grand Central Station, to name a few. Sadly, despite many requests, we were unable to review the toilet in the Minneapolis airport where Sen. Larry Craig was charged with “disorderly conduct.” Maybe next year...

Now that the year is over, we’ve chosen to post our second annual Best and Worst Toilets of the Year list.

So without further delay....

The Top 5

1. Mansion at Forsyth Park (Savannah, GA)

Easily the best of the year -- nothing else came close, and this was the best restroom we visited since our stop at the Wynn Las Vegas bathrooms (which topped our Best Toilets of 2007 list). As we said in our review of the Mansion, this is "a regal, marble-filled environment filled with amazing architectural frills, top-notch cleanliness and peaceful feelings."

2. Barrier Island Sanctuary Management & Education Center (Melbourne Beach, FL)

The best environmentally conscious (or "green") bathroom we visited this year, with a relaxing beach theme woven into the experience. "This bathroom has a lot of ambition and wants to be both stylish and environmentally friendly, and it pulls it off," we said in our review, "putting other high-profile locations to shame, really."

3. Pan Pacific Hotel (Singapore)

Quality is the name of the game at this luxurious stopping point, which features such high-end flourishes as walnut and veneer toilet stall doors and granite walls. "I could spend plenty of time in this place any time," we said in our review. "I look forward to my next visit."

4. Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino (Las Vegas, NV)

We visited plenty of Las Vegas bathrooms this year, and while none matched the jaw-dropping wonder of the Wynn Las Vegas bathrooms, this one, with its art nouveau decor and European feel, came closest.

5. Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando (Lost Continent Toilets) (Orlando, FL)

The best theme park bathroom we experienced this year. Clean, quiet and practically kid-free -- the fact that it's somewhat tucked away from the park's major attractions certainly helps the quality factor, we thought.

Honorable Mentions:

Pearl Restaurant (Vero Beach, FL) -- A small one-bagger located in a homey restaurant on Florida's Atlantic coast. It takes the elegance of Vegas and brings it down to the everyday level, but doesn't lose the "wow" factor in doing so.

Bicester Outlet Shopping Village (Bicester, UK) -- The best UK bathroom we visited this year. Wood walls, Gilchrist and Soames hand soap, floor-to-ceiling toilet stall doors -- why couldn't the rest of the UK toilets we experienced have been this comfortable?

The Bottom 5

1. Southwest Indian Traders (Cortez, CO)

Not so much a bathroom but a collection of shoddy parts that have been put together without any care. The walls do nothing to protect you from the wind outside (and yes, the wind will catch you where the sun doesn't shine). The visible roof rafters above house dozens of cobwebs. And not all the plumbing works. As we said in our review, "Put an outhouse in the parking lot instead -- it would actually offer more comfort."

2. Kappy’s Submarine Sandwiches (Maitland, FL)

More the setting of a horror movie than a proper bathroom, this place features lights that grow dimmer the longer you stay and a used ketchup bottle containing watery, ineffective hand soap. "This is the stuff of nightmares," we said in our review.

3. Oxford Railway Station (Oxford, England)

The worst English toilet we experienced this year -- and there were some doozies! While it seems clean on the surface, the smell inside was overpowering and nearly every toilet was filled with excrement. Worse still, an attendant stood by the whole time, doing nothing. "Just a disgusting experience," we said in our review. "I wanted to shower after leaving."

4. CVS Pharmacy, HWY 80 (Savannah, GA)

The worst-smelling bathroom we visited all year -- with a smell so foul that you start smelling it from down the hall. A popular store like this should know better.

5. Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House (Savannah, GA)

Part of Paula Deen's restaurant empire and where the Southern food queen films her Paula's Party show. The place specializes in seafood you eat with your hands, like peel-and-eat shrimp and oysters, but the bathroom doesn't have soap to clean your hands with, or towels -- just Purell and a hand drier that doesn't work. As you can imagine, the fish odor here is pretty extreme.

Honorable Mentions:

Homebase (Oxford, England) -- A home repair store where almost everything in the bathroom is out of order and covered in filth. Word to the wise: Don't touch anything!

Waffle House (Walterboro, SC) -- A notch below the typical Waffle House bathroom, with plenty of grime-covered utilities and a not-so-heavenly aroma of trash and mildew in the air.

Friday 26 December 2008

Old World Charm Gets Lost Inside Teutonic Bathroom at EPCOT's UK Pavilion

United Kingdom Pavilion Bathroom
Orlando, FL USA

Where is it?

This is pretty deep inside Disney's EPCOT theme park.

To get here, head to the United Kingdom Pavilion. Once there, look for the Rose and Crown pub, which is pretty much in the center of the pavilion. When you see it, look across the street, and you'll see a quaint little English garden set before a structure that looks a little like Windsor Castle.

There's a set of archways at the far end of the garden -- the bathrooms are inside those archways. (There's also a sign on the central street there, indicating which way the bathrooms are, as well as which way the Rose and Crown Pub is, in case you need to get back there and can't quite remember where it is.... for obvious reasons, of course.)

What's it like?

Like with the China Pavilion at EPCOT, the United Kingdom Pavilion houses a small array of structures that sum up traditional English experience for the non-initiated. There's the Tea Shoppe (notice the spelling of "Shoppe" -- doesn't that scream "English?"), the Rose and Crown Pub, a fish and chips place, some quaint gardens, windy streets reminiscent of a quaint Cotswolds village and architecture that looks like it was modeled after postcards of famous castles, like the aforementioned Windsor dwelling.

The pavilion itself makes for a nice diversion, but unlike China Pavilion, there isn't any attraction here (no movie; though there is a Beatle-mania-type show a few times a day) and no fine dining restaurant, unless you count the pub here as being fine dining. (It's got table service, and it charges $9 per beer, whereas the fish and chips place is just a fast food counter.)

The bathrooms look nice on the outside -- as said earlier, the architecture outside them is reminiscent of Windsor Castle and the like. Inside, however, they are just your standard mass market multi-person toilet -- nothing special. They're very hectic and busy too because they sit in the dead center of a busy thoroughfare between the France and Canada Pavilions, both of which have great fine dining restaurants and decent attractions to see.

Of course, given its bland interior, I can't complain on its lack of ambition as the bathroom at the Lotus Blossom Cafe in EPCOT's China Pavilion exhibited too much ambition and as a result created a somewhat unpleasant toilet environment. So there is something to be said for having a straightforward practical restroom on premises.

But at the same time you're letdown by the fact that the outside of the place has lots of personality and the inside doesn't.

Anyway, this is a long, rectangular environment. When you enter, you first face an area of sinks and counter spaces (for changing babies and such). Turn left from there and you see a long stretching room with a long row of urinals on one side and a long row of toilet stalls on the back, with the handicap stalls being in the back corner. (Why they are all the way back there, since it makes it hard to get to for anyone with disabilities, is anyone's guess?)

Regular stalls are average in size and are divided by beige metal stall walls; the urinals are separated by stainless steel dividers. Because of the shape of the place, and the fact that many people visit here, anyone in the stalls will have to endure lots of noise and activity. During my visit, I encountered lots of shouted conversations and many kids, who ran around frantically, bumping into things and having water fights. This was actually what I expected to experience at the Spiderman toilets in Super Hero Island in Islands of Adventure, to be honest -- just kind of a bathroom free for all, if you will.

The sinks, urinals and toilets all have autoflush (soap dispensers are manual, as is in all Disney parks bathrooms, it seems). This isn't a bad thing to have in such a frenetic environment. The place is brimming with spilled water and paper and other trash (even though it's frequently cleaned by the crew -- just too hard to keep tip top when this many people flush in, I guess) so the less I have to touch anything, the better.

The decor is pretty Teutonic, with an off-kilter brown and white-tile checkerboard pattern on the floor and white tiled walls with a black tile highlight. Again, nothing exciting -- pretty plain Jane, like what we saw at the Grand Canyon's Desert View bathroom or at TooJay's Original Gourmet Deli in Orlando. No bits of cozy English culture, no personality whatsoever. Soulless and bland and very hectic.

A little of that would have been great -- I'm not asking for something as eccentric as what we we saw in the bathrooms outside Westminster Abbey or Bleinhem Palace, or even something as high end classy as the majestic Lumley Castle Hotel, but at least some effort to mimic the decor of the Pavilion outside would have been nice.

Marks out of 10:

5. Would have been higher had the place not been so filled with frantic children, water, and trash and shown a little personality.

Comments to the Management:

Clearly, the cleaning schedule you've placed this place on isn't enough -- you need to double the crews here to ensure it stays clean, because it's a crowded mess as is. Also, adding some decor would soften the blow of overcrowding and messiness some. Look at what was done inside the bathrooms at the Paris Las Vegas for some inspiration, or the Lost Continent Toilet at Islands of Adventure.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Design Flaws and Offputting Colors Highlight Visit to Lotus Blossom Cafe Bathroom at Disney's EPCOT Them Park

Lotus Blossom Cafe
China Pavilion
Orlando, FL USA

Where is it?

Head to the China Pavilion so that you are passing the Norway Pavilion in the World Showcase instead of coming in from the other direction. Or, if you are coming from the other direction, just head to the part of the China Pavilion that borders on the Norway Pavilion.

Once in China, head to the side of the Pavilion that borders the Norway Pavilion (but you're still in China -- just the back border of it) and head towards the recreation of a mammoth Chinese temple there, which in itself is surrounded by a pretty pristine garden area.

Walk along that back pathway there. About 100 feet in, you'll see the semi-outdoor dining area to the Lotus Blossom Cafe. Keep going forward and you'll come to the entrance to the restaurant, . Go beyond that and you'll enter the area's shops and attractions, which are nice but not the focus here.

Once inside, go left, into the dining room, and head to the back wall of the place. Once there, you'll see a hallway opening with a blue sign above it reading, "Restrooms."

Go down that hallway (it's a pretty long one, to be honest). The first door you come to is the men's room, the second is the women's. Beyond that are supply closets and behind-the-scenes passageways for employees.

What's it like?

Design-wise, the China Pavilion is pretty impressive. The gardens are indeed immaculate, as is the faux architecture constructed here. It looks like you've stepped into a well-kept tourist site in mainland China.

The main attraction here is the CircleVision 360 movie showing the many shapes and spectacles of China's natural landscapes, which indeed is a wonderful show. Also worth seeing is the acrobatics demonstration put on here several times a day in the very front of the pavilion, which showcases some wonderful theatrics.

Each EPCOT World Showcase pavilion tends to have a casual dining spot and a high-end one. The Nine Dragons is the high end spot here, and the Lotus Blossom Cafe (as you can tell from the description above) is the casual eatery.

I should say that I did not eat here -- nor have I ever eaten here -- though the smells I walked through seemed pleasant enough. The menu, what I saw of it as I passed, appeared to be filled with the standard fast food Chinese dishes, as well as a couple of specialties. Can't say if it's any good though.

What I can say, however, is that the bathrooms are very unique. Unique in a way that reminded me of the bizarre design touches found at Bloomindale's Orlando, only just not as extreme. But like that place, the design here lacks a good deal of practicality.

Visitors here will find a decently sized square-shaped bathroom with two toilet stalls, two sinks and two urinals. Setup of those items is a bit strange, though, as it all seems to be built on a high/low principal of Feng Shui. (Note: I'm not expert in Feng Shui, but I do know it revolves around space and patterns used within that space.)

For example, it's got one urinal lowered for kiddie visitors and one up higher for adults. Perfectly normal if you think about it, because that's pretty common -- and surely not as extreme as IKEA Orlando, which has an entire corner of a bathroom lowered for kids

But then the same idea gets put on the sinks, which have one high sink and one low sink. And both sinks are part of the same counter. Again, not too bad, except that the lower one has a tendency to pool water because of its design. Double that with the fact that kids don't think about the mess they make and what you get is a near lagoon of spilled water found on the lower sink. Looks good, sure, but it's not practical. And the inclusion of automatic sinks didn't help either, if you think about it. (Many soap pumps, however.)

The toilet stalls don't follow the high/low principle, but they do adopt the large/small concept since one is a handicap stall and the other is regular. So, if you stretch the idea some, it fits as well. (Automatic flushes all around, by the way.)

Other strange design choices include a front atrium area, which like the one in Bloomindale's Orlando, just feels totally unnecessary, and the baby changing area, which has been crammed into the back corner (beside the paper towel dispenser) so that, if it's in use, it both corners the baby and parent using it (because of people coming to get towels to dry their hands -- and they'll need to after seeing that waterlogged sink) and blocks access for others to the paper towel dispenser, since no one will want to get close to the baby as its being changed. Seems like the baby changing station should be moved to the front atrium area, since that has no purpose as is.

A more dangerous design flaw can be found inside the toilet stalls themselves. The coat hook inside them has been placed next to the door lock. This means that if you're getting out, you have to avoid the coat hook otherwise you'll run right into it and hurt yourself. Not a big deal in the handicap stall, since there's more width there, but the regular stall is narrow and performing such a maneuver isn't as easy as it looks given the limited space.

And then, on top of those flaws, is the the color scheme, which sticks out quite pronouncedly here. In fact, it's so off color and clashing that you may find yourself squinting while you're inside. And it's especially bad because of the overly bright lighting used here.

Now, I should say that I'm not opposed to unique colors in a bathroom. Sometimes it even works to the bathroom's advantage, like at the Barrier Island Center in Melbourne Beach, FL or (in another direction) Bongo Java in Nashville, TN. Here, however, the desire to appear unique has backfired significantly.

The walls are covered in deep brown tiles, but the highlights are bright lime green. Very clashing. Makes it look like you stepped into an exhibition that was only partly done, if you know what I mean.

Now I know this might work in the restaurant's dining room -- and it does to an extent -- but in a more confined area, where you can't look beyond the tacky decor and onto something more worthwhile (like a garden surrounding a recreation of a Chinese temple), it feels nightmarish. (Perhaps if you'd done something unique with the lighting, like what Teremok in St. Petersburg, Russia did, it would have lifted the effect into cute novelty status, but that isn't the case, sadly.)

Odor-wise, the place isn't bad -- some urine in the air and some dankness from the water, but nothing too bad. It's kind of expected to have some stink in a theme park bathroom, after all -- that was the case with Universal Orlando Islands of Adventure, after all. Also, there was some trash on the floor, however, as well as a good amount of water around the sink area (as stated earlier).

Marks out of 10:

5. At its heart, a decent bathroom, but the design eccentricities have totally backfired here, making it somewhat unpleasant to experience.

Comments to the Management:

Change the color scheme, make the design more uniform, clean the place more regularly. Heck, if Universal Orlando Islands of Adventure can do it, why not Disney? Not sure what else can be said.

Friday 19 December 2008

State-of-the-Art Barrier Island Center Bathroom Is An Eco-Friendly Wonderland

Barrier Island Sanctuary Management & Education Center
8385 S Hwy A1A
Melbourne Beach, FL USA

Where is it?

Easy as could be to find.

From the parking lot, head into the main education center building. Once inside the front doors, you'll see a sign greeting you and pointing to the various exhibits inside, as well as to the bathrooms.

As indicated, the toilets are to your right, down a cavernous hallway with a big sign above its mouth reading, "Restrooms."

At the end of that hall is a stone tortoise sculpture hanging on the wall. The door to the men's room is to the right of the tortoise sculpture, the women's room to the left.

What's it like?

According to the place's officiate website, this is a "a modern educational facility with classrooms, an interactive exhibit room, a library, offices, auditorium, restrooms and a gift shop. The center provides a focal point for the Archie Carr Refuge and the associated barrier island by providing exhibit space, a presentation hall, and ongoing educational programs that promote stewardship of the area’s fragile natural resources."

So bottom line, the property is a nature preserve on the Atlantic coast of Florida, and the building is its exhibit hall and information center. But don't let that make it sound like it's just another science museum extension. That's hardly the case.

This place holds several unique exhibits showcasing the nature in the area. You can get a look inside salt water ecosystems, examine at how the region's subtropical climate affects plant growth, get up close and personal with many of the marine inhabitants, take some thrilling beach walks and more.

On the surface, the place feels like a neat locale for a school field trip. But it transcends the kiddie-friendly facade to become something with wider appeal. Anyone who enjoys Florida's natural beauty will enjoy this place -- because ultimately it's a celebration of Florida's nature, with plenty of hands-on experiences to be had, from cylindrical fish tanks to informative lectures to paved coastline trails that take you through mangrove fields, to name a few.

Even better: Admission is free.

And even better than all that -- believe it or not -- are the bathrooms here.

I know what you're saying: After all the national parks we've profiled here lately, and the outhouses, and other supposedly environmentally considerate toilets, how much better is this one to those?

A lot better. Simply put, this bathroom has a lot of ambition and wants to be both stylish and environmentally friendly, and it pulls it off, putting all those other high-profile locations to shame, really.

In fact, the setup and execution here are so good that it makes me want to revisit the other national parks, outhouses, and environmentally friendly locations that had first seemed successful in their green outlook (like IKEA Orlando, Nona Sushi, Whole Foods South Orlando and the lot) and re-review them, because really those are lacking the accomplishment and style found here.

Yes, it's that good here.

The design is pretty straight forward. It's a rectangular room, with all plumbing fixtures set up on the left side wall. On it, you'll fine a single sink station, two waterless urinals, and two toilet stalls (the one in the far corner being the handicap stall). On the opposite wall from those items is the hand drier and a garbage can.

The lower walls and floor are covered with slate tiles, the floor in one-foot by one-foot tiles and the walls in four-inch square tiles. Most of the tile is desert red/brown in color, though both the floor and walls house matted ocean blue tiles for highlights. The upper walls are painted beige drywall, with the tile line cut in a wave pattern. Thanks to the color scheme and wave pattern, the place immediately brings to mind visions of sandy beaches, gentle rolling waves, beached sea shells and sparkling sunlit coral, and as a result once you step in you feel amazingly relaxed. Quite an accomplishment.

Like the bathrooms at the national parks, particularly the ones at Yavapai Point and Desert View at the Grand Canyon, the upper wall across the from the fixtures has a line of windows in it, which lets in lots of natural light. Not so much that you squint at the brightness here , but enough to make the place pleasant to see. If you want more light, just turn on the switch by the main door -- in most cases, because of the bathroom's environmental stance, the lights will be off when you enter. There is a sign next to the switch asking you to turn off the lights when you leave, of course.

Because of the natural light, some of the deeper corners of the room get shadowy without the artificial lights on, but they are not so dark that you can't see what's there or not use anything (as such as the case with the Zion Canyon Main Entrance Toilets).

Beige metal dividers separate the urinals (one of which is lowered for children) and are long enough to create plenty of privacy for the user (take note, Main Street Brewery in Cortez, CO and Tamarisk Restaurant in Green River, UT.) Both urinals are of the waterless variety (like the ones found at the aforementioned IKEA Orlando, Nona Sushi, and Whole Foods South Orlando), only these have a sea shell pattern to them instead of being just plain Jane.

The same beige separator wall material makes up the toilet stall walls, creating comfortable, spacious sectionals that are both comfortable and functional. The toilets themselves are the least environmentally friend item in the place -- just standard white porcelain commodes with manual flushes. But I also like the fact that they're homey commodes, not the industrial ones you usually see in such places. It keeps the place honest, for some reason, and works well within the design. Auto-flush would have been a nice touch, but then again this place isn't about wow factor, it's about a meeting place for style and practicality, and that's achieved here with great success.

The sink is also not very flashy -- standard white unit with small mirror overhead -- but it's automatic and functional. Again, that works fine, given the environment. Strangely, there's no mounted soap dispenser here or in the handicap stall -- instead, there's a bottle of hand soap available. Not a big deal but something to consider in the future -- and perhaps the only shortcoming here, though hardly a hangup.

As you can imagine, the place is immaculately clean. Nary a drop of water or a bit of stray paper on the floor or vanities. Better still is a beach-like scent is pumped into the air, lending a strong freshness to the room. Very impressive.

Even the trashcan, that large black canister, is somehow given a sense of stateliness, thanks to the spotlessness of the place.

And I like that the walls are covered with signs offering various eco-friendly tips, which range from the obvious (turn off the lights before you leave) to the interesting ("Things You Can Do To Protect Our Oceans").

Taken as a whole, this is the pinnacle of eco-friendly bathrooms and should be what all other eco-friendly bathrooms should strive towards.

Marks out of 10:

10. A wonderful experience through and through.

Comments to the Management:

You've attained near-perfection, now reach further by adding auto-flush toilets and mounted soap dispensers. Though at the same time I kind of like the homey charm you have without it. Great job.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Bizarre Bloomie's Bathroom In Dire Need of Urinal (Among Other Things)

Bloomingdale's Orlando
3rd Floor Toilet
4150 Conroy Road
Orlando, FL USA

Where is it?

Head to the third floor, then follow the signs to the gift wrap counter.

On the way, you'll pass through the kitchen/housewares department, then the glassware/china department, then the oriental rug department -- but not the mattress department, which is one department too far. So if you find yourself surrounded by mattresses and hanging pen lights, turn around and go back. You've passed it.

Near the gift wrap area, you'll see a sign pointing you both to the gift wrap area, elevators and restrooms. This sign is somewhat misleading, as it makes it look like all three areas are located in the same part of the store.

Well, they kind of are, but they kind of aren't as well. At the mouth of the area, the elevators will be straight ahead of you, the gift wrap counter will be to your left (down a little hallway) and the restrooms will be down a hallway to your right.

That hallway, coincidentally, is lined with small black and white photographs of seashores and such -- though the beige colors and marble tile work of that corridor do little to evoke the spirit of the sea.

That's just one of the many strange design choices to be had in this restroom experience.

Anyway, head down that hallway. You'll round a corner and come face to face with the bathrooms.

What's it like?

It's Bloomie's.

That means it's a huge department store packed with the latest fashions, hi-tech gadgetry, stylish design, airy aromas and tons of NYC socialite pretension.

For a way of life, at least superficially speaking, it's a bit much for Central Florida (though considering how many NYC transplants live in Florida, perhaps it's just an extension) but as a store, it's pretty sweet. Service is great, and those who are lucky enough to afford being "black card" members enjoy a slew of perks, like private sales, special discounts and more.

Better still: The place is pretty impressive to walk through, as each turn reveals more high-priced temptations, and each one seems to call out to you, begging to be purchased, or at least sampled and then pondered. Do I need this? Not really, but....

Furthermore, the store is a perfect fit for the Mall at Millenia (which has some truly wonderful toilets in its food court), with its stylish architecture, cliques of beautiful people and collection of chic stores and high-end eateries, like McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant, Macy's, Pottery Barn Kids and more.

But given all the attention given to floor displays and personally addressing customers, one has to wonder why that mindset wasn't put into practice when it came to designing these third floor bathrooms.

Not that they're bad, mind you. Rather, they're just downright strange and confounding. And not in a straightforward manner.

They look innocuous at first, and make a pretty harmless initial impression (upon first glance, you'll think they were just a glossier version of the Macy's toilets we visited), but spend more than a minute there and you start to wonder what exactly is going on here.

For example, this is a small chamber, with a single-sink vanity and two toilet stalls. That's it. No urinals (for a two-bagger men's room, that's strange), just two stalls, one small one and one large one for handicap.

The handicap stall is so large, it takes up between 1/3 to 1/2 of the entire bathroom itself. It's larger than the ones seen at the Main Street Brewery in Cortez, CO or the Kolob Canyons Visitors Center toilet -- and both of those had huge stalls.

But the stall itself is also around a sharp corner that looks like it would be pretty hard to navigate through in a wheelchair. Strange.

Another example: The vanity is made of single, sleek granite slab and has a well-lit and clean mirror mounted behind it, but it only has one sink. So that means you have this long, stretching counter with a tiny sink at the end.

Quite a waste of space.

There's more wasted space in the front of the restroom. After you enter from the main door you come into a little front room that serves no purpose except to showcase a lone photograph of an old car (crookedly hung too, it should be noted). It's not that good of a photograph, I must admit (when I think art and bathrooms, I think of the wonderful Mansion on Forsyth Park in Savannah, GA, not this.), but worse still is that this section of the bathroom seems to be a thematic extension of the hallway outside, which also contains some so-so photographs. Note to designers: Those photos aren't memorable enough to merit a reminder of them once we have walked past them.

Also, why bother is a greeting chamber in a men's room? Men just want to do their business in comfort and be on their way -- they don't need a place in the bathroom to chat it up, you know?

The sink is a shiny chrome Kohler Touchless model, but the sensor is mounted so high on the unit, and the water flow is so strong from the faucet, that it's impossible to keep the water in the sink while washing your hands -- just sprays the water all over and makes a mess of that long, long counter.

To the right of that are two paper towel dispensers, one high and one low. But the high one is stuffed into a deep corner of the place, making it near-impossible to reach easily and the low one is so low that I imagine even short people will have to crouch to use it. (They're about 3 feet apart too, which makes it feel like the designer was pulling a fast one on everyone who entered, no matter his height.)

The toilet stalls themselves (remember, no urinals here) are also a little weird. The smaller stall is a tight fitting place with a beige metal stall door around it. You really feel like you're stuck in a corner while in here. This is also the only place to have a good pee because you don't really want to go into the handicap stall in case someone needs it -- which in turn means that if you need to pee and someone's in the regular stall, you have to wait until that person's done.

The brackets fastening the privacy walls to the wall -- they have a pink thread coming out of them. Why? (Strangest wall fastening I've seen since my trip to the Venetian in Las Vegas and its poor attempt to cover a hole in the wall.)

Also, the stainless steel toilet paper holder here houses rolls of TP in two directions -- one vertical and one horizontal. Why vertical? Is that supposed to appear stylish? Kind of silly looking if you ask me.

If that weren't enough, there were dribbles of pee on the seat (more proof that a urinal is needed here -- you could put it in the front area, you know) and the box of seat liners stuffed into the top of the TP compartment was empty and mangled to bits. It looked like someone had come in to poo, saw the dribbles of pee on the seat, went looking for a seat liner, saw the box of liners was empty, and then tried to make the box into a liner without much success. What else could he do? Go to the handicap stall? Clearly, a urinal is needed here!

Then again, the handicap stall isn't much better. While the toilet here was clean, the white porcelain sink next to the toilet looked a bit high to grant easy wheelchair access, as did the soap dispenser hanging to its right.

Worse still, the paper towel dispenser was located across the stall from the sink. That means that if I were in a wheelchair (for example) and came in here to relieve myself, I would wash my hands on one end and then have to cross the stall to dry my hands. Where is the sense in this?

On a different note: The place was pretty clean and smelled very flowery from the air freshener pumped into the place. But then again, the pee on the toilet seat and lack of seat liners hints that this place isn't cleaned as often as you'd think it was.

Marks out of 10:

5. Too many strange design touches, most of them impractical and borderline offensive.

Comments to the Management:

Is this place supposed to be some sort of setting for a practical joke? It makes no sense. It's disorienting. Its poorly designed. Its got too much wasted space. Its practical elements are anything but practical. Leaving here, I thought I was on Candid Camera. Is that the intention here?

As for what to fix: First, start making better use of the space you have. Put two sinks in the vanity, not one. Place a urinal in here. Get rid of the sitting room. Fix the paper towel dispensers in places where people can actually reach them. Ensure the supplies (TP, seat liners) are in supply. Move the items in the handicap stall around so that they're not on opposite ends of the stall and a burden to get to, and lose the sharp corner going into the handicap stall, as it's a bit difficult to maneuver. Poor poor poor.

Friday 12 December 2008

Clever Cruisers Cafe Bathroom Brings Together the Open Road and the Commode

Cruisers Cafe 66
233 W Route 66
Williams, AZ 86046

Where is it?

Standing at the front entrance, with your back to the door, you'll see a small dining area in front of you, a larger dining area to your right, a gift shop to your left and a bar area ahead of you, elevated some from the rest of the place.

Go to the right, into the main dining room (going up a step up to do so -- that step has a novelty road sign beside it, indicating the step-up, which hints that people have tripped on it enough to warrant a novelty sign about it be placed there). Once there, look for Goodrich Tires sign on an outlaying wall above a table and a Route 101 road sign to the right of that.

Behind the outlaying wall is a corridor (between the Goodrich sign and the Route 101 sign). The bathrooms are down that corridor, clearly marked.

What's it like?

This friendly tavern/cafe sits at the intersection of Route 64, which heads to the Grand Canyon, and the famous Route 66, which crosses the U.S. and is a popular byway for road travelers. The business itself is in the small town of Williams, which is about an hour south of the Grand Canyon.

Clearly, being on that famous roadway has inspired this eatery, as the this looks and feels more like a garage converted into a restaurant and all the decor here is all about being on the open road. Roadster-, biker- and driving-themed items pack the place, including a bevvy of road signs, faux advertisements for various car-based goods (like the aforementioned Goodrich sign), and lots of clever car-based twists (like the six-foot tool box used to store the silverware).

Of course, taken at face value, it's just a theme restaurant with a car fetish. But thankfully the food and drink are wonderful and well-priced (and enormously portioned), making it a worthwhile stop if you're heading to Las Vegas from the Grand Canyon, as it's right on your way.

The menu consists of several diner favorites, like burgers and chicken and such, but they are prepared with much care and devotion to quality -- and you sense that upon the first bite. The burger is a mammoth half pound of fresh beef and taste gloriously of the grill it was cooked on. Salads highlight the freshness of the ingredients and quality of the house-made dressings. And the house specialty, the BBQ beef short ribs, are slow cooked on a smoker sitting out out on the front patios; they are succulent, juicy and enormous -- and smothered in a sticky-sweet sauce. Sheer heaven.

In addition, the eatery sits next to the Grand Canyon Brewery, a small micro-brew that produces six delicious beers, and proudly serves those concoctions on tap. Beers range from light and fruity wheats to crisp pale ales to hearty stouts. Though the brews are somewhat indicative of classic American west microbrews (lots of hops, origins in traditional German brewing styles), they also carry a sweetness to them and lighter body than you might expect, especially in the stout. Definitely worth a try if you're here.

Also worth checking out are the cleverly designed bathrooms here, which extend the car theme of the dining room to even greater heights.

These are one-room, one-bagger chambers, with one sink, one toilet and one urinal (in the men's room) -- each your standard white porcelain model. The floors are a regular grey tile (as seen countless places, like the Tamarisk Restaurant in Green River, UT and various Sam's Club wholesale stores).

But in addition those standard foundation elements are many other goodies to see and play with.

Like the dining room, the walls are covered with car memorabilia, framed photographs of classic roadsters and various hubcaps. The toilet stall is wrapped in a heavy rubber curtain, like the old stalls used by mechanics back in the day, and a pickup cargo bay (just the metal) of an old Ford pickup.

Yes, that's right: The actual cargo bay from the truck has been removed from the junky old car, repainted and stuck to the wall here to serve as the hard wall to the toilet stall. Very clever.

A similar trick has been pulled by the urinal, which for a privacy barrier has the removed door of a car. A nice touch.

Indeed, one of the most fun toilet experiences you'll have -- and the funkiest bathroom we've seen since our visit to Bongo Java in Nashville, TN. (Though I imagine if the place is crowded and you really have to go, those many distractions and decorations may hold up the line some.)

The place was pretty clean for the most part too, which I imagine can be difficult in a place like this, which is very kiddie friendly. Let's not forget how horrid the kiddie-friendly toilets at Island of Adventure's Toon Lagoon were -- and they were cleaned regularly by an army of staff. So I have to commend them further on that, since the place was pretty busy on my visit and clearly the toilet have been used several times before my entry.

Marks out of 10:

8. Just a really fun restaurant and bathroom.

Comments to the Management:

Not sure what to recommend. Clearly, you've gone out of way to make the bathroom fun -- and that it is!