Monday 29 September 2008

ULTA Toilet Offers Men A Place of Quiet Respite -- As Long As They Don't Enter the Store Alone

520 N. Orlando Avenue
Winter Park, FL USA

Where is it?

From the front entrance, head to the back right corner of the store. Once there, look for an area that looks like a hair salon, complete with comfy-looking chairs set beneath those domed hair driers and reclining chairs that lean back into those sinks that wash your hair before or after a hair cut. Ironically, I found no patrons in these seats (at least not on my visit), so I'm not sure if it's in operation, but still, the set up is there.

Once there, look to the back right corner of the store and you'll see the doors to the bathrooms.

What's it like?

ULTA, for those who don't know (and I didn't know until I was taken inside) is a makeup megastore, with aisles filled with cosmetics, hair care products and other beauty-based items.

Given that setup, as you can imagine, the place caters primarily to female clients and the only men who enter are (most likely) ones who have been dragged along to the place by the significant others (which was my case).

Naturally, as most men will agree, a trip to a makeup store isn't exactly a fun way to spend an afternoon. But in terms of bathroom visits, I have to give this place a high marks, except that it's also not a place I would go into without a significant other, if you catch my drift. A single woman going in to use the bathroom is one thing. A single man is another -- it's just plain weird. Though I suppose if I can go into Pottery Barn Kids by myself to use the toilet, I can certainly consider using the one here.... Right? (Well, maybe I need to think about that first.....)

Anyway, as a bathroom, this isn't a bad location. It's a simple one-bagger, a bit oversized (though not as large as the toilet at Pearl, Golden Krust, Famous Phil's Cheesesteaks, or Nona Sushi, among others). At one end is the toilet (with a cleaning drain in front of it), and opposite that is the sink station and paper towel dispenser. No urinal. No wall decor.

The upper walls are white and the lower walls and floor are covered in off-white tile. The sink is stainless steel but the vanity is off-white fiberboard. The garbage can is set beneath the vanity counter and you have to throw your towels and waste through a little hole in the counter, which is familiar but still kind of neat, since it seems like they're trying to do more with the space than what they have to. Except that from the front you can see below the counter and can see some of the cleaning materials and the plunger there.

Not sure why it bothers me, but for some reason I just have a problem viewing cleaning materials in toilets like this. Seems sloppy, for some reason. Not that bad here, but still.....

The toilet is white porcelain and the TP holder beside it is off white and plastic, holding two monster rolls and with a decorative design on the front.

Other than that, there isn't much here except for a lone flimsy hook hanging from the wall opposite the toilet. Why this wasn't attached to the door, I'm not sure, since that seems a better place for it. But it was there and a bit odd-looking.

Also, when I walked in, the place was dark and I had to turn on the light, and it took a little while to illuminate fully, which meant I had to stand in a very clinical-feeling flickering light for a few minutes. Kind of had that "Saw" feel to it, if you know what I mean.

As you can imagine, I was the only guy in the store during my visit, so I experienced a peaceful, wonderful, unhurried time inside. I came out smiling. Can't say the same about the ladies' room, since I didn't visit it, I'm afraid.

Marks out of 10:

8. Not a very flashy place, but if you're the only guy in the store and you're there with your significant other, it's worth a leisurely stop. Bring reading material if you want -- no one will know or hurry you.

Comments to the Management:

Would be nice to see some decor on the walls and have that hook moved and have the front of the vanity covered up so we don't see what's under the sink and fix that slowly brightening light, but these are small quibbles compared to the privacy and peace the places provides the male visitor.

Friday 26 September 2008

Oy Vey! Too Jay's Forgettable Toilets Don't Say Much About Deli Culture

TooJay's Original Gourmet Deli
Colonial MarketPlaza
2400 East Colonial Drive
Orlando, FL USA

Where is it?

This eatery is designed like a flat rectangle. It's narrow and long and thin. So from the front entrance, head left, towards the hostess stand (you'll pass a long deli counter in the process), turn right after the hostess stand and head into a hallway along the back wall (only about 15 feet because of the place's narrow design). The toilets are there, in that hallway.

What's it like?

This Florida-based deli chain aims to impart the look, feel and taste of the classic New York City deli to transplants in the Sunshine State. For the most part, it succeeds.

Service is friendly and fast. Prices affordable. And sandwiches are stuffed thick with various meats, like its Reuben or pastrami on rye. Salads are fresh. Breakfasts are filling and well-prepared. Deserts are delicious. And you can get Dr. Browns! If only the place served kosher meats like the places up north, though....

The dining room isn't anything flashy -- and in a way looks like a hotel lobby (what with the tacky green carpeting and bland wood-panel walls) that just happens to have various deli-based memorabilia hanging around. Tables are classic generic faux wood cafe tables, as well as some booths. It's a large dining room that also feels small, creating a somewhat noisy environment, which I guess is exactly what you want from a deli-based experience. (Though compared with Florida's other deli stalwarts, I have to say the dining room here lacks a bit of panache, like what you'd see in the homey grunginess of Flakowitz Bagel Inn in Boca Raton or the stylish branded sheen of Roasters 'n' Toasters in North Miami Beach.)

The bathrooms are pretty Teutonic and straight forward -- more in common with what I found at the Aloma Cinema Grill in Winter Park than at, say, Flakowitz Bagel Inn or Roasters 'n' Toasters. Painted white concrete on the walls, black linoleum on the floor, concrete walls with beige trim dividing the walls and urinal chambers.

The vanity at the front of the bathroom has two sinks, a black granite counter top, some nice matted metal faucets and a stretch mirror. Again, pretty blah, even though I liked the look of the faucets.

Smell-wise, this was pretty non-existent. It wasn't too dirty of a place either, except that the vanity had a good amount of spilled water on it and the handicap toilet (there are two stalls here) had an overstuffed garbage can and some of the paper towels from it had slipped out onto the floor.

Marks out of 10:

6. Not bad, but very bland.

Comments to the Management:

Flakowitz Bagel Inn has grungy charm and Roasters 'n' Toasters has style. Don't you think you could do something to jazz it up in here? Even some wall hangings would help!

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Seen One Sam's Club Toilet, Seen Them All

Sam's Club
7701 East Colonial Drive
Orlando, FL USA

Where is it?

Enter the building through the main entrance, take an immediate right, and then walk along the front wall, past the front displays and the snack counter, to the back corner there. The toilets will be about 100 feet past the snack counter.

What's it like?

This is our second visit to a Sam's Club bathroom (the first being the Sam's Club in Melbourne, FL) and really I can't see much difference between the two I've visited, feature-wise or design-wise, outside of the fact that this one is a bit smaller than the Melbourne location. An ironic twist, really, since this warehouse store is actually bigger in size than the store in Melbourne. Why that is, I can't even begin to speculate.

Anyway, like that location, this is a boxy environment with gray tiles on the floor and off-white tile on the walls. Both were a little scruffy and worn down but nothing too impossible to deal with.

There are three toilet stalls here, with the back one being the handicapped one. The toilets are white porcelain, each a little lower to the ground than what I would have liked (not as low as the DeSoto Hilton toilets in Savannah, GA, but not too far off). They have automatic flushes, gray dividers that match the floor tiles and Teutonic plastic toilet paper holders.

For the most part, they were clean, though there was some detectable grunge on the grout and some dribbled water on the floor around them. Everything was in working order in the stalls, except the middle stall, whose automatic flush wasn't in operation, as indicated by the sign above the toilet reading, "MANUAL FLUSH USE HANDLE!"

Opposite the stalls is a large vanity area with a 10-foot-plus stretch mirror (no frame) fixed to the wall and a plastic trough-like sink (same style as what we saw in the Melbourne location) which has sensor-driven faucets set above a number of pull-outs in the trough (you stick your hand under and three weak streams of water hit your hand). The sink trough, like the toilets, was also a bit lower than I would have liked it to be.

No automatic soap dispensers and instead atop the sink are various pumps of hand soap (again, like the Melbourne location). Though, it should be noted that there is a proper soap dispenser fixed to the wall to the right of the sink, but it was empty and looked like it hadn't been used in ages.

A steel towel dispenser and two hand dryers hang on the wall to the left of the sink area, as does a baby-changing station. To the right of the sink are two urinals, one low and one high, with a gray divider in between. There was a sign in front of the urinals for a wet floor -- I'm thinking there's some leaking issues (both from the pipes and the people visiting it) there.

Like the Melbourne location, the place is Teutonic and cold, but it's also functional. But unlike the Melbourne location, this one isn't put together with the same solidness. As mentioned earlier, the place feels worn down and pieced together a bit cheaply (not as bad as the Babys R Us toilets we recently visited, but not far off).

The place had a slight smell of urine, but nothing terrible. One question I had with it though was the wired plug I found below the handicap stall sink. Why was it there? What did it connect to? I have no idea. I just seemed weird, seeing it there, and I wondered how many sparks would fly if/when that sink overflowed with water.

Marks out of 10:

5. Same features as the Sam's Club we visited in Melbourne, FL, but it's smaller, not as clean and very worn down.

Comments to the Management:

Place needs a good sprucing up, as well as some updating. Time to really polish those tiles, get the toilets in working order, fix the leaks and put some water pressure behind those automatic sinks. Also, couldn't hurt to hide the wiring below the sink in the handicap stall -- just looks dangerous, hanging out there like that.

Friday 12 September 2008

Yikes! Shoddy, Cheap Construction Makes Babys R Us Toilet Feel Like My First College Apartment -- Yes, It's That Bad!


Where is it?

This is an enormous warehouse store filled with shelves of merchandise and long-stretching displays. Also on hand are back-of-the-store facilities catering to new mothers, such as baby-changing rooms and nursing room.

Lucky for us, the changing and nursing rooms are located in the same area as the toilets. Just head to the far back left corner of the warehouse and you'll spot the toilets. They're down a purple hallway that has some vending machines at its start.

Not sure why there are vending machines there -- perhaps the employee break room is nearby? Or perhaps the majority of people passing here are hungry from the long trek it takes to get here? Or perhaps the place caters to a large subculture of people who like to eat chips and pretzels the minute the finish doing their business or feeding or changing their babies?

What's it like?

The sales floor to this mammoth warehouse isn't anything flashy, but it doesn't feel especially cheap either. Rather, it's a run-of-the-mill retail space, filled with easily collapsing shelves, broad floor displays and little enclaves here and there. Think of Best Buy, only with nothing but baby furniture, clothes, food and such.

I can't complain on the size of the place, because I expected the store to be overrun with babies and their crying (clearly, as you can tell, I'm not a parent), but the size of the joint allow someone without a baby (like myself, who was there as part of a group with a baby) break away from the ogling and cooing and actually have some non-baby-minded time for myself.

Note: If you find yourself in a similar situations, may I suggest settling into one of those nursing rockers for a spell. Man, they are comfortable and soothing!

Anyway, at one point, the baby in my group needed feeding and changing and the mother and baby and everyone else rumbled to the back of the store to help with the proceedings. We asked a clerk where the baby stations where and she told us (which is how we found the toilets) and we slipped back into the purple hallway and let the mother and father take care of the baby (change her first, then feed her) in this closet-like room that reminded me more of those set of computer cubicle stations you see in airports for traveling businessmen than baby changing stations, but anyway.....

While there, I decided it was a prime opportunity to visit the toilets, figuring they would have to be pretty tip top because the place catered to babies and babies always needed clean, sturdy environments around them to avoid sickness and such. Also, given that most baby stores (like make-up stores or hair supply stores) are women-based, I figured the men's room would be a hidden treasure.

Well, imagine my surprise when I stumbled into this poorly pieced together ramshackle of a bathroom. Clearly, this may be the finest example of a cheaply put together toilet I've ever seen. I think there is more money put into my last meal at Taco Bell than what's put into the materials and construction composing this spot.

The walls here are painted yellow drywall, not tile, and the floor is gray linoleum -- not even that crappy gray tile we've seen at so many places (such as the New York Toilets at Universal Studios). Not that I have anything against painted walls and linoleum (World Market Orlando is like that and is a perfectly serviceable toilet), but the paint job here looked like it'd been done in a matter of minutes (lots of places had bleed over streaks) and the floor looks like it was laid out without looking for air pockets or tight seals to the walls. Just shoddy.

That shoddiness extends to just about every other facet of the bathroom. The two-sink vanity features lots of cracks in the sealant, a non-working soap dispenser (sitting next to an empty bottle of hand soap, no less), cheap fiberboard counters and a mirror that looked like it was being held to the wall by only one or two nails.

In fact, everything on the walls in the bathroom looked like it was ready to fall down, from the flimsy looking handicap supports in the back stall to the very unsturdy-looking fold-down baby changing tables at the front of the room (and why would you use that when the official baby-changing stations are right down the hall?) to the paper towel dispensers, that looks like they might fall from the wall the instant you depressed the crank. The whole place looks and feels like a cheap college apartment's kitchen, if you think about it.

The white porcelain urinals and toilets (one urinal and two stalls, with the back one being the handicap) were your standard set. Clean, but also somewhat worn down. The stall dividers were white but the one to the left of the urinal was a bit wobbly when touched. The urinal was un-flushed when I found it and filled with pee, which lent a slight aroma to the air.

The stalls themselves were dirty. The smaller one had a huge mound of toilet paper stashed behind it for some reason -- either a leak or some small child having too much fun or some sort of evidence-hiding thingamajig.

The larger one had a very sterile feel to it and had an air freshener tab, broken into two pieces, sitting on the floor to the side of the toilet. While it wasn't too smelly in here, I wonder what sort of force it took to drop that tab to the ground and have it fall apart like that -- and from the looks of it, it looked like it'd been there a long time.

At the front of the bathroom, by the entrance, is a purple door (the purple was close to the same color of purple I found at the wonderful London Eye ticket office toilets, coincidentally speaking) with a key code lock on it and a sign above reading "Associates Only." I'm thinking that's a storage closet, but upon further reflection I wonder (given the vending machines nearby) if it might also be an entrance into the employee break room. Given the cheap construction of the bathroom, I wouldn't be surprised it the supply room and break room were one in the same.

On the floor, to the left of the "Associates Only" door was a stack of four boxes, each wrapped in plastic. On most days, I would say that these were simply items that needed to be put into the storage closet there (we witnessed a similar sight at the horrid CVS toilets just outside of Savannah, GA). But again, given the place's shoddy construction, I wouldn't be surprised if I found out the boxes there were actually responsible for holding up the wall.

Marks out of 10:

3. Sure, it's somewhat clean and quiet, but it feels so cheap that you think the whole place will fall down upon you the minute you sit on the toilet.

Comments to the Management:

How about including some quality ingredients here? Or at least giving your decorator a chance to look over the place and make some necessary add-ons so it doesn't look as cheap. I've seen wet cardboard boxes with more structural integrity!

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Return Visit to Lexus of Orlando Toilets Shows Much Improvement

Lexus of Orlando
Service Department
305 N Semoran Blvd
Winter Park, FL USA

NOTE: This is our second review of this toilet. Earlier this year, a representative of the business contacted us and asked us to re-review this location, citing that during our "initial visit we [the dealership] were still working out the logistics of our new Service facility." This second review accommodates that request.

For those interested, our original review can be read here.

Where is it?

The location of the toilets has not moved since our last visit. To quote our previous review, the location of the toilets is as follows:

From the main entrance: Head in through the main doors, go around the cashier desk located in the center of the lobby, past the classy-looking cafe, and walk towards the drop-off entrance. Before you get to the doors, look left and you'll see the bathrooms.

From the drop-off entrance: Pass through the double doors leading to the customer lounge, cashier and cafe and look to your immediate right. The bathrooms are there.

What's it like?

While the setup hasn't change much since the last time we were here, all the amenities are now in tip-top working order and impressive to behold.

The service facility itself is top-notched, filled with wide spaces and plenty of distractions. Most notable are the three waiting rooms, which include a large TV lounge with two flat screen televisions, a waiting room for kids and a waiting room for people who prefer to wait for their cars in silence (which I found to be a nice touch, since I had to endure my visit with a bunch of Florida Gators fans, who were watching the game and cheering quite earnestly as their cars were being fixed....).

In addition, there are a handful of cars set out for exploration, as you would find in any dealership showroom (except the dealers aren't here, so it's not as pressure-filled) and a cafe at the center serving free coffee and tea, as well as slices of sandwich wraps to visitors (additional items can be ordered at a cost).

The bathrooms also have the same setup: To quote our earlier review of this location once again, "This is a classy, debonair-looking public bathroom that's covered in tan-colored marble tiles and understated decor like fake flowers that look real and framed pictures of landscapes and other serene scenes....

"The decor gives the place a feel of cool isolation and makes you feel miles away from the service area and garage, which are essentially right outside. The thick, black-metal stall dividers and doors further the fortress-like feel, and the stately automatic faucets, soap dispensers and towel dispensers are just icing on the cake."

That still applies this time around. Though, I must admit that on a scale of Lexus dealership bathroom extravagance, I still have to give Johnson Lexus of Raleigh, NC a leg up because its stall barriers were made of marble and wood -- it's just more elegant, I'm afraid. Though at the same time I do like the way the black barriers contrast with the beige marble around it surely adds a classy air that reminded me some of the touches found at the Bellagio toilets in Las Vegas, just on a smaller scale (strange how many toilets now remind me of that hotel's bathrooms...... like the recently reviewed toilet at Pearl, for example).

Last time there, we found one urinal and one toilet out of order and perhaps complained a little too aggressively on that remark for the sake of humor. This time around, everything's in tip top shape and looks brand new.

Other things I liked were the automatic faucets and soap pumps at the vanity (which is nice and wide and spacious) and the wicker baskets used for the keeping and disposing of its thick-ply paper towels (also seen at Pearl, coincidentally).

Cleanliness-wise: For the most part, I found the toilets here to be spotless and spot-on, save for the handicap stall. I'm not sure if it was the time of my visit or something else, but the stall (which sits at the very back of the bathroom) was a bit of a mess.

First of all, I found flecks of toilet paper on the floor beside the toilet. A common find in some bathrooms, as seen in our recent reviews of the Central Florida Zoo and some of the toilets at Islands of Adventure, though I must say that I didn't expect it here.

Secondly, I found a magazine stuffed into the crevasse between the support beam and the toilet paper holder -- clearly someone had just finished a long sit before my entrance. (Kudos on the clean air, by the way.) I don't mind reading material being in the bathroom, but it would be nicer if it were contained in a front area, like another wicker basket, so the visitor here doesn't get sloppy seconds, if you know what I mean.

Thirdly, and more distressing that the previous comments, was the tube of Fixodent I found sitting on the handicap stall's soap dispenser, by the stall's sink area. I guess I understand why it brought there in the first place, and certainly that's not a problem, but why was it left there and not moved to the lost and found? I must admit that this is the oddest tube finding I've seen in a bathroom since that tube of foot cream experience at Nile Ethiopian Restaurant in Orlando's I-Drive area.

Also an odd note: The handicap stall of this dealership's bathroom and the main vanity of the Johnson Lexus dealership bathroom both use the same type of soap dispenser -- those metal hard boxes fitted into the wall. Interested to know why, if anyone has any insights.

Finally, I was told by a companion that the women's bathroom (only the men's was reviewed here) was very impressive, with lounging seats and other luxury amenities. I'll try to see if she'll write a review for us, so we can give the full scoop, but until then we'll have to rely on her brief description to see us through.

Marks out of 10:

8. Would have been a 9 were it not for that handicap stall. Sorry.

Comments to the Management:

You're almost there, in my opinion. Just keep a watchful eye out for tubes of Fixodent and other mis-thrown items in that handicap stall and I think you've got it. (And thanks for giving us a chance to re-review your location.)

Monday 8 September 2008

Homespun Elegance Highlights Toilet Experience at Pearl

2855 Ocean Dr.
Vero Beach, FL USA

Where is it?

A little hard to find. The interior of this restaurant twists and turns a bit -- and also includes an al fresco area. Best bet to find the toilets is to do the following:

From the main entrance, face the back wall. Then head to the right, through the front part of the dining room and towards the windows along the north wall (the outdoor seating area is on the other side of them).

Once you reach the side wall, turn left, towards the back of the restaurant. You'll see a hallway open up there with a sign above it -- essentially a framed piece of embroidery -- reading, "Rest Rooms."

What's it like?

This cozy eatery, located near the coast on Vero Beach's upscale island community, is a modest establishment filled with sophisticated charms and a down-to-earth spirit. It's one of those places that looks chic on the outside and inside but soon loses that facade and opens up a very friendly, comfortable demeanor that welcomes all.

The interior is filled with wood tables, red walls, and some knickknacks on the walls -- a design concept that extends the place's sophisticated-yet-homey nature.

The menu has some serious gourmet aspirations, with prices to boot, though I must say I did not eat dinner or lunch here. Rather, I ate breakfast. It included a large selection of expected choices, from omelets to pancakes and everything in between. But it also offered some unique twists on standard favorites. The Overstuffed Breakfast Croissant, for example, piled an egg (I asked for over easy instead of an omelet, which is what the menu suggested), bacon and cheese on a huge, flaky croissant, making it an delectable mess. The House Special Omelet was equally flavorful, filling its eggs with shrimp, crab meat and artichoke.

The toilets edge more towards the place's sophisticated nature than its homey side. Not that I found anything wrong with that. The walls here are covered in beige patterned marble tile, giving the single-serve chamber an elegant feel that made me first think of the toilets I experienced at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Not quite there, but not too far off for a uni-chamber.

This is a roomy environment as well, with about 10 feet separating the door and the back wall, though its not excessively roomy, like the facilities at Golden Krust, Famous Phil's Cheesesteaks, or Nona Sushi. At this size, you can marvel at the small add-ons, like the pedestal beside the toilet that holds the air freshener (we've seen this concept pulled off at other places, like at Hale Groves in Vero Beach and Soho South Cafe in Savannah, but not as successfully) or the wicker basket set out for the thick-ply paper towels (very night, simple touch, even though I still give precedence to the J.W. Marriott Grand Lakes in Orlando's toilets on this add-on).

The fixtures themselves are nothing special: White porcelain sink, toilet and urinal, though like the toilets at the wonderful Sensi or Okada in Las Vegas the pale tile backdrop somehow manages to frame these items as decorative pieces instead of merely functional pieces. I also liked the sink, which was a bit shorter than average and had a pretty bronze faucet atop it that looked like an old-fashioned spigot.

Marks out of 10:

9. A very classy, sophisticated one-bagger. Very well put together.

Comments to the Management:

All I can think of to improve the situation would be to add some decoration to the walls. But then that might ruin the beautiful simplicity here....