Thursday 30 April 2009

Restroom at Flame Tree Restaurant in Animal Kingdom is Wonderful, But Watch Out for the Birds On the Way Over

Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Conservation Station Bathroom
660 W. Savannah Circle
Lake Buena Vista, FL USA

Where is it?

From the order counter, cross the main walkway in front of you and enter the restaurant's outdoor seating area, located across the way. Go through the sea of tables and gazebos there, walking all the while to the part of the dining room that's furthest away from the counter. (There are well-placed signs set up, leading you to the bathrooms, so it's not hard to find.)

Eventually you will veer around the back of a building and to the left, where you will see a bunch of Asian/Aztec-like ruins surrounding the entrance to the bathroom.

What's it like?

The smells of barbecue suckered me into this place.

Located in between the Dinoland U.S.A. area of Animal Kingdom and the Tree of Life, the park's central attraction, Flame Tree Grill is just a typical fast food counter-service dining spot serving barbecue, chicken and a small assortment of sandwiches.

But the park seems to pipe in the smell of BBQ into the area around the restaurant (or maybe the kitchen had fans coming out of it and pointed in our direction), making it all but impossible for anyone walking by to not think about sinking his or her teeth into some succulent BBQ.

Needless to say, I was one of its suckers. After a few hours of schlepping around the park, I found myself starving and the smells of the BBQ from this place seemed more like a beacon of joy than anything else when I passed. I gave in, ordered up a plate of ribs and chicken and took them to the outdoor seating area across the way, where I tucked in and -- ironically enough -- had to fend off a slew of birds (including ducks, gulls and a few other species) while eating. Apparently, the birds get fed so often by fellow diners that they are comfortable enough to come up to your table and snatch the food right from your plate. Talk about adventure! (And more on those birds later.....)

Anyway, what's annoying is that the BBQ isn't all that great. Not terrible (the chicken that came with the meal was pretty dry, the ribs okay, but the sauces were decent, especially their fruitier, less-spicy variety) but not nearly as good as what you think you'll be getting when you first smell it cooking from down the way. Perhaps it's because it's hard to eat it warm while you're finding a seat in the place's overcrowded dining area, or perhaps its because it's hard to eat when you're surrounded by birds. (I'll opt for the Texas-style 'cue at Cecil's next time.)

As you can imagine, after a heavy meal of BBQ and fixin's, you'll need to make some room in your gut -- especially if you plan on visiting the rest of the park (or going on any of its rides, many of which are very bumpy).

Thankfully, the restroom here is one of the best theme park bathrooms I've been to - quite a surprise, considering how crowded it is. It's right on par with the wonder toilets at the Lost Continent area of Universal Studios Islands of Adventure.

This is a large facility, on par in size with the Lost Continent toilets or the United Kingdom Pavilion bathroom at Disney's EPCOT theme park. It's a roomy, rectangular space, with a row of about a dozen urinals on the left side, followed by a string of about eight toilet stalls that wrap around the back wall of the place (with the handicap stalls being on the back wall). On the left wall is a row of wash stations, as well as a baby-changing area. All the toilets, sinks and urinals have automatic flushes or faucets, but the soap dispensers are the standard side-of-the-basin variety.

The decor is very Indian (from Indian, not "Native American), with lots of turquoise, green and purple tiles on the floor and walls, as well as some basic mosaic patterns strewn about. Very playful (not as playful as the bathroom in Conservation Station, mind you, but this place is going for a different feel entirely so it's probably not right to compare the two) and inviting. A few traces of urine singed the air (which I found to be a little more comforting than having the aroma of BBQ wafting through the vents here, for some reason) but outside of that it was pretty clean here. Quite a feat, considering that it's pretty heavily visited and I'm sure I'm not the only one who had to run here in haste after eating Flame Tree Grill's BBQ ribs and chicken combo plate. A top notch theme park bathroom.

The only bad point is the trip there. Not only do you have to contend with the dozens of other people heading in the same direction but you also have to watch out for all the birds, both on the ground and in the air. At peak times, I can see this place being similar to a birdie bomb range, if you catch my drift.

Marks out of 10:

8. Almost a 9, were it not for the many birds I had to contend with on my way to the toilet here.

Comments to the Management:

Great job keeping the bathroom here in shape and clean. It's a wonderful experience once I'm inside, but outside there has to be a way to contend with the birds. A trip to the bathroom should not be there adventurous, both in terms of getting there and being there.

After receiving your food from the order counter, follow the signs to the outdoor seating area located across from the kitchen proper. Walk through the tables,

Thursday 23 April 2009

Big Suprise (not really) -- Conservation Station Bathroom at Animal Kingdom Filled with Animal Noises

Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Conservation Station Bathroom
660 W. Savannah Circle
Lake Buena Vista, FL USA

Where is it?

Once in the park, head to the Africa area, where you will board a train to the attraction called Raifiki's Planet Watch. It's about a 5-10 minute ride.

After arriving, walk from the train station to Conservation Station, the main building of the complex. This will take another 10 minutes or so; you will have to walk along a curving, sidewalk-paved, canvas-covered path filled with various environmental exhibits to get there.

At the end of the path, you'll see the building to Conservation Station -- really, it's the only building there (around it are fences containing various animal petting stations (as in a petting zoo). The main entrance has a multi-tiered mural of animals over the door.

Enter the building. The lobby, as you'll see, is filled with more artwork of animals, many of them hiding in a painted (literally) jungle. To enter the attraction, head to the left of the mural; for the bathrooms, head to the right.

What's it like?

Conservation Station offers visitors a chance to step behind the scenes (to an extent, at least) at Animal Kingdom. At it, you can see where the park's animals sleep at night and where vets take care of sick animals and such, among other things. The building also houses a number of animal-related and environmentally friendly exhibits, several of which focus on man's impact on the natural world.

None of the information here is new or mind-blowingly original, but the fact that you can see various animals being taken care of, and get up close and personal with the insect world (via some slightly queasy exhibits -- put your hand on a sticky tree spider web, for example), makes it worth a visit. Also, this is the least Disney-fied area of the park and after a day spent in line at roller coasters and makeshift safaris and the like, this place feels downright refreshing.

The bathroom itself is a small chamber, with two toilet stalls in the back, two urinals in the middle and a two-sink vanity area up front. (If I didn't know any better, I'd say Noah designed the place.)

Decor-wise, it feels like a cross between some of the bathrooms visited at Universal Studios (like a less ornate version of the Lost Continent toilets, if you will) and the toilets at the Barrier Island Sanctuary Management & Education Center, only with a greater (albeit slightly less successful) tropical inflection (if that's possible).

The floors are beige with blue diamond highlights along the perimeter. The lower walls are white tiled with aqua tile highlights along the midsection. The upper walls are turquoise.

In the stalls, you'll find single sculpted accent tiles set above the commodes. Ones I saw included images of pandas and gorillas. Also in the stalls are small informational plaques that share some unique tidbits about the excretory functions of animals. One of note that I found entertaining was a plaque titled, "The Scoop on Poop." These plaques are cleverly placed on the back of the stall door, so you can read them while you're doing your business. A nice touch.

Another nice touch is the soundtrack heard over the P.A. On it, you'll hear a number of animals shrieking, roaring, chirping and such. It's a bit distracting at first (and a bit loud -- as if tailored for kids, so they won't ignore the sounds at all), but while you're doing your business (and believe me, a day of theme park food can lead to such interruptions), you'll be thankful for the noises, as they cover up your own well.

I wish I could say the same for the odors found in the place, which were quite rank -- especially the urine stench. I also found that none of the toilets or urinals I crossed had been flushed prior to my arrival. These are all on autoflush, so I'm thinking the sensors need to be checked out and tweaked some.

Also, the vanity was somewhat waterlogged -- about on par with what was experienced at the Lotus Blossom Cafe bathroom in Disney's EPCOT theme park. Clearly, there needs to be greater policing of this environment, to ensure cleanliness and cleanly air. Hard to do, since this is a busy place and the only spot to do your business in this end of the park (and the fact that you have to walk 10 minutes to get here, after taking a 10 minute train ride, makes the toilet all the more important to visitors). Something to consider.

Marks out of 10:

7. I liked the tile work, informational panels and animal sounds (to an extent) but but couldn't overlook the sloppiness of the place.

Comments to the Management:

Maybe turn down the animal noises on the P.A. a little -- kids love them, I imagine, but adults may find them annoying after a while. Also, the place could use some more regular cleaning, especially some regular mopping around the vanity, to keep things fresh smelling and dry. Finally, double check those autoflush sensors as they may not be working to the best of their ability.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Montauk's Bathroom Mediocre At Best

Montauk Seafood Grill
549 E. Lionshead Circle
Vail, CO USA

Where is it?

To get to the restrooms here, make your immediate left after you enter. When you get halfway down the hallway make a right, which will put you in view of Montauk’s bar.

To the right of the bar is a small hallway adorned with the replica of a large swordfish (or is it a marlin?). At the end of this hall you will find restrooms.

What’s it like?

This 19-year-old establishment prides itself on being one of the finer seafood/steak establishments in the tiny town of Vail. And just like most fine dining locales in Vail, it also comes with the higher than average price tag for your selections.

But this shouldn’t be a surprise. Vail is one of the more (if not the most) popular ski resorts in the world, and tourists do not mind dishing out the payola to play on its pristine slopes. So pricey fine dining is just part of the vacation package.

The exterior of Montauk adheres to the faux-Bavarian architecture that is the defacto standard in all of Vail. Yet, the interior is still quite welcoming.

It has a modern and warm environment with a hint of rustic throwback. The staff is very friendly, and they're open to all questions about the menu, the locale, the history of the restaurant, the town of Vail, Beatles songs, pH balance of the town’s water, and thoughts about past and present names of people.

Yes, they are awesome to communicate with!

Efficiency is a different matter, however, Each member of my party ordered a different dish from the menu. Of the five of us, I believe only one spoke up to talk about the great taste of the Chilean Sea Bass. But everyone else’s critique was less than stellar.

Salmon was dry/over grilled. Halibut tasted pretty plain, and my other two friends we’re not satisfied with the grill level of their steaks. For the average 30-some dollars a plate there, they could of done a better job.

But before hightailing out of Montauk, and into the cold Colorado air, I went to check out the bathroom. The doors to the bathrooms are simply gender-labeled with stickers you could find at your local arts and crafts store. It may be cheap, but there is no question on which door to go into.

The space inside the bathroom is equivalent to the size of a master bedroom closet (one found in most homes, not mansion sized). The bathrooms walls are lined with washed out grey-blue and white wall tiles. The colors don’t create any form of “wow” factor, but does make the aesthetics of the facilities mildly pleasurable. The floor though was dusty and small pockets of grime could be seen on the tile floor.

This was uncanny, since all the toilets, partitions, fixtures and mirror we’re relatively clean.

There was even a bouquet of flowers (didn’t check if they we’re real or not) in a snazzy vase to brighten up your post toilet experience! The hand towel wire basket with color matching stand alone cylindrical soap dispenser is a nice touch. I guess floor care was an afterthought.

Marks out of 10:

This gets a 6. Overall, the presentation of the facilities we’re average, just good enough to get your release and go. But nothing really memorable.

Comments to the Management:

Kitchen quality needs some upgrading. Bathrooms need to get some door signs for the bathroom and clean them floors!

-- Ayal Wolf
Guest Contributor