Shopping is not a spectator sport, but with Orlando’s tourist throngs coming out en masse to sack the city from outlet mall to retail mega-center, it can sometimes be a contact sport. The cool part? Venues such as the Buena Vista Factory Stores and Orlando Premium Outlet on International Drive are often microcosms of sorts – modern day bazaars where travelers from distant lands, speaking different languages come to buy the things they need. Of course, True Religion jeans and Nike cross-trainers – for most of us, anyway – are not necessities, but they sure are fun to score on deep discount. More traditional malls, the indoor, climate-controlled variety, are in no short supply, either. Luxury shoppers will find themselves easily sated at the beautiful Mall at Millenia while Altamonte Mall – and it’s lovely adjacent oasis of Cranes Roost Park – give divided parties two different ways to spend the day. They can meet up for dinner and a movie later. Mixed-use venues continue to proliferate. Winter Park Village is among the prettiest. Its streets, benches, flower pots and fountain create a village-like atmosphere. So much so that many choose to live in the on-site apartments and enjoy the dining and entertainment venues in their tiny “town.”
The Florida Mall
The Florida Mall is an international, family-friendly shopping destination that welcomes more than 20 million visitors per year. Spanning nearly 1.8 million square feet, shoppers enjoy more than 250 stores and restaurants, including many exclusive to Central Florida, such as a Zara flagship store, American Girl, The Disney Store, and one of only five M&M's World stores worldwide. The Florida Mall also features Dillard's, JCPenney, and Macys, as well as fashion-forward concepts such as Michael Kors, H&M, A/X Armani Exchange and XXI Forever. A new Dining Pavilion will join the fray in the summer of 2015 and is projected to feature more health-conscious options. The new Crayola Experience will be opening around the same time. (407-851-6255, 407-851-7234)
Orlando Premium Outlets - International Drive
There are 16 places to eat amid the 700,000 square feet of shopping space at this Orlando Premium Outlets installment, but if we were you, we'd run our engines on coffee and Pinkberry and save room to discuss the day's spoils at one of I-Drive's zillion options for eats and drinks. This outlet center (perhaps better be described as a campus) is comprised of two larger malls and four strip centers. As you navigate, you'll happen upon familiar names including Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, Juicy Couture, Neiman Marcus Last Call, Brooks Brothers, Calvin Klein, Chico's and many, many ... many more. (407-352-9611, 407-352-9600)
With venues that include the Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar, Marlow's Tavern, Ra Sushi, the upscale Oceanaire Seafood Room and Taverna Opa, most locals think of Pointe Orlando as a dining and entertainment venue but make no mistake -- there's quality shopping a'plenty. Clothing (Armani Exchange, Chico's, Hollister, Victoria's Secret, Tommy Bahama), accessories (Tharoo & Co., Charming Charlie's) and other interesting venues. But if you want to just chuck it all for popcorn, soda and a movie at its Regal 20 + IMAX theater, you can beat the oft-oppressive Florida heat and likely save money at the same time. (407-248-2838)
Altamonte Mall sits just 10 miles from the center of downtown Orlando and practically on top of I-4, a prime location allowing for extensive shopping, dining or even a leisurely stroll around the lake in adjacent Cranes Roost Park, where many events and festivals are held. Altamonte's anchor stores include reliable names like Sears and Macy's, while in its well appointed confines you'll discover some diverse gems. For women, venues like White House Black Market showcase an impressive collection of clothing and accessories while Wet Seal, Justice, Hollister and Gymboree are among those covering the young ones in your traveling party. Others, like H&M, appeal to both male and female shoppers with aplomb. Food court options notwithstanding, shoppers can imbibe and dine just outside at venues including the Ale House and Seasons 52. (407-830-4422, 407-215-5100)
Fans of farmers' markets, rejoice. This relatively new center of commerce is a "shop local" paradise. Artegon Marketplace brings together a vast cornucopia of Central Floridian artisans whose stalls are bursting with hand-wrought wares. Jewelry, artisan foods, home furnishings, handmade soaps, leather goods and more tempt buyers looking for Orlando-centric souvenirs and gifts that are truly one-of-a-kind. Large retailers including Ron Jon Surf Shop and Outdoor World anchor the massive plaza, which is also home to several attractions to keep the less retail-inclined in your party busy while you peruse and spend. Got a geek in your group? Gods & Monsters, a huge comic and collectible shop, is now open, featuring a vast inventory, gaming lounge and more...! (407-351-7718)
Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores
With a multitude of well known stores from Carter's to Converse, Gap to Guess, and Izod to Old Navy, the Lake Buena Vista Factory Shops is a favorite for local outlet shoppers as well as tourists -- for their ample parking as much as their retail offerings. Merchandise here is factory direct with savings of up to 75 percent off every day. For those with wee ones in tow, an open-air playground gives the kids a place to blow off steam between their parents' bouts of spending. Additionally, Lake Buena Vista Factory Shops provides free shuttle service from some 60 Orlando and Kissimmee area hotels. (407-238-9301)
Winter Park Village
Winter Park Village enjoys a prime location, just minutes from the city's verdant Central Park and long-lauded Park Avenue. Dining comes in all forms from easy-breezy, inexpensive options like Lime Fresh Mexican Grill and Menchie's Frozen Yogurt to familiar faces including P.F. Chang's and the Cheesecake Factory, to fun, newer venues such as Taps -- a Florida-based operation with an extensive beer, wine and cocktail roster. Those looking for a more up-market experience might opt for a hefty rib-eye at Ruth's Chris Steak House. Moviegoers will enjoy the Regal Winter Park Village Stadium 20, which offers reduced-price children's matinees in the summer (check their website for details). Winter Park Village is pedestrian-friendly. Benches, streetlights and even "on-street" parallel parking give it a Main Street-style appearance, one that might inspire you to enjoy that FroYo outside while listening to the gurgle of the fountain. ((407) 571-2700)
Orlando Premium Outlets - Vineland Ave.
Doubt the awesome power of the outlet mall, do you? You'd have to hit 30 separate boutiques just to get through the roster of shoe stores at Orlando Premium Outlets' Vineland Ave. location. I hope you had a good breakfast. Indeed power-shoppers, both local and imported, find impressive savings on preferred brands at this, one of two such centers in town. From Burberry to Barney's New York, Coach to Cole Haan, Talbots for the preppies, True Religion for the trendies and Armani for the fashionistas (not to mention more than a hundred other venues), if your plastic doesn't melt, you could easily spend a day -- and a reasonable percentage of your kids' college tuition savings -- perusing its breezy passageways. (407-238-7787)
Downtown Disney is the umbrella name for this walkable, lakeside strand of shopping, dining and entertainment within the Walt Disney World complex. But not for too much longer. Currently amid uber-extensive transformation into Disney Springs, new walkways, restaurants and all kinds of wonderful shops are already on-hand to separate you from your vacation money. Disney merchandise is rife, of course, but new specialty shops round out the shopping experience. Kids will have a ball in the Lego Imagination Center, where elaborate brick-works are on display and plenty of hands-on bins let kids hone their engineering skills. Set inside the cavernous World of Disney (kudos to those of you who can escape without dropping at least a few bucks) is the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, where children aged 3-12 can channel their inner-Tinkerbell (or Jasmine, or Cinderella, or Ariel...you get the point) with a very polished makeover. Reservations are strongly recommended! ((407) 939-6244)
Mall at Millenia
The Mall at Millenia really is something else. Glittering, soaring, rife with luxury shopping that boasts the likes of Chanel and Emporio Armani, Tag Heuer and Rolex, Jimmy Choo and Cartier alongside familiar department stores like Macy's and Bloomingdale's and mall staples such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic and Ann Taylor, this is where the well-heeled go to spend en masse and the rest of the world goes to splurge -- or just ogle, dream and enjoy a latte from Starbucks. With its tony ambiance, tonier brand names and a veritable Milky Way of satellite shopping venues and eateries, it's a favorite of locals and a must-do for the most mall-inclined of visitors. (407-363-3555)
About A.D. Thompson
A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.
A roller coaster enthusiast, A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city.
Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.
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