Though not the best place to head if you're the shop-'til-you-drop type, this is a rather pleasant spot for a leisurely stroll along quaint streets filled with upscale shops, coffeehouses, and restaurants. Celebration, after all, is a Disney-designed community, making it practically the perfect little town (or a facsimile thereof). It's a throwback to mid-20th-century mainstream America, when main-street shopping was in style. Market Street and the area just surrounding it are home to a dozen or so shops, a couple of art galleries, a handful of restaurants, and a three-screen movie theater. The storefronts, especially the galleries and gift shops, offer interesting and unique merchandise, though you'll find that there's a price to pay for perfection. Stores here include the Market Street Gallery (Swarovski crystal, collectibles, home decor, Yankee Candles, Christmas decorations, and more), Day Dreams (a shop filled top to bottom with dolls, teddy bears, books, and gift items), Soft as a Grape (comfy 100% cotton resort wear for the entire family), the Lollipop Cottage (clothing and gifts for children), Confetti (personalized gift baskets, sweets, treats, and party planning), Unique Boutique (designer labels mixing with one-of-a-kind fashions and accessories), Downeast (gifts, accessories, and clothing sporting labels such as Polo, Lacoste, Vera Bradley, and Cavalli, among others), the Jewel Box (an authorized Pandora dealer and purveyor of better baubles), Sanrio Surprises (a haven for Hello Kitty fans), the Woof Gang Bakery (homemade gourmet treats and an array of pet-care products for the pampered pet set), an art gallery and frame shop, a grocer, a post office, and others. The Village Mercantile, after 13 years in business, closed its doors in 2009, an unfortunate victim of the economy. The high prices here may make for more window-shopping than actual spending, but the real attraction in Celebration is the relaxing, picture-perfect atmosphere. If, by chance, Celebration reminds you of the film The Truman Show, you're not alone. The movie was filmed in Seaside, a Florida Panhandle community that inspired the builders of this burg.
With three distinct areas -- West Side, Pleasure Island (soon becoming Hyperion Wharf), and the Marketplace -- Downtown Disney (tel. 407/939-2648; www.downtowndisney.com) is chock-full of some of the most unique shops in Orlando, as well as many restaurants and entertainment venues.
The best shops in the Marketplace include the 50,000-square-foot World of Disney, the largest store in Downtown Disney (and the second-largest Disney store in the world). There are rooms and more rooms filled with everything Disney, from toys and trading pins to clothes and collectibles -- and everything (and I mean everything) in between. Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, which arrived in 2006, is where little girls can have their hair styled, put on makeup, and have their nails done so they look like a princess (or their favorite Disney pop star) when they emerge. Girls can play dress-up in the princess room, while the adventure room is geared more to boys -- they can create their own pirate hat, play video games, and check out superhero, space explorer, and cowboy gear.
The LEGO Imagination Center, now larger and even easier to shop after a recent expansion, offers lots of play areas to entertain the kids (I'd hate to be the one cleaning up at night). The exterior sports several new, rather impressive LEGO models, while inside, shelves are filled with an array of LEGO blocks and play sets designed for everyone from toddlers to tweens, plus Bionicles, T-shirts, and trinkets. Check out the display behind the counter when you cash out -- it's filled top to bottom with teeny tiny LEGO people (visible thanks to a nifty magnifying glass that runs back and forth across their little faces). Once Upon a Toy is one of the best stores in the Marketplace, and the best toy store I've ever been in. It's stocked from floor to ceiling with games and toys, many of them classics -- you know, the ones you played with while growing up (most with a Disney twist, of course). The 16,000-square-foot space is divided into three sections: The first is filled with board games; the second is loaded with building sets and action figures; and the third is dedicated to techy toys (video games, movies, and other gizmos). The store's popular "build your own" and "fill your own" stations, including a "build your own lightsaber" station (where you can pick and choose from a variety of doodads, packing on as many pieces as possible), are sprinkled throughout the premises. Note: Inside the T-Rex restaurant is one of only five Build-A-Dino stores in the country (a younger sibling of the wildly popular Build-A-Bear stores). Here kids can pick out, stuff, dress, and accessorize their very own Paleolithic plush pal. Prices range from $15 to $22 (accessories and clothing cost extra).
Another custom-souvenir opportunity is at Disney's Design-A-Tee (presented by Hanes), which lets guests create their own souvenir T -- from sleeve length to color to design (there are hundreds to choose from). Simply make your selection via touch screen and your personalized T-shirt will be ready within minutes. TrenD, as its name implies, is a hip and chic urban boutique that features an eclectic mix of Disney-inspired designer duds from the likes of Roxy, Tarina Tarantino, and Kidada Jones -- a must for the fashion-conscious Disney diva. Marketplace Fun Finds replaces Mickey's Mart and Pooh Corner, its shelves lined with trinkets and treasures all priced under $20 -- the ever-popular Mickey grab bag among them. Across from Marketplace Fun Finds is Little Miss Matched (previously located at Disney's West Side), with colorful trinkets, apparel, and accessories (including signature socks sold in sets of three) lining the shelves. Other smaller but similarly interesting shops include the Art of Disney, featuring posters, limited-edition animation cels, and other collectibles; Basin, where slices of soap are sold in every scent imaginable; and Team Mickey's Athletic Club, which sells character clothing with a sporty spin.
At Downtown Disney West Side, Hoypoloi features contemporary glasswork, original sculptures, and an assortment of distinctive gifts. Other notable stores at West Side include Magic Masters, where you can load up on magic tricks for your budding Harry Houdini; Magnetron, which sells a huge variety of magnets (though, strangely enough, no Disney ones); and D Street, where the hip and trendy shop for edgy urban apparel and accessories with a vintage Disney-esque appeal, Vinylmation figures (the latest Disney collectible), and Disney art (created by local artists). At Curl by Sammy Duvall at Pleasure Island (soon to be Hyperion Wharf), you can pick up the hottest surf and skate wear, accessories, even the latest gear.
Getting Your Fill -- The neatest way to buy toys at several Downtown Disney (and Disney theme park) stores (especially Once Upon a Toy) is in bulk . . . sort of. Toys such as Lincoln Logs and Mr. Potato Head, as well as a few others, can be purchased by the piece. Here's how it works: You pick out a box (often with two sizes to choose from) and fill it up with as many (or few) pieces as you can fit inside. The only stipulation -- you have to be able to close the lid properly. No matter how many pieces you've stuffed inside, the price of the box remains the same. If you've got good space-saving skills, buying your toys this way may net you a very good deal. (Here's a hint to get you started: Mr. Potato Head has a hole in his back, so fill it up and you'll fit more pieces in your box.)
International Drive Area
(Note: Locally, this road is almost always referred to as I-Drive.) Extending 8 or so miles northeast of Disney between Highway 535 and the Florida Turnpike, this busy thoroughfare is one of the most popular tourist districts in the area, in part because it is filled with so many restaurants, shops, hotels, and attractions. From indoor skydiving and glow-in-the-dark golf to dozens of themed restaurants and shopping spots, this is the tourist strip in Central Florida. Its two main shopping draws are the Orlando Premium Outlets-Vineland Avenue, just off south I-Drive , and the Orlando Premium Outlets-International Drive (previously Prime Outlets Orlando), located at the northernmost end of I-Drive . Another I-Drive shopping spot, Pointe Orlando (tel. 407/248-2838; www.pointeorlandofl.com), features an ever-growing collection of upscale restaurants, clubs, and specialty shops in an outdoor setting. Thanks to extensive renovations, the completely re-created space includes winding walkways, shaded courtyards, fountains, and inviting lighting.
Skirting the south side of Walt Disney World, Kissimmee centers on U.S. 192/Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, as archetypal of modern American cities as Disney's Main Street is of America's yesteryear. U.S. 192 is lined end to end with budget motels, smaller attractions, and almost every fast-food restaurant known to humankind (though a handful of good eateries can be found here as well). Kissimmee, however, does not offer the fabulous array of shopping options found elsewhere in Orlando. The shopping here is notable for the quantity, not necessarily the quality, but it's a good place to pick up some knickknacks, white elephant gifts, or those seashells I mentioned above.
Just north of downtown Orlando, Winter Park (tel. 407/644-8281) is the place many of Central Florida's old-money families call home. It began as a haven for Yankees trying to escape the cold. Today, its centerpiece is Park Avenue, which has quite a collection of upscale retail shops along its cobblestone route: Eileen Fisher, Nicole Miller, Restoration Hardware, Crabtree & Evelyn, Williams-Sonoma, and Pottery Barn, among others (including several locally owned boutiques). No matter which end of the street you start at, there are more shops -- over 140 in and around the Park Avenue area -- than most can survive, but you're bound to find something here you'll not find anywhere else. Park Avenue is also home to a handful of unique upscale restaurants, cafes, and art galleries. Note: Leave the kids with a sitter if you plan to shop (or dine) here. You'll both be happier for it. To get here, take I-4 exit 87, Fairbanks Avenue/Highway 426, east past U.S. 17/92 to Park Avenue and turn left.
In Downtown Orlando
If you can think of nothing better than a relaxing afternoon of bargain hunting or scouring thrift and antiques shops, check out Antique Row and Ivanhoe Village on North Orange Avenue (stretching from Colonial Dr./Hwy. 50 to Lake Ivanhoe), in downtown Orlando. This collection is a long way from the manufactured fun of Disney. The shops are an interesting assortment of the old, the new, and the unusual. Elephant Walk Antiques, 1427-A Alden Rd. (near the intersection of Princeton and N. Orange Ave.; tel. 407/897-6022; www.elephantwalkantiques.com); A & T Antiques, 1620 N. Orange Ave. (tel. 407/896-9831); and Oldies But Goodies, 1907 N. Orange Ave. (tel. 407/893-5253), sell traditional antiques.
Down the road, a handful of places offer less conventional items. The Fly Fisherman, 1213 N. Orange Ave. (tel. 407/898-1989; www.flyfishermaninc.com), sells -- no surprise -- fly-fishing gear. Sometimes you can spot people taking casting lessons in the park across the street.
Most of these downtown shops are open from 9 or 10am to 5pm Monday through Saturday; the owners usually run them, so hours can vary. All are spread over 3 miles along Orange Avenue. The heaviest concentration of shops lies between Princeton Street and New Hampshire Avenue, although a few are scattered between New Hampshire and Virginia avenues. The more upscale shops extend a few blocks beyond Virginia. To get here, take I-4 exit 85/Princeton Street and turn right on Orange Avenue. Parking is limited, so stop wherever you find a space along the street.
Additionally, you can shop for fresh produce, plants, baked goods, and crafts every Sunday from 10am to 4pm at the downtown Orlando Farmers' Market. It's located at the intersection of Osceola and East Central. Get more information at www.orlandofarmersmarket.com.