Whether you're looking for mouse ears and wizard wands or the latest and greatest in designer labels, you'll find it in Orlando (ranked fourth among the top shopping destinations in the country, falling in behind New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas). Walt Disney World itself is home to an almost endless array of shops spread throughout its parks, resorts, and Disney Springs. The House of Mouse, however, is not the only game in town. If you venture beyond its boundaries, you'll discover first-rate shopping malls, outlet centers, and charming boutiques.
Orlando is a hotbed for outlet activity, partly because international visitors, with their often-stronger currencies, are prone to buying frenzies. As at most modern outlet malls, not all of the items you find for sale here will have come from higher-priced “regular” stores; much of the stock has been specially manufactured for the outlet market (although Consumer Reports doesn’t think the quality is substantially different from retail). You’ll usually find prices between 30 and 50 percent off sales at retail stores, and after the holiday rush, discounts go deeper.
The Shopping Scene
The hottest spots for tourists to shop are at Disney Springs, CityWalk, and the larger themed shopping centers scattered along International Drive. Kissimmee, though a very busy area, has little to offer shoppers other than seashells and T-shirts that, at three for $10, are a good example of the old saying "you get what you pay for." (You might, on occasion, find a hidden treasure or two among the trinkets, so if you're in the mood for a bargain and are willing to take the time to hunt for it, you may just get lucky.) There are more than just a few of the same tourist traps located along I-Drive (mostly at the northern end) as well as along S.R. 535 in Lake Buena Vista.
If you're looking for a quieter, out-of-the-way shopping experience, the quaint tree-lined streets of Winter Park—Park Avenue in particular—are filled with one-of-a-kind boutiques, well-known shops, and antiques stores. Closer to the action, yet still far enough off the beaten path to remain quaint and quiet, is Market Street in Celebration, which is home to a small collection of tiny shops. Downtown Orlando has its own unique shopping spots, with Antique Row (along Orange Ave.) and nearby Ivanhoe featuring antiques dealers, collectible shops, and better gift stores. If you're in search of a quiet retreat or an afternoon of simple indulgence, these shopping side trips should provide just the sort of peaceful experience you're seeking (you won't even mind coming away empty-handed).
Many Orlando area stores, particularly those in malls or other shopping centers, are open from 9 or 10am until 9 or 10pm Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 6pm on Sunday. It is always best to check before you go, as shopping hours, like those at the parks, can change during the holidays, as well as seasonally. Sales tax in Osceola County, which includes Kissimmee, the U.S. 192 corridor, and all of Disney's All-Star resorts, is 7%. In Orange County, which includes the International Drive area, SeaWorld, Universal Orlando, most (but not all) of Disney World, and most of the lesser attractions, it's 6.5%. In Seminole County, about 40 miles north of Walt Disney World, the rate is 7%. No matter where you are, plan on adding a few extra dollars in taxes to your bill when you get to the cash register.
One thing that's no different here than the rest of the country: If you arrive during the holiday season, from the end of November to January 1, it's best to avoid local shopping malls, especially on weekends. They're just as crazy and crowded as those back home—maybe even worse. And no matter what time of year it is, don't leave your good judgment at the door when you're shopping the outlet malls. Although there are some bargains to be found, the prices on many items aren't really much better than you can find at home in many cases. The selection, however, may be much larger than you're used to—especially if you're from outside the United States.
Ship It -- Because Orlando is geared to travelers, many retailers offer to ship packages home for a few dollars more (Disney definitely does). So, if you're pondering an extralarge purchase, or even just one you would rather not have to carry (especially in the age of outrageous airline baggage fees), simply ask. If a retailer doesn't offer such a service, check with your hotel. Many a concierge or business center staffer can arrange a pickup by UPS, the U.S. Postal Service, or another carrier -- or, at the very least, point you in the direction of the carrier located closest to the hotel. Anything's better than dragging that 6-foot stuffed Pluto through the not-so-friendly skies.
Homegrown Souvenirs -- Oranges, grapefruit, and other citrus fruits rank high on the list of Florida's top local products. Orange Blossom Indian River Citrus, 5151 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando (800/624-8835; www.orange-blossom.com), is one of the top sellers during the late-fall-to-late-spring season.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.