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 Downtown Disney. 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.
But before you break out your credit cards, do remember to keep your shopping wits about you. The malls and their upscale stores, at times, can charge extremely outrageous prices that you'll easily better at home. And the outlets, which once offered tremendous bargains, now at times discount only marginally. The key to getting the best possible deals is to know what is and isn't a bargain.
And now, a note on souvenir shopping. If, after exercising your credit cards elsewhere, you've still got energy (and money) to burn, the parks and entertainment districts at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld feature some of the most distinctive souvenir shopping you'll find anywhere. Sure, many of the stores are filled with trinkets and T-shirts, but some offer more unique merchandise that you won't be able to find anywhere else -- Orlando or otherwise.
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.
Pin Mania -- Pin buying, collecting, and trading can reach frenzied proportions among Disney fans, including many cast members. All of the theme parks have special locations set aside for the fun, which are marked on the handout guide maps. There are, however, a few rules of pin-trading etiquette that must be followed. You can learn more about the madness on the Internet at www.dizpins.com and www.officialdisneypintrading.com.
A Disney Bargain? The World's Best-Kept Secret
From a pink Cadillac to a 4-foot beer stein, tons of wacky treasures are regularly put on the auction block at Walt Disney World.
In addition to castoffs from the theme parks and WDW resorts, there are more routine items available, from over-the-hill lawn-maintenance gear to never-been-used stainless-steel pots and pans. If you're looking for a unique piece of Disney, the auctions are held six times a year. Some of the more unusual items sold in the past include a motorized surfboard and furniture from Miss Piggy's dressing room. The auction takes place on Disney's back lots. Call property control (tel. 407/824-6878) for information, dates, and directions.
Bigger yet are trinkets sold at www.disneystore.com (what was once www.disneyauctions.com is now under the Disney shopping umbrella). Mainstream items, including artwork, figurines, cookie jars, pins, and snow globes (as well as other modest merchandise), are available on a regular basis (and sold at a set price). But sometimes things go big time, when limited-edition trinkets, movie props, costumes, Disney resort furniture, and theme-park artifacts go on the block on www.mousesurplus.com (a division of eBay). In the past, a dress Glenn Close wore as Cruella De Vil in 102 Dalmatians sold for $5,000, a Dumbo car from the ride at WDW earned $9,000, and the Porsche from the Disney movie The Kid fetched $77,100. Recent items on the block include a FASTPASS sign from "it's a small world" ($3,499), a prop plane from the Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris ($5,999), and the Toy Story Van ($2,999) once used at Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney's Hollywood Studios).
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.