Forget the theme parks, orange juice and exceptional weather, Florida's other great pull is the outlet mall. They're a marvel of modern commerce, a powerful tourism tool, and a major reason why, in 2012 alone, a staggering $71.8 billion was spent by visitors to the Sunshine State.
You're probably familiar with the concept. Dedicated shopping villages already exist in cities like Portsmouth (Gunwharf Quays) and Manchester (Lowry Outlet Mall). But what sets the US outlets apart is simple: sheer, mind-boggling scale. Hundreds of international brands, side-by-side. Prices are great and the stock is plentiful. You can eat, work, train and even sleep there. If you're still not convinced, an international tourist discount of around 10% is usually available - just ask.
Set aside a few days for unadulterated retail therapy. Don't forget your comfortable shoes and prepare for more than a few impulse buys. Here's our pick of the best outlets in Florida to do all this and more.
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Minutes from Universal Orlando, this outlet chain is two separate sites: Vineland Avenue and International Drive. The latter has the edge. With the usual luxury labels and discounts of between 20-60%, it's unsurprising that this mall gets super-busy in no time. Arrive early to nab a parking spot (otherwise pay for the valet service) and remember to layer-up ? it may be sunny outside, but inside air con is king. Pick up a discount booklet at the Visitor Centre for $5, or register online for free printable coupons.
4951 International Drive, Orlando. Mon-Sat 10am-11pm, Sun 10am-9pm.
Over 175 stores including J.Crew, Lacoste, Polo Ralph Lauren and Victoria's Secret.
Closer in size to a small town and sectioned by 'avenues', Sawgrass Mills is a colossal shopping destination 13 miles west of Fort Lauderdale. One day of hardcore shopping barely scratches its shiny surface. The range is extensive, from electronics to fashion, toys to home ware, and also includes exclusive outlets like Burberry and Prada. Consider hiring a shopping cart for $6 (and printing off a personal map), you won't regret it.
12801 W Sunrise Blvd, Sunrise. Mon-Sat 10am-9.30pm, Sun 11am-7pm.
Over 350 stores including Nike, Gap, Giorgio Armani and Gucci.
As the wildcard option, Altamonte is compact, quiet and with minimum tourist hassle. It's also only ten miles north of downtown Orlando, so ideal for a more laid-back shopping experience where the locals come to spend their dollars. All of the main department stores are here, and a brand-new 18-screen AMC cinema gives you the chance to relax once the mission's complete. Away from the crowds, this friendly mall might be the perfect shopping experience.
451 East Altamonte Drive, Altamonte Springs. Open Mon-Sat 10am-9pm, Sun 12pm-6pm.
Over 160 stores including H&M, MAC Cosmetics, Yankee Candle and Puma.
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