Orlando, Florida - a shopper's paradise

by Allie Reynolds

With more than 50 million square feet of shopping opportunities, a laidback atmosphere and year round sun, why not go to Orlando this winter and get a tan while indulging in some retail therapy?

Orlando might be better known for its theme parks, but it is a shopper’s paradise. It boasts huge shopping malls containing well known high street names bursting with bargains, retail outlets offering serious discounts, and chic designer boutiques with luxury for less. This city is one of the most exciting shopping destinations across the Atlantic. While most of us don our winter coats and boots and head off to New York each winter on an annual pilgrimage, a smug few in the know secretly make Orlando their favourite shopping destination.

Why Orlando instead of New York?

Relax: The flight time is the same to both destinations but while New York is busy and hectic, Orlando is laidback and relaxing.

Weather: New York in winter is seriously cold and dreary, while Orlando is warm, sunny and vibrant.

Cost: Sales tax is lower in Orlando and getting around Orlando is cheap and easy. Drive to malls and fill up your boot with bags! Luxury hotels in Orlando are cheaper, more spacious, and come with pools as standard.

Added perks: You will be exhausted from a shopping trip to New York, but refreshed after your visit to Orlando. Oh, and you can get a tan as you shop in Orlando!

If you are not yet convinced, read on.

High street heaven

The Florida Mall (8001 South Orange Blossom Trail) is simply huge and a fabulous fun place to shop for everyone. You will need at least a day, if not two to manoeuvre your way around this massive mall. There are six department stores alone, including Saks, Sears and Macy's, plus at least 270 shops to explore including some well known high street brands. Some of the names include preppy Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, sporty Billabong, stylish Banana Republic, and classic Coach for bags and shoes. You can even have a massage at the Salon Cielo and Spa, while the kids can build a bear at the Build-A-Bear-Workshop, or surf the simulated wave at the Surf Zone.

Fortify yourself with a coffee and a luscious pastry at the Paradise Bakery and Café, or feast on fajitas and a mojito at the lively SALSA, Taqueria & Tequilla Bar.

Designer delights

If haute couture is more your thing, the amazing Mall at Millenia (4200 Conroy Road) offers one of the finest collections of high end luxury brands in Florida under one roof. However, there are still bargains to be had, and overall the shops are much cheaper than at home. Drool over the latest trends by chic Chanel, bags by Burberry, or darling designs by Dior. If it's shoes you're after head to über-stylish Jimmy Choo, or timeless classics by Louis Vuitton. You'll also find a Gucci store and jaw-dropping jewelled delights at Tiffany & Co. If you have worked up an appetite, after all of that shopping (or window shopping) Tuscan Brio Grille offers typical Italian dishes in a contemporary surroundings. The seafood risotto is absolutely mouth-watering. Mains on average $15.

Make a slight detour to smart Winter Park, which is a hidden haven for sophisticated shoppers looking for something unique and individual or for those who like to browse in speciality shops. Think retro chic meets Audrey Hepburn. In beautiful tree-lined Park Avenue you will discover little boutiques alongside more familiar brands. Shoeaholics in search of the perfect pair should head to Shou'ture. They also offer complimentary pedicures with each purchase! The upmarket Shooz sells big names such as Mephisto and Nota Bene and Tuni’s is an established hip and trendy boutique with gorgeous one-off couture, handbags, and shoes. They offer a personal stylist service as well.

For dining options, inviting open-air cafes with sunny terraces include popular Luma, lively Pannullo’s and chic Bosphorus which are all good bets for lunch or to chill out at.

Bag a bargain

If you are on the hunt for bargain high end labels, and discounted designer names, such as Ralph Lauren, Fendi, Armani, Maxmara, DKNY and many more head to Premium Outlets (8200 Vineland Ave). Prices are a fraction of the retail price, sometimes up to 75% below. Snap up snazzy shoes at Cole Haan or the Factory Brand outlet. Stock up on your cosmetics at Sephora - brands including Bliss and Clinique are a steal. You can pick up gorgeous designer glasses such as Gucci or Chanel with 50%! Tip: You can benefit from further discounts by registering online for their VIP Shopper discount (www.premiumoutlets.com/outlets).

When you get a bit peckish, or need to rest your feet and your flexible friend, grab a frapuccino and sit in the sun in the gorgeous Mediterranean style courtyard.

Where to stay

The Florida Hotel and Conference Center (1500 Sand Lake Road) is an impressive luxury hotel right at the entrance to the Florida Mall. Location doesn’t get any better than this. Rooms are extremely spacious and stylish. Room rates here start from about $100.

The Peabody Orlando (9801 International drive, Orlando) is classy and chic. Flaunt your fashion buys at the old world cocktail bar, or in the elegant lobby while you listen to soft piano music and watch the infamous Peabody Ducks. The beautiful marble bathrooms are almost as big as the spacious opulent rooms. The price for a room starts from about $200.

Allie Reynolds

I am passionate about travelling, in fact I work only to travel ! For years, I have kept travel diaries, taken endless photos, and now I have the perfect forum to share all of my memories and experiences and hopefully I will encourage and give a little bit of inspiration to other like minded travellers to embrace the world of travel. I enjoy all types of travelling, whether city cultural European breaks, long-haul to Australasia, cruising, and having fun in theme parks in the US. Equally I love discovering parts of my own country Ireland, and spend weekends travelling, chilling out or simply relaxing in hotels. I have also been fortunate to live and work in mainland Europe, in particular Spain and Holland. There's a whole world out there waiting to be explored, whether on your own doorstep or further afield.

I have also been appointed by the Simonseeks editorial team as a community moderator, to review and rate guides on a regular basis.