Orlando Outlet Centerby Sue Holland, contributing writer
Shopping for souvenirs can break many a vacation budget, particularly at a location like Walt Disney World where the merchandise is high quality and fairly expensive.
Many of the attractions exit into a gift shop, which certainly is not accidental. Every theme park and resort is a shopper's paradise, and the Downtown Disney Marketplace is all shops and restaurants. It's little wonder many visitors bring an extra suitcase or end up buying one before the trip home in order to transport all those newly acquired Disney shirts and souvenirs.
There is an alternative, however, to paying Disney prices for their merchandise without having to settle for poor-quality imitations. Disney has a few stores in the Orlando area that feature merchandise from the parks and resorts at big discounts.
The Belz Outlet Mall is home to two of these stores: Character Premiere and Character Warehouse. Both contain mostly the same items, but the location is less than ideal. Without a car it can be an expensive journey, and even with a car the traffic routinely found on Interstate 4 can cost a person too much precious vacation time. Thankfully, there is a better option!.
Located very close to Downtown Disney, but on the other side of I-4, is a fairly new, upscale shopping center called Orlando Premium Outlets. It can be seen from the highway, and can also be accessed from International Drive. With slightly more than 100 shops of varying sizes, several of which are big-name designers not found in many places, Orlando Premium Outlets is also home to a Character Premiere store.
Character Premiere source for deeply discounted Disney merchandise.
The merchandise will be mostly the same as what would be found further away at Belz, and will vary by season. Following any special event such as the WDW Marathon or Grad Night, leftover merchandise will be marked at 50 percent off and brought to this location. Likewise, anything datedsuch as 2003 itemswill be found at half price in early 2004.
There are also many items that are generic enough that a shopper cannot tell why something has been marked down. This merchandise is all the same high-quality items previously sold in the parks and resorts, but buying it here will save a significant amount of money.
When shopping at Character Premiere, it is necessary to pay attention to the price tags. While most merchandise starts at 50 percent off (and goes lower), there are a handful of items that sell at full price. This includes food items, pins and CDs. It's rare to find a shirt or other item selling at full price in the parks and also at half-off at Character Premiere, but it has been known to happen.
Inside Character Premiere.
While Character Premiere is obviously the major attraction for visitors coming from Walt Disney World, the other shops at Orlando Premium Outlets are nice enough to be worth checking out after you've done your Disney shopping. Everything is very attractive, and if your favorite designer happens to be located here you can save some money.
Interior pathways are pleasant and attractive.
Orlando Premium Outlets are located at 8200 Vineland Avenue and are just beyond the large church. Coming from Walt Disney World, drive through Downtown Disney past the seven non-Disney hotels on Hotel Plaza and turn right onto Route 535 at Crossroads. At the first light after passing under I-4, turn left onto Vineland Avenue at Little Lake Bryan, and the outlets are just one mile down that road on your right. Directions from other locations are on the Premium Outlets Web site (link).
Stores here are open seven days a week from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Sunday and until 10 p.m. the other six days. Stroller rentals are available, as are wheelchairs. Maps can be obtained from guest services or can be printed in advance from the Web site. Most of the stores are fairly small, but eight to 10 are larger and serve as anchors in the prime locations.
Food court located in the center of the outlet mall.
The food court is not terribly large but seems to handle the number of customers pretty well. There's the usual assortment of pizza, Asian food, Subway, ice cream, candy, smoothies and even a Starbucks. Outside the food court are separate shops for Auntie Anne's and Mrs. Fields/TCBY. There are tables located outside of the food court building, but the majority is located indoors where the air conditioning keeps everyone more comfortable.
Universal Studios has an outlet store as well.
Visitors to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure will also find an outlet store located here. In fact, it's directly across from Character Premiere. Just like at Disney's outlet, merchandise in general is half-price. It's definitely worth checking out before spending too much money at the actual theme parks.
People not interested in theme park merchandise will find more than enough stores to make the trip worthwhile. Among the larger stores are Reebok, Adidas, Banana Republic, Barney's of New York, Bass, Mikasa, Nike, Timberland and Ralph Lauren Polo. These can all be seen from the parking lot, so if you plan to only visit one of these stores simply drive around until you see it and park in that area.
Timberland outlet store.
I definitely recommend making a trip to Premium Outlets for the Character Premiere, if nothing else. The savings can be significant and the cost in terms of time spent can be minimal. As an added feature, a relatively new Publix (grocery store) is located across the parking lot from the backside of Premium Outlets. This is a great place to pick any bottled water or snack items you might want to keep in your resort room.
Map of Premium Outlets.
The above photograph was taken to show the layout of the mall. Printed copies with a list of all the stores are available there, and there are large directories located at most intersections.