PHOTO: Find second-hand items at discount prices, along with rare Disney collectibles at Theme Park Connection. (Photo by Laura Anders Lee)
Souvenir shops are a dime a dozen in Orlando. For every theme-park attraction there is a multitude of souvenirs—as every ride literally ends in a gift shop. Parents, you'll have to practice some major will power here. Outside the theme parks, you'll find a slew of souvenir shops along International Drive, Highway 192 and State Road 535 with larger-than-life wizards and mermaids advertising items for 99 cents. (Usually you get what you pay for.) Even grocery stores, pharmacies and big-box stores like Walgreens and Target are well-stocked in all items Disney, SeaWorld and Universal. It's easy to grab something on impulse, but an Orlando vacation is a special, once-in-a-lifetime experience, so take the time to carefully select that perfect souvenir to remember your trip with fondness, enchantment and even humor. Here is a guide to some of our favorite souvenir shops in Orlando.
PHOTO: Select a magic wand at Universal that performs tricks throughout the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. (Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort)
Ollivanders Wand Shop
You've already paid a bundle to get inside Universal, but if you're a devoted Harry Potter fan, you may want to consider spending another $47.95 on a magic wand. You can select Harry Potter's wand, or perhaps Hermione Granger's or Draco Malfoy's. However, the most fun way to shop for a wand is to actually have the wand select you. During each visit to Ollivanders, one lucky muggle is selected to work with the wizard shopkeeper to find the perfect wand for their personality, making the buying experience a really amazing and magical experience. Once you have the interactive wand in hand, you'll get to perform magic tricks at a variety of stops in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Flick the wand, and you can light a shop of chandeliers or levitate a feather quill. Look for the gold medallions on the pavement, marking a spell site, but you'll have to seek out a few hidden locations as well. The wands enhance the magical experience of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, not to mention they're a brag-worthy show-and-tell item back home.
PHOTO: Outfit your little princess at the World of Disney and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. (Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World)
World of Disney
Disney Springs is home to the world's largest Disney Store, featuring 12 rooms filled with anything Disney you can imagine for the home, wardrobe or playroom. You'll find all your favorite Disney characters, from "Star Wars," "Frozen" and "Toy Story" to classics like "Snow White," "Cinderella" and, of course, Mickey and friends. Annual passholders receive a 10 percent discount at checkout. Also inside the store, the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is popular for princesses and knights who want a magical makeover. The Knight Package starts at $19.99, which includes hair styling and a sword, and for the little ladies, the Crown Package starts at $59.99 and goes up to $199.99 for full makeup, nails, a gown and jewelry. Each day at 2 pm, the children parade through the streets of Disney Springs showing off their new ensembles. (Other great shops for gifts at Disney Springs include Disney's Days of Christmas, Star Wars Galactic Outpost and UNIQLO.)
PHOTO: Epcot's 11 countries, like Mexico, feature authenic entertainment, food and souvenirs. (Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World)
Epcot World Showcase
One of the best areas to shop in Orlando is around the World Showcase at Epcot. Along a 1.2-mile promenade surrounding a lake, visitors can meander through 11 countries for authentic entertainment, popular rides, ethnic food and fabulous shopping from England to Morocco and from Norway to China. Most of the retail items are imported from that particular country, so you'll find ceramics actually from Mexico, toys made in Japan, perfume and cosmetics from France and fine leather from Italy. At Christmas, the shops feature even more specialty items, like blown-glass ornaments made on site in the Germany Pavilion.
PHOTO: One former Disney cast member's trash is another man's treasure at Theme Park Connection. (Photo by Laura Anders Lee)
Theme Park Connection
Think your eccentric neighbor's annual garage sale ... but to infinity and beyond. About five miles east of the International Drive tourism area is Theme Park Connection, your not-so-typical souvenir shop wedged between giant warehouses in an industrial park. Inside, you'll find everything from Disney character autographs for 25 cents, Christmas ornaments for $1 and pins for $3 to movie set pieces for $5,000. Owner Brian Ramsey is an approved vendor for purchasing discontinued items and old sets from Disney, and he scours auctions across the country to find the coolest memorabilia. The shop has sold a flying Dumbo car from FantasyLand, a monorail car, a "Captain EO" sign, under which the buying couple got engaged, and the entire contents of a hotel room where a couple stayed during their anniversary.
"Our store is about Disney, movies, and memories," says Ramsey. "You'll find a lot of items they don't make anymore. All the rare, older, more high-value collectibles are on the secondary market, and you can find a lot of them here."
If you don't have time to get to the store, Ramsey has about 300 items for sale on eBay.
PHOTO: Twice a year, the residents of Celebration host a community-wide porch and yard sale. (Photo courtesy of Celebration Town Hall)
Celebration Porch and Yard Sale
Speaking of second-hand items ... the residents of Disney's Town of Celebration are hosts of the largest yard sale in Central Florida during two select, community-wide days. At the fall event, treasure hunters can search hundreds of yards and porches for Disney items. (Homes with Disney items for sale are designated on a special map.) Many of the residents are Disney annual pass holders and have lots of tchotchkes, clothing and toys they're willing to hand down.
PHOTO: Orange World in Kissimmee has been selling Florida citrus since the early '70s. (Photo by Veronica Benitez)
A selfie in front of this kitschy, 1970s shop and "Florida's largest orange" might just be the perfect memento from your trip. If you do step inside Orange World on Highway 192 in Kissimmee, be sure to grab a basket of Florida citrus, or even your own tree, to take back home. (Meyer lemons are absolutely the best.) You'll also find coffee mugs, alligator heads, magnets, taffy and alligator jerky, just tacky enough to liven up the office break room.
PHOTO: Showcase of Citrus is a you-pick farm with specialty shop just west of Disney. (Photo courtesy of Visit Florida)
Showcase of Citrus
If you really want your fill of Florida citrus, head to this you-pick farm out in Orlando's countryside 15 miles west of Disney. Visitors can wander the rows of this 2,500-acre family farm and pick 70 varieties of citrus. Fall and winter are the perfect time for selecting grapefruit, pomelos, navel oranges, lemons and tangerines. The adjoining country store offers local honey, alligator meat by the pound, boiled peanuts, citrus jellies and their famous orange juice creamsicle icecream treat. This is what you call local flavor.
This story by Laura Lee first appeared on WhereTraveler.com.
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