Byline: ROZ LAWS
Want to bag a bargain? Then go Christmas shopping in Florida, says ROZ LAWS, who has just returned from a short 'shops and spa' break in the Sunshine State.
HAVE yourselves a happy Disney holiday!" said the chirpy British Airways stewardess over the Tannoy as she welcomed us to Orlando.
It was a natural assumption to make, as most people flying to the Florida resort will spend at least some of their time with Mickey Mouse.
Orlando is the theme park capital of the world, home to Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Discovery Cove.
But this wasn't why we were going there.
We were looking for thrills of a different nature, the sort of heart-pumping adrenaline rush that hits you when you find a brilliant bargain, like a EUR600 Vera Wang designer dress for a mere EUR120 (pounds 76).
Or a pair of jeans in the Banana Republic sale for EUR20, with the added joyful discovery that an extra 30 per cent off promotion meant they cost just pounds 9.
Then, to calm us down and slow the pulse, we also wanted to sample the pampering of Orlando's spas.
Spas and shopping, what more could you ask for from a girlie trip?
Well, cocktails and great food too, but that was also to be found in abundance.
This is the perfect time of year to visit Orlando. The parks are at their least busy just after Thanksgiving (November 27 this year) and in the run-up to Christmas, and all the magical decorations are up.
You can get all your Christmas shopping done while the sun shines and the temperatures hover around a balmy 16 degrees centigrade.
Within a 15-mile radius, not only are there six major theme parks and 450 hotels, but also 12 shopping malls and outlet centres - enough to fill 900 American football fields end-to-end.
Orlando has every major store that NewYork has, including Bloomingdale's and Macy's.
Even better, it has the cheaper versions of these stores at two huge outlet centres full of 'factory' shops.
Prime Outlets has Neiman Marcus Last Call - where the amazing Vera Wang dress was found - and Sak's Fifth Avenue Off 5th, while Barney's NewYork can be found at Premium Outlets.
The pound may not be quite as good against the dollar as it was, but there are still great bargains to be had Stateside.
Prime Outlets has 175 shops including one of only four Victoria's Secret Outlets in the world, where you can find bras for EUR10 and 10 pairs of knickers for EUR25.
Easier to negotiate, as it's built like an oval race track, is Orlando Premium Outlets. Here, I found a bargain DKNY dress and good value Nike trainers, while it also has one of only three Dior outlets.
A useful tip is to go online before your trip at premiumoutlets.com and join their VIP Club, which costs nothing but means you can print off money-saving vouchers.
The Mall At Millenia is an airy, pleasant shopping centre with about every shop you could want, from Gap and Zara to the exclusive Gucci, Dior and Jimmy Choo. To get 11 per cent off at Bloomingdale's andMacy's, present your passport at the customer service counter.
Park Avenue in the Winter Park area of the city is the Rodeo Drive of Orlando, full of posh shops, quirky boutiques and pavement cafes. It's the place to be seen - come here for Sunday brunch followed by a stroll, with or without the latest accessory of a small dog dressed in a pink outfit. Shopping and spas combine at Shoeture on Park Avenue, where you get a pedicure thrown in if you buy one of their pairs of designer shoes. Or just have the excellent pedicure for a reasonable EUR55 (pounds 35). For a more sustained bout of pampering, we headed to the Ritz-Carlton Spa at Grande Lakes. …