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National Parks

Florida Vacation, Shopping and Outlet Mall Tour

With the exchange rate of the US dollar at record lows, vacationing and shopping in the United States are real bargains for international visitors. Why not plan a vacation trip to the USA that combines recreation with some serious shopping?

Here is our suggestion for a trip to Florida that includes family recreation at the amusement attractions at Disney World in Orlando, swimming at the beautiful beaches and shopping at several major outlet malls.

You can begin your trip by flying to Orlando International Airport or to the popular charter destination at Sanford International Airport thirty miles north of the city. You can also begin your trip in Miami or Fort Lauderdale by flying into either of those airports.

You can drive between Miami and Orlando in less than five hours via the Florida Turnpike or Route 95. If you choose to take the more scenic Route 1 along the Atlantic Coast Beaches or the long way via Route 75 up the Gulf Coast, it will take considerably longer. If you rather not drive, you can also take a bus or train between the two cities.

Arrive in Miami or Fort Lauderdale

Miami International Airport has numerous international flights arriving from foreign lands especially from cities in Latin America and the Caribbean. Fort Lauderdale International Airport does not have quite as many international arrivals but still has quite a few from cities in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Stay at Fort Lauderdale or Miami Beach

Miami is the larger, more glamorous, more tourist oriented city; while Fort Lauderdale is a family-oriented, less-expensive alternative. It is only a 30-minute drive from one city to the other. If you want bargain priced accommodations, stay in Fort Lauderdale along the beautiful beachfront. If you want glamour and excitement, stay at the luxurious high-rise hotels on Miami Beach or at the intimate art deco boutique hotels in South Beach.

Hotels in Fort Lauderdale and Miami
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Visit Miami and the Everglades

Check out fabulous Miami Beach and the art deco neighborhoods at South Beach. Visit the museums, the tourist attractions, the exclusive shops and boutiques at South Beach. Drive along Calle Ocho and visit the vast Cuban neighborhood known as "Little Havana". Eat authentic Cuban cuisine, listen to the Latin and Caribbean beats of the "Miami sound" at the local dance clubs and cafes.

Visit some of the nearby attractions like "Monkey Jungle", the "Tropical Fruit Farm" or the "Coral Castle". Drive west into the Everglades National Park and stop at "Billy's Swamp Safari" for an airboat ride and swamp buggy tour.

Sawgrass Mills Mall Released to Public Domain
Located in Sunrise, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, the Sawgrass Mills Mall is home to more than 300 retail outlets and name brand discount stores.

Shop Miami's Best Local Mall: Aventura Mall

A favorite shopping destination for locals and visitors alike, the Aventura Mall is a short drive north of Miami. The Mediterranean-style mall has more than 250 stores, a 24-screen movie complex and a large indoor kids playground called Rainbow Valley.

Go shopping at the largest outlet mall in Florida

Sawgrass Mills Mall is located in Sunrise just 15 miles from Fort Lauderdale International Airport and 30 miles from Miami International Airport. It is the largest mall in Florida with more than 350 retail stores, 35 restaurants and four entertainment venues. Plan on spending at least one whole day at this mall!

Travel north to Orlando and Disney World

The quickest route is via the Florida Turnpike or Route 95 north. It will take only 5 to 6 hours. Route 1 wends its way up through the beachfront communities along the Atlantic Coast. It is a much slower route but a bit more scenic.

As an alternative route, you can cross the Florida Peninsula via Route 75 through the Everglades to Naples on the Gulf Coast. The trip can be completed in less than two hours unless you stop at Billie's Swamp Safari near the halfway point and spend a few hours experiencing the Everglades. Naples is a nice place to stay overnight and enjoy the beautiful Gulf Coast Beaches and the great sunsets.

From Naples, you can continue on Route 75 to Tampa and east on Route 4 to Orlando. This drive will take about 5 hours if you don't make any extended stops.

Hotels in Naples
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If you fly into Orlando

You will either fly into Orlando International Airport, located eight miles southeast of downtown, or into Orlando Sanford Airport, located 15 miles north of downtown. Many European charter operators favor the latter airport.

Seek accommodations south of Orlando

Nearly all of the family entertainment attractions are located south of Orlando along Route 4. Disney World with its myriad of theme parks, entertainment venues, restaurants and resorts is located about 10 miles south of downtown Orlando near Kissimmee. Universal Studios theme parks are about five miles south of downtown. Sea World and many other attractions are scattered between Disney and Universal. There are numerous accommodations in all price ranges located nearby.

Hotels in Orlando, Kissimmee and Disney World
Check accommodations at Disney World, near Disney World, near Kissimmee, or budget priced accommodations!

Visit the Orlando attractions

The area south of Orlando contains the greatest concentration of family entertainment attractions in the world. You can easily spend 3 to 5 days exploring all of the theme parks and other attractions at Disney World. You can spend several more days exploring the theme parks of Universal Studios, Sea World, and the lesser venues. It is wise to plan your stay and choose the attractions that are most interesting to you, as you are not likely to see them all.

Universal Orlando Resort © Mike Leco/
Universal Orlando Resort is the second largest resort in Orlando. It features two theme parks (Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure), entertainment and retail district (Universal CityWalk), on-site hotels and a water park.

Go shopping at the discount malls

There are three major discount malls in the Orlando area. Orlando Premium Outlets is located just one mile from Disney World and it offers 110 designer and name brand stores. Prime Outlets International Orlando is located closer to Universal Studios and it offers over 170 name brand stores. Belz Factory Outlet World and its sister Belz Designer Outlet Center are located 12 miles from Disney World. Together, they offer over 200 stores.

Shop at The Florida Mall and eat M&M's

One of the largest single-story malls in the United States, The Florida Mall is conveniently located and within a short drive to all of Orlando's major attractions. It has more than 270 stores and is a favorite shopping destination for vacationers. Along with specialty and major department stores, the mall is home to M&M's World and its 17,500 sq. ft. of chocolate goodness dedicated to one of America's favorite candies. While there, visit MY M&M's Candies, where you can choose the colors of your M&M's. The mall also features its own hotel, The Florida Hotel, which contains 510 guest rooms and suites.

Take a ride in a hot-air balloon

Thompson Aire Ballooning offers sunrise flights for groups of two or more passengers in the Orlando-Kissimmee area. Get out early before the first rays of morning light, join the crew in pre-flight preparations, enjoy the panoramic bird's eye view of the beautiful central Florida countryside and after your flight, sit down for an included breakfast before shopping or sightseeing the rest of the day.

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Visit Clearwater Beach for swimming and fishing

On the Gulf Shore near Tampa, Clearwater Beach is a favorite seafront resort for tourists visiting Orlando. Just a two-hour drive west of Disney World, this wide, sandy beach with warm shallow waters is a great swimming beach for families. It offers a wide variety of accommodations and tourist attractions including a small harbor with fishing excursions and charter boats.

Visit the Kennedy Space Center and Astronaut Museum

It is located 50 miles east of Orlando and takes about one hour to get there by car. You will get an opportunity to see many rockets, a space shuttle and some astronaut's equipment. In addition, you can take a bus tour through the nearby Kennedy Spaceport and Launch Complex. This is a fascinating attraction for children and adults alike.

Stay at Cocoa Beach

Located just a few miles south of Kennedy Space Center, Cocoa Beach is a seaside community with beautiful sandy beaches on the Atlantic Ocean, and less tourists than most other Florida cities. It is a favorite beach resort for local Florida residents and vacationers that prefer to avoid the large tourist crowds of the more commercial resorts.

Hotels in Cocoa Beach
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Drive to Miami

The most direct route and the quickest way from Orlando is via the Florida Turnpike. You can drive it in just five hours. From Kennedy Space Center or Cocoa Beach, Route 95 is the most direct and it also takes about five hours. If you are adventuresome and have plenty of time, you can also follow Route 1 down the coast through the beachside communities and small towns.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: Courtesty of Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc. ®
Photo Description: Entrance to The Florida Mall