It’s time to meet another member of our wonderful cabin crew, and they don’t come much more fabulous than our very own Queen of Shops, Karla Coffey, who’s been flying with Virgin for ten years.
Liverpudlian Karla almost exclusively serves our Manchester to Orlando route, and over the years has become something of an expert – to say the least – on the Sunshine State’s plethora of retail therapy opportunities. Never one to miss a bargain, Karla has mastered the art of navigating Orlando’s many shopping destinations and outlet malls, and we took the opportunity to grill her on how, where and when to get the best and biggest bang for our bucks.
Karla, what advice would you give to someone who’s not familiar with shopping at huge American outlet malls?
I would advise people to go online and google the malls before visiting. You can print off a list of stores, and there are sections on the websites which let you know which shops are offering further discounts that week.
If you head to the customer service desk on arrival and pick up a map, this will save wasting time trying to find the shops you’re most interested in. Premium Outlets Orlando (formerly Prime Outlets) is newly built so most shops of the same type are grouped together; all the men's and sports shops are at one end, with ladies and department stores at the other, which makes it much easier.
The desks also offer voucher books, which often have to be purchased. I would always advise checking out what types of discounts are in the book before buying, as they’re not always worth it.
When would you say is the best time to shop during your holiday?
It's definitely worth trying to shop at the beginning of your stay, as some stores give you a discount card which can be used at a later date. Juicy Couture often give out cards for 20% off the next time you shop, for example.
Can you share some expert tips on how to hunt down the best bargains?
I would always advise people to think ahead when shopping in an outlet mall. For example, I often buy winter coats and boots in the summer because there'll be a larger discount on them than in the winter. The shops don't have room to store them all year round. Last summer I got some Juicy boots for $25 dollars because they needed to clear the space for new, incoming stock.
The outlets are particularly good for certain things like trainers, Timberland boots and golf gear so I would definitely recommend stocking up on those. I would pass over certain other types of products and stores though - places like Bath & Body Works have the same offers as the regular malls. However, make sure you visit the company stores for high-end cosmetic brands like Mac and Bobbi Brown as they are far cheaper than the department stores.
Even Bigger Bargains
We're in January Sales mode right now - are there some opportunities we shouldn't miss?
Yes - I buy all my wrapping paper, Christmas cards and decorations in Target and SuperTarget in the January Sales! They offer a 75% discount to start with, and then drop it to 90% to clear it all out by the end of Jan.
I also go to Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch in January. The sales start off good, but by late January they're amazing because they need the room. You can pick up coats and hoodies reduced from $200-300 for $30. The styles don't really change that much at all, so I buy them for anyone who has a winter birthday, or keep them for the following Christmas. That way you get to look super generous! If you try the shops that aren't in the main malls, you'll have more success with this. For example, there's a Hollister in Pointe Orlando that's normally quite empty, so they will have the best sales.
Bath & Body Works have really great sales which carry on right through January. They have 50% to 75% off gift baskets, so if you choose ones that are pink and not Christmassy-red they will do for gifts throughout the year. I always buy them and put them away for Mother's Day.
In the outlets, Victoria's Secret is another store with great January Sales bargains, as low as $5 for sleepwear. They advertise it as 4 for $20, but you don't actually need to buy all four if you don't want to. They have 75% off perfume sales throughout the year too, not just in January, so it's always worth going in to check.
My final tip would be to check the websites of any stores you like, buy the sale items and have them shipped to your hotel address so they're waiting for you when you arrive. That way you won't miss out.
Where's your favourite mall for eating and drinking?
figcaption>Karla at Blue Martini, Millenia Mall, Orlando
When I need to eat, I head to Millenia Mall. It has the best restaurants including a really lovely Italian called Brio. There's even a great cocktail bar, Blue Martini, where I'll go for a well-deserved bellini. If I have literally bought more than I can carry or palm off on other crew for carrying duties, then I'll head to Pointe Orlando and go to my favourite restaurant of all, a Greek taverna called Opa.
And when you're not in Orlando, where else might you be?
My favourite destinations are Paris and Las Vegas. I've been to Vegas on holiday 23 times. I absolutely love the nightlife, and of course the shops are fabulous!
Can you share your best Vegas tips too?
Of course - the Fashion Show Mall is brilliant and has the most shops and department stores and some good restaurants too. The Forever 21 store here is spread across two huge floors, so you'll definitely find an outfit for that night's partying. There's another Premium Outlets here too - it's off the Strip, just a short taxi-ride away.
Miracle Mile shops at the Planet Hollywood Hotel have an enormous range of high-street shops, whereas Crystals mall at the new CityCenter complex has all the high-end stores, so make sure you take a trip here if you win big.
There are more boutiques and specialist shops at Mandalay Place at the Mandalay Bay hotel if you're looking for something a bit different, and another place worth seeking out is the Town Square complex just off the Strip, if you manage to get through all the others.
And the Vegas nightlife?
Nightlife in Vegas starts during the day. The pool parties are amazing and there is one on most days. Best ones to try are Ditch at the Palms hotel (Fridays), Wet Republic at MGM Grand (Fri/Sat/Sun) and Rehab at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (Sundays). Some of the smaller ones include Liquid at the Aria, Bare at Mirage, Encore Beach at Encore and Tao Beach at the Venetian. They often have top DJs and celebrity guest hosts. It's a great way to meet up with people and find out where everyone is going that night.
If you're on Facebook and other networking sites, then search the clubs and join their pages; it will give you info about what's on and when, and you can connect with the promoters directly for guestlists. I'd also recommend signing up to the clubs' newsletters on the hotel websites to get updates on what's happening. They often have contacts that you can email for guestlists and bottle service.
My favourite clubs in Vegas are XS at the Encore and Tryst at the Wynn - also at the Wynn is Surrender nightclub and Parasol Down bar; in fact the whole place is great at night. Also try Vanity at Hard Rock, Pure at Caesar's Palace, Tao at the Venetian, LAX at the Luxor, Eve at CityCenter, Jet at Mirage (especially on a Monday) and Moon, Ghostbar or Rain at Palms.
Virgin Atlantic operate daily flights to Orlando from London Gatwick airport and Manchester and daily flights to Las Vegas from London Gatwick, with a new twice-weekly service starting from Manchester on the 3rd April 2011.
Remember that the state sales tax of 6% (Florida) and 6.85% (Nevada) will be added at the point of purchase and not generally included in the ticket price.
Photo of Orlando Premium Outlets by Flickr photographer River Beach.
If you’d like to learn more about becoming Cabin Crew with Virgin Atlantic, here’s all you need to know. And if you enjoyed this post, check out our previous interviews with Cabin Crew members Jennifer Jones, Ben Ward, and Michael Blair.
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.