By ATD’S Florida experts Susan & Simon Veness
It’s no secret that most visitors love to shop in Orlando, and now there is a whole new shopping experience that awaits on International Drive. Formerly Festival Bay, the Artegon Marketplace opened this week in extravagant style, with the promise of “a unique mix of talent and retail.”
We were at the grand inauguration on Thursday and definitely feel it is a huge improvement on poor old Festival Bay. It is fun, lively, really different and packed with small-scale treasures. In fact, it is very much a shopping adventure, and the new owners insist it will provide “your own personal sense of discovery.”
First of all the Artegon is not a mall, even though it is all under one roof. It does still have big-name anchor stores (the tried and trusted survivors of previous times), namely Bass Pro Shops, Sheplers Western Wear, Ron Jon Surf Shop and the Cinemark movie complex, the latter featuring the new XD cinema technology.
The whole centre of the Marketplace is given over to The Village section, though, a collection of more than 100 small craft-like stalls and kiosks in a modern, market-style set-up, either side of the Great Hall, which features the extensive Sky Trails ropes course and zipline attraction, with a junior-sized version for those under 4ft tall.
The bigger shops occupy the outside of the Artegon, pretty much where they were before but all freshened up for the new-look style. Other larger outlets include Gallery International for fine art, Book Warehouse, Gusi Souvenirs and the Pepper Palace, for all kinds of hot sauce, including the blow-your-head-off kind!
The burger fare of Fuddruckers is still here, as is the Putting Edge indoor glow-in-the-dark mini-golf, while forthcoming new activity centres include the Radbourne Skate Park and Sky Zone trampoline park.
Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill is due to open at the end of November, featuring live music in a lively Country and western vibe, while Berghoff’s biergarten (with German style beer, food and entertainment) will make its debut in the New Year. There is already a Subway sandwich shop and a counter-service pizza diner, Pizza@Artegon Marketplace, is in the final stages of completion.
The grand opening was attended by Orlando’s go-ahead mayor, Buddy Dyer, and he said: “We have been doing a lot of ribbon-cutting and openings around here just lately but this is pretty darn cool as it will showcase the talent of our many local artists and crafts people. It is really exciting.”
Steven Sless, executive vice president for owners Paragon Outlet Partners, told us: “I think the over-riding character of this is talent and diversity. We have some amazingly talented people creating unique retail and we want it all to have a sense of uniqueness and discovery. We want it to be something you are not going to see in your home town. Here, guests can discover authentic local culture and take home a hand-made treasure.”
The arts and crafts definitely take pride of place in the Village, with dozens of stalls offering all kinds of art, from paintings and sculptures to amazing glasswork and candles hand-poured into everyday containers (like wine bottles and beer cans) and given a new lease of life.
It is all wonderfully creative, with novelty items like The Airbrush Zone, Stupendous Balloons and Green Leaf Henna. There are jewellers and local fashion boutiques; candy stores and cosmetics; luggage outlets and furniture designers. You want fresh Florida honey? That’s here, too.
Several of the stalls caught our eye for originality and sheer ingenuity, such as Swings ‘n Things, with all manner of hammocks and swing seats, and the Florida Soap Company, with a fresh local take on the big-name soap manufacturers, at much more wallet-friendly prices.
We also met Wendy Davis of Poca’s Hottest, a specialist sauce maker with another distinctive twist. Wendy names all her sauces after local bands, who each have their own original characteristic, and we were able to sample several items. We absolutely LOVED the smoked apple barbecue sauce and Susan was quick to snag a few more for future meals at Veness Towers!
Wendy – who used to play Pocahontas at Walt Disney World – told us: “We have been preparing for this for the last four months and are really excited to see it all up and running now. When we went to the open house for potential vendors we were totally sold on the market concept. It is definitely really cool and the mix is so different to the malls. I can imagine doing a lot of Christmas shopping here myself!”
Another stall that caught our eye was that for International Hot Glass, which turned out to be just the small showcase for a complete gallery of creative glassware that is still under construction for the New Year. The owners are also ex-Disney people, having worked in the hot glass shop on Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom for many years.
When complete, the Hot Glass studio will be both a showcase for the glass-blowing and creative art as well as a learning experience where visitors can walk in and try their hand at glasswork with an expert glass-blower. There will be workshops and group classes, plus a version for kids (9 and older). Visiting guest artists will also demonstrate the craft here, and the range of glasswork should be absolutely amazing, if their current stall is anything to go by (featuring the work of six different artists and including some superbly eye-catching pieces).
Another signature shop still under construction is Gods And Monsters, which aims to be America’s largest themed comic book shop, which should appeal to geeks and collectors alike, and should also be amazingly cool.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony was performed by our good friend Tim Williams of Gatorland, who brought along one of his gator friends especially for the occasion – the final proof that this is no ordinary shopping centre!
And that is definitely the intention. Phase 2 of Artegon Marketplace is still under construction, but it is hidden away from general view and most visitors won’t realise it is even there. But Phase 1 is certainly plenty to be going on with and it is unlike anything we have seen in the area, or even large parts of the US.
Festival Bay never took off because so much of it laid empty for long periods and it was rarely 50 per cent occupied at best. It also boasted very little that was above the ordinary in shopping terms, outside the likes of the extraordinary Bass Pro Shops, which serves up everything imaginable for outdoor activities, and Sheplers Western Wear, which is hugely popular with British visitors.
Artegon Marketplace will definitely not be confused with any other mall or shopping experience. As they like to say, “Experience unique.” We did – and we think you should, too!