Best-dressed sidewalk mannequins
Volume always increases visibility, and outside Venus & Mars (1115 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando), the number of smartly attired display figures sometimes constitutes a virtual crowd. The temptation is to stop and pose with them -- although in your drab outerwear, you'd be a dead ringer for a stiff next to these colorful characters.
Best place to shop when you want to be alone
Greta Garbo would have loved the Seminole Towne Center. After bombarding Central Florida residents with their "shoppa new mall, mall" jingle two years ago, the shopping center these days can sometimes seem like a veritable tomb. During weekdays you can practically roll a bowling ball down the "mall, mall" without hitting anyone, save for lonely shopkeepers.Best place to realize your stuff stinks
Robin Leach, Martha Stewart and the freaking Royal Family combined couldn't make you feel you are living below poverty level any more than a brief stroll down Park Avenue. There is no doubt about the fact that it's the Best Place to Walk (because it's one of the only areas in a 20-mile radius that is not flanked by an ugly, multilane, high-speed state road, a walk on which it only feels like you are being nearly missed by cannon balls). The thing is, on Park Avenue you end up walking past stores such as Jacobsen's, where you can buy a pair of nondescript black pumps for $220; Timothy's Gallery, a cross between a very hip museum and a store, where you can spend $95 on a perfume bottle without the perfume in it; or the Real Estate Center of Winter Park, where you can pick up a nice little waterfront house in town for a mere $529,000. All this can leave you feeling a bit like a financial midget. Park Avenue is, indeed, an example of capitalism gone right. And with all that loot, merchants are able to pay attention to the one thing that most other places in town seem unable to: aesthetics.
Best place to make your stuff smell better
Scented candles aren't exactly a novelty; you can get that at Winn-Dixie, fercrissakes. But not like the kind you can get at the Park Avenue Gallery (136 Park Ave. South, Winter Park). Yankee Candles are the Jelly Bellies of the candle world, not only because of the unusual selection of scents but also because you have to stand there in disbelief at how deliciously accurate and strong the scent is. The Hazel Nut Coffee candle smells like you just walked into a Barnie's. The Lemon Chiffon doesn't just smell like lemon; it smells like lemon cake. Exactly like lemon cake. The Morning Mist has that clean, clear, expensive laundry detergent smell, and the Festival of Lights smells like spice cake. Best of all, the Halloween candle comes in shimmering black and smells of the only odorific said to be an aphrodisiac: black licorice. A sweet smell can be among the best accessories a room can get, and though you wouldn't think you could get anything on Park Avenue for under a buck, the Yankee Candles start at 89 cents (and go up to $18.50 for the big ones in glass jars). A little of these power-packed things go a long way, and the scent stays in the air for quite awhile, so if eau de bargain is your scent of necessity but you like a little elegance as well, burn your money on Yankee Candles. We are almost certain they smell better than your house does right now.
Best place for a drag queen photo shoot
Forget all that transcendental meditation crap; if you want to experience the enlightenment that only your inner child can provide, pay a visit to the new F.A.O. Schwarz at Pointe Orlando (9101 International Drive, Orlando). Although one quick look at the price tags may jolt you back to adulthood, don't fret: After being greeted by real-life versions of a nutcracker and Raggedy Ann, you still can frolic through fields of stuffed animals; command a life-sized Darth Vader to speak; hit the race track with remote-controlled cars; take a tour of a fully furnished, life-size dollhouse; and satisfy your sweet tooth at the F.A.O. Schweetz shop. But the most transporting spot may be the entire department that pays homage to the queen of plastic dolls, Barbie, complete with a chandelier comprised entirely of pink satin pumps. It's enough to revive any girl's favorite memories of dress-up -- or, for that matter, provide a perfect backdrop for the boys who still do.
Best window display if you look really close
Rainbow City (934 N. Mills Ave., Orlando) just continues to expand its display of cards, collectibles, T-shirts and trinkets marketed to gays and lesbians, as well as those who think there's nothing wrong with that. (Who knew homosexuals liked to shop?) But all that window display space is bound to challenge shopkeepers, who, in one tiny corner of one great big window, have welcomed their new neighbors to the north, Absolute Leather, with a little leather display of their own. It's "Billy," the anatomically correct (and, at $50, rather overpriced) "gay" doll, whipping a few of his friends into shape. Bet you won't see that at Toys "R" Us -- at least not until the toy gets home, where we discover that it's been a bad, bad toy and needs to be punished. Unless, of course, it likes that sort of thing.
Best place to "come on down"
With an atmosphere that combines elements of "The Price is Right" and a massive footwear outlet, Shoe Carnival has been attracting shoppers to its store at the International Value Center near International Drive since February 1996. As you roam the aisles of towering displays of brand-name sneakers, shoes and purses, you suddenly hear a Shoe Carnival employee announce over the intercom that it is time to "come on down" to the center of the store and spin the discount wheel. With only minutes to spare, you race to the wheel, often donning your newly chosen pair of footwear, and anxiously await your turn at getting an additional $1-$5 off your purchase. And if you just happen to be in the store when there are plenty of shoppers or visiting tour groups, you can witness one lucky shopper enter the big money machine and attempt to seize discount coupons as they are furiously blown about the enclosed tank by special air vents. Bob Barker's preaching got you down? Don't worry -- here, no one reminds you to spay or neuter your pets.
Most un-Disneylike souvenir to be handed while leaving a Disney theme park
Gay Day -- the one that helped get the Baptists all riled up -- has never aspired to be more than a day of family fun at the theme parks. But this year some private promoters got into the act and staged their own, concurrent events. Among the biggest was "One Mighty Party," a street dance that capped Gay Day, and for which the promoter had rented out Disney-M.G.M. Studios. More than 2,000 people bought tickets. But renting a theme park still is a pretty expensive thing to do, which is why the promoter enlisted co-sponsors, one of which was a company that markets a product called "Wet." And certainly you can't fault the co-sponsor for sensing a marketing opportunity. Thus it was that partygoers, on their way out of the park -- many carrying Disney merchandise -- also were given a smile and a plastic tote bag that contained their very own bottle of "personal lubricant."
Best bug breeder
OK, so butterflies shouldn't be put into the same family as roaches. But really, they are bugs, just cute, colorful ones so lovable you want to give 'em names and squeeze 'em like any other pets. No wonder there's always a crowd around Lorenzo Zayas, an entomologist who emigrated from Cuba 16 years ago, and who has now brought more critters out of their cocoons than all the psychologists in town put together. Saturdays at the Winter Park Farmer's Market is where you'll find the kind and gentle breeder, surrounded by his customized cocoon cages, fashioned from plastic cups. He'll patiently explain the differences between monarchs and moths and make sure you're stocked with chow to suit your caterpillar. When the little buddy hatches, there's no one better with whom to share the genuine thrill.
Sidebar: Readers Pick:
Best Tattoo/Piercing Parlor:
Unity, 75 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando
Best Independent Video Store:
College Park Video, 3001 Edgewater Drive, Orlando
Best Shoe Store:
Left Right Left, 817 E. Washington St., Orlando
Best Jewelry Store:
Kathmandu, 120 E. Morse Blvd., Winter Park
Best Wine Selection:
Dexter's, 200 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park, and 808 E. Washington St., Orlando
Best Microbrew Selection:
Go Lounge, 27 Wall Street Plaza, Orlando
Best New Age Store:
Spiral Circle, 750 N. Thornton Ave., Orlando
Best Ethnic Market:
Medina's, 2405 E. Washington St., Orlando
Best Home Furnishings Store:
New Metropolis, 1901 N. Orange Ave., Orlando
Best Antiques Store:
Bangarang, 2309 N. Orange Ave., Orlando
Best Massage Therapist:
Best Place to Work Out:
Best Flea Market:
Flea World, North Hwy. 17-92, Sanford
Best Farmer's Market:
Winter Park Farmer's Market, Saturdays at New England and Pennsylvania avenues
House of Flowers, 1318 N. Mills Ave.
Best Vintage Clothing:
Galaxie, 910 N. Mills Ave.
Best Music Selection (Independent):
Park Avenue CDs, 528 S. Park Ave., Winter Park
Best Music Selection (Chain):
Best Buy, three area locations
Best Place to Buy Used CDs:
Park Avenue CDs, 528 S. Park Ave.
Best Place to Buy Vinyl:
Rock & Roll Heaven, 1814 N. Orange Ave.
Best Retail Bookstore:
Barnes & Noble
Best Used Bookstore:
Chapters Bookshop, 717 W. Smith St., Orlando