Malls as Vacation Destinations

Like to shop when you travel? You're not alone. Ninety million vacationing Americans — 63 percent — make shopping part of their vacations, according to The Shopping Traveler, a study by the Travel Industry Association of America.

The top items Americans buy while on vacation are shoes and apparel, according to Rosemary McCormick, president of Shop America, a four-year-old group that promotes shopping and tourism. "When you travel, you have the time and money to treat yourself," she explains.

Shopping centers recognize the trend and track the number of out-of-town shoppers. The Mall of America, at 4.2 million square feet — and contemplating an expansion that would make it more than 5 million square feet — estimates that 37 percent of its visitors come from beyond a 150-mile radius.

The Mall of America is also typical of new malls in that there's more than just shops. Certainly shopping is important — it has more than 520 stores. But it's also part theme park. Its Underwater Adventure holds an aquarium with more than 3,000 sea creatures.

There's a virtual submarine ride, a glass tunnel that lets visitors walk beneath the water's surface and a host of water-related exhibits examining waterscapes from the Mississippi to Caribbean coral reefs. On top of that, there's Camp Snoopy, an indoor family theme park with a roller coaster, Ferris wheel and water adventure ride, to name just a few.

Other Malls’ Attractions

The Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville, Iowa, has an NHL regulation-size ice arena for skating, the Iowa Children's Museum, the John Deere Play Plot and an antique carousel in addition to 120 stores.

The Carousel Center in Syracuse, N.Y., is named for the nearly 100-year-old carousel that is the mall's centerpiece. But Carousel Mall is not sitting still; last month, the mall broke ground for a major expansion that will turn it into DestinNY USA, a $2.2 billion destination mall intended to be as much of a tourist attraction in upstate New York as the Erie Canal or the Finger Lakes.

So cognizant are shopping centers of the fact that they are destinations in and of themselves that some offer travel packages.

Cherry Creek Shopping Center, one of Denver's top tourist attractions, offers a variety of shopping packages. A $72 weekend package for two includes two nights at an adjacent hotel with a pool and health club access and continental breakfast as well as a $20 gift certificate redeemable at the mall and a welcome gift with a shopping bag, coupons and other special offers.

Shopping is such a part of the vacation experience that major tourist destinations such as Orlando and Las Vegas have made them an integral part of their own offerings. The just-opened Mall at Millennia in Orlando has 100 stores, 50 of them totally new to the area, including Tiffany, Chanel and Gucci.

Las Vegas, recognizing that the legalization of gambling in some form or other throughout the United States has cut into its appeal, has made shopping one of its main attractions with half a dozen major malls including the Forum Shops at Caesars and the Galleria at Sunset.

Malls as Gateways

Other malls can be a gateway to other local attractions. Oak Brook Center, which estimates that 30 percent of its shoppers are tourists, lies 18 miles west of downtown Chicago and is near the Cantigney Military Museum, the Morton Arboretum and the Brookfield Zoo.

For a comprehensive guide to America's top shopping malls and special offers from them, visit www.shopamericavip.com.

Please note that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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