UNIVERSITY PARK -- At 880,000 square feet, the two-level University Town Center mall is huge.
Because of its sheer size and location, the mall offers shoppers some opportunities -- and some challenges.
Here are some tips for shoppers looking for an edge when visiting the mall.
Road to retail
Hope for the best, but expect the worst when driving to the mall. Here are some alternative routes:
From State Road 70, take Lockwood Ridge Road south to Honore Avenue. From Honore, continue south and turn left on DeSoto Road. You could turn left instead from Honore onto Cooper Creek Boulevard and continue south to Cattlemen Road, but that will be the busiest intersection and should be avoided.
From West Bradenton, take a scenic drive on 75th Street West, heading south as the road turns into El Conquistador Parkway, which turns into Saunders Road on 14th Street West and turns into Honore Avenue. Continue south of University and take a left on DeSoto.
From U.S. 41 and U.S. 301 north of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, head east on Whitfield Avenue, left on Old Farm Road, right onto Honore Avenue and left onto DeSoto.
From Fruitville Road, take either Cattlemen Road north directly to the mall or take Honore and turn right on DeSoto.
Improvements are coming to University Parkway, but not until well after the mall opens. Note that the left turn signal from the westbound lanes of University Parkway onto Cattlemen Road is a quick one, meaning few cars will pass through.
Sarasota County Area Transit buses will temporarily detour transit service along North Honore Avenue and will not travel on North Cattlemen Road between DeSoto Road and University Parkway beginning Wednesday.
Customers on the affected routes should be prepared for service delays, SCAT announced. The detour will affect the following SCAT routes: Monday-Saturday: Route 30 (SRQ Airport/University/Lakewood Ranch) Monday-Saturday: Route 15 (Gulf Gate/Cattlemen/University/SRQ Airport) Sunday: Route 215S (Downtown/SRQ Airport/Lakewood Ranch).
SCAT routes will travel on Honore Avenue and Desoto Road. Passengers for the Mall at UTC area will continue to be able to board or transfer at SCAT transfer location on Worth Drive behind Florida Blue, west of North Cattlemen Road.
For the long opening weekend, shoppers might want to work their way from the back of the mall to the front, starting on the second floor. The crowd is expected to tackle the mall from the front.
There are east entrances adjacent to Dillard's, Macy's and a central entrance between Kona Grill and Burger & Beer Joint. West entrances are also adjacent to Dillard's, Macy's and the main grand pavilion.
Skip parking altogether and opt for valet service at the main entrance. Avoid the backlog at the main entrance valet and drive over to Saks, which will have its own valet service.
For second-floor parking, go to sections 2 and 5 of the parking lot on the east side of the mall, the side closest to Interstate 75.
Don't even want to deal with the parking lots? Cattlemen and DeSoto roads have seldom-used parallel parking spaces. That will likely change with the mall's opening.
Getting to the mall extra early? There is a Starbucks Coffee shop on the north end of the mall inside Macy's, with its own entrance. Shoppers who arrive before the opening of the mall can brace themselves for a day of retail therapy with a jolt of java. Can't make it to the Macy's Starbucks? There is also another Starbucks under the escalator in the grand court.
Show up early to Macy's grand opening on Thursday. The first 400 customers at the store opening will receive a $10 Macy's gift card.
You can get into Saks Fifth Avenue early if you are willing to help support charity.
Tickets are still available for the private Key To The Cure cocktail party from 5:30-9 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets cost $100 per person and can be purchased at SMHF.org and click on News and Events or by calling 941-917-1286.
For a different view of Saks, head to the store's restaurant, Sophie's, on the second floor. One of the hidden gems about this swanky restaurant is an outdoor terrace for alfresco dining with seating for 60, as well as an outdoor bar. The restaurant is open during Saks store hours.
Saks Fifth Avenue will also have several special events:
Oct. 22-23: John Hardy Trunk Show from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Oct. 23-24: Etro Fall Trunk Show
Dealing at Dillard's
Select stores are offering freebies and discounts galore, and Dillard's is going all out for its first store opening since 2010.
The ribbon will be cut at 9:45 a.m. Thursday at the west entrance, followed by a Dillard's Lucky Key Event where the store will give away more than $25,000 in prizes. Shoppers will participate in store activities to receive keys that could open a treasure chest of fashion.
More money will be given away through an event from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. Passport to Fashion gives shoppers a chance to meet Dillard's buyers and visit experts wearing a "Passport to Fashion" lanyard.
The experts will introduce shoppers to the new look and, when the passport is complete, shoppers can drop it off at the registration box by the mall entrance for a chance to win a $1,000 shopping spree.
From 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, shoppers can register to win a shopping spree as the store gives away more than $5,500 in prizes.