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Legoland Florida is not just the youngest Central Florida theme park. It's also the oldest. That's because it took over the historic property of Cypress Gardens, a park for botanical gardens and water ski shows on the cypress tree-lined shores of pretty Lake Eloise that helped put Orlando on modern tourist maps. Today, this extremely kid-friendly, soothingly mellow 150-acre park 45 minutes south of Disney World is a godsend for parents who crave a breather from the mechanical and authoritarian environment of Disney World. No other Florida park feels so spacious and caters so completely to kids aged 2 to 12. Everything here is designed for little ones, from easy-to-tackle versions of adult rides to a large selection of things to do—somehow, its energy is not stressful. For young families, there’s nothing better, and there’s an on-site hotel.

Other park highlights include Lost Kingdom Adventure, an indoor target practice game in the style of a Lego-bright Indiana Jones tomb; easygoing boat tour The Quest for Chi; Coastersaurus, a mild out-and-back wooden roller coaster suitable for grammar school lightweights; DUPLO Valley for toddler rides; Driving School, the Ford-sponsored, free-driving mini-auto course that teaches kids how to obey traffic rules (or, in truth, ignore their first ones); Project X, a wild mouse coaster perfectly situated for nonriders to take embarrassing shots of loved ones faces as they hurtle downhill; Flying School, a tiny hanging coaster for a kid’s first grown-up coaster thrills; Safari Trek, a wholly adorable car ride past wild African animals made of Legos; and Royal Joust, a mini steeplechase-style plastic horse race for wee ones that just may be the cutest ride in the world.

For a break from the excitement, a healthy portion of the carefully tended Cypress Gardens Historic Botanical Garden (closes 30 min. before the park) was preserved, complete with Spanish moss, cypress knees jutting from tannic water, old-growth banyans (protected in the winter by hidden gas heaters), and signs warning of alligators, which live in the lake. Only now do you remember you’re in Florida, which is sad, considering Florida made its tourist name by selling its natural wonders. Along its lakefront, search for a Florida-shaped swimming pool. It was built for Esther Williams’s Easy to Love (1953), a jaw-dropping heli-water-ski MGM picture that put Orlando on the map. For all that, and lots more like it, nothing competes with the fascination of Miniland, the tour de force display of Lego construction prowess that mounts exceedingly whimsical versions of American cities and landmarks. It’s aging and in need of some TLC, but still, the longer you linger, the more touches you see: a Space Shuttle misting during takeoff, dueling pirate ships, a mini “Star Wars” cantina, and marching bands in front of the Capitol. If you like those gags, stick around for the signature Pirates’ Cove Live Water Ski Show, which replaces Cypress Gardens’ pyramids of maidens with ski-jumping socket-headed Minifigure toy people. On top of all that, there’s a modest Water Park (add $20, summers and warm-season weekends) attached. Legoland offers $5 round-trip shuttles from I-Drive 360, home of sister attraction The Orlando Eye (877/350-5346). Because it usually closes by evening, arrive near opening time to get the most out of a day.