Everything really is pretty awesome here. 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 on the cypress tree–lined shores of pretty Lake Eloise that helped put Orlando on the tourist map. 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 directly to kids aged 2 to 12. Everything 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, and it has good hotels, too.

In 2018, it added Lego Movie World, a somewhat psychedelic area themed on the films, with three rides: Unikitty Disco Drop, the water-gun boat fight of Battle of Bricksburg, and the Soarin’-esque Masters of Flight. Other highlights include Lost Kingdom Adventure, an indoor target practice game in the style of a Lego-bright Indiana Jones tomb; 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); The Great Lego Race, a wild mouse coaster where you can wear virtual reality goggles for an out-of-body experience (it’s also 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, a jaw-dropping heli-water-ski MGM picture from 1953.

For all that, and lots more like it, nothing competes with the fascination of Miniland, the tour de force display of Lego construction. 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 echoes Cypress Gardens’ pyramids of maidens with ski-jumping socket-headed Minifigure toy people. On top of all that, there’s a modest Water Park attached (add $25, operating year-round with heated pools, but open for as little as 4 hours daily in winter), and the option to buy an unlimited pizza and pasta buffet, with fountain drinks ($10, in advance). 

The separately ticketed, teeny-for-toddlers Peppa Pig Theme Park (open in 2022) is on the same grounds and shares the parking lot. It's the world’s first standalone theme park devoted to cartoon superstar Peppa Pig and it will be, according to Legoland parent Merlin Entertainments, “exclusively designed for ‘little piggies’ with multiple interactive rides and attractions, themed play areas complete with ‘muddy puddles’ water play, and fun live shows.” Among the kiddo rides: Daddy Pig’s Roller Coaster, Grandad Dog’s Pirate Boat Ride, Peppa’s Pedal Bike Tour, and George’s Tricycle Trail. The area will be separately ticketed from Legoland and its water slide park. For updated prices, hours, and details of Peppa Pig Theme Park, go to www.peppapigthemepark.com/florida