By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Apr 20, 2013 at 9:02 AM

Folks assured me that all it would take is one visit to the Orlando-area theme park and I’d be hooked.

And it was true.

But, with all due respect to Mickey Mouse, I’m talking about LEGOLAND, in Winter Haven, Fla., rather than Disney. (There is another LEGOLAND in Carlsbad, Calif.)

On a recent trip we spent a day at LEGOLAND and a day at the Magic Kingdom, but I’ll resist the urge to make comparisons, which would be unfair and inaccurate in far too many ways to be useful. But I can say without hesitation that our day at LEGOLAND ranks as one of the best days I’ve had in a long time.

Starting out from a negative position on the day – weather was just a part of it – the easy to navigate and wonderfully fun LEGOLAND rescued our Spring Break Friday.

One of our kids is in full LEGO obsession right now. Sure he still loves books, but most these days have the LEGO logo on the cover. And he does like to watch a few TV shows, though most are animated adventures based on LEGO themes.

It’s OK, because his imagination works overtime as he builds sets, then tears them down to customize them. And the sets he can’t afford? He recreates them to his own specifications with the parts he has on hand. He’s learning to follow step by step directions, but also learning to be creative and to engineer and re-engineer structures. He could be doing worse.

This all to say – and parents will understand – that at least one kid had extremely high hopes for LEGOLAND. Luckily, the place delivers.

As you’d expect, everything is LEGO-themed, and, yes, there are a lot of shops selling LEGO products throughout the park. But, you don’t have to buy. We looked around in a few of them, but saved our one LEGO shop purchase for the end of the day.

Best of all, the atmosphere is great. Everyone looks like they’re having a blast and the park itself – which was home to Cypress Gardens for many years – is spotless and immaculate with lots of shady areas to briefly escape the Florida sun.

There are nearly two dozen rides, and many of them are perfect for little kids like mine.

I rode the carousel – with LEGO-like horses – three times with one child. And we enjoyed go-karts and other rides, too. There were lines, but they weren’t bad. The longest we waited was about 30 minutes for the go-karts. And some areas have tables full of LEGOs that kids can play with while waiting their turn for a ride.

One of the best attractions at the park is Miniland USA, which features LEGO reconstructions of New York City, San Francisco, Washington DC, Vegas and more. While I thought this might be more to adult tastes than kids’, I was wrong. Our little ones ate it up, though I admit that our eldest most loved the large Star Wars Miniland area.

There is also a medieval castle bazaar and a recreation of an Egyptian temple. And, scattered around the park, are life-sized LEGO figures, animals, cars and more. A theater rotates a handful of 4-D films. There’s a DUPLO village aimed at littler kids and and a Technic area for older kids. At the water’s edge is the Pirates’ Cove with a swashbucklers’ ship and a grandstand for a water ski show.

Next to that is the entrance to what remains of Cypress Gardens and what remains is a stunning area laced with paths through a tropical paradise and under a huge, astonishing banyan tree, which the kids are still talking about weeks after our visit. The gardens were a big surprise and a big hit with the entire family.

On the far end of the park is the LEGOLAND Water Park, which, just when we thought the kids might konk out, served to reinvigorate them. The water park is not huge. Rather, it’s just the right size with a kiddie pool, some giant tube slides, a nice big pool with a big play structure topped with one of those soaking buckets, a wave pool and some great LEGO water tables, too.

I regret that we waited to long to hit the water park, which closes a couple hours earlier than the rest of the park. When you plan your day, be sure to take the water park hours into consideration. We had a bit of time there, but not enough.

On the way out, we hit The Big Shop near the entrance – which, an hour before closing time was swamped with customers – so the kids could bring home a little something.

It’s hard to explain it, but everything clicked for us at LEGOLAND. The kids were in a good mood, which means the parents were in a good mood. After a little rain at the start, the weather cleared up and was beautiful. But, LEGOLAND also stacked up a series of experiences that made for a memorable family day out.

Alas, we missed The World of Chima – with its big speedorz arena and The Quest for CHI interactive water ride – which won’t open up until summer.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in an episode of TV's "Party of Five," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.