So if you turn the key to off and remove it, you can turn the steering wheel and it doesn't lock, you can shift, etc, but no gauges? Wierd.
If it is the cylinder, it should be cake to change. Put the old key in, turn to run, and stick a straightened wire coat hanger or other suitable tool into a hole you'll find below the cylinder, on the shroud. This will depress a pin in the cylinder. Pull the whole thing out. Take the new cylinder, with the key already in it and in the run position and insert it in the hole. Turn to off, give it a jiggle to make sure the pin is seated, and remove the key. Done. Probably takes as long to do as it took to read. I'd get a new one from your FLAPS rather than a junkyard though. Avoid the dealer if you can.
It doesn't sound that simple though. The reason I asked if the key was real easy to turn is because the same thing happened to me back in June. One day as I started my car, I heard a snap and the key felt strange. It started. When I got home, it wouldn't shut off. What happened is there is a plastic rod, hinged in the middle due to the tilt steering, that had broken. It goes from the lock cylinder down to the ignition switch itself. I ended up replacing the entire column, as I couldn't see any easy way to get at the rod.
Your problem seems different in that you lose the gauges, yet the engine keeps running, the wheel turns and you can shift it without the key. If the first two happen without the last two, I'd suspect a short somewhere. If just the last three happen, I'd suspect a broken ignition rod.