Family vacations are so important, especially in today's world of technology and separation. With its long-standing title as the happiest place on earth, Florida's Walt Disney World is an increasingly popular vacation destination. It features rides, shops, restaurants, and activities for all ages. All that activity and variety, though ideal for large families comprised of multiple age groups, can be very overwhelming when you're trying to plan the perfect vacation. For parents trying to wrangle kids, or even young adults looking to relive childhood, navigating the four parks can be very stressful.

However, there are ways to streamline the process and maximize enjoyment.

Define the trip

First, you need to know what kind of trip you're making. If you live near Orlando or have Disney as an established tradition, you won't need to try to cram everything in at once. If you know you'll be back, don't worry about hitting everything. Instead of racing from wait time to wait time for rides, focus on more relaxing activities like parades or character meals. If it's a one-time opportunity, go big or go home! It's important to establish which scenario most applies to you before starting out.

How long the trips will be is important in addition to the frequency. A long weekend trip is vastly different from a seven-day adventure.

The longer you're going to be there, the less you have to worry about cramming. The downside to long trips, however, is that they can get boring if totally unplanned. Short trips require the most meticulous planning to make the most of your time, but are often cheaper. A long trip, at least four days long, will allow you to hit all four parks and get the full experience of each.

One park per day is usually the way to go. Park-hopping has great appeal from a distance, but the tickets are more expensive, and the hassle isn't always worth it. Short trips will require more prioritizing, knowing exactly what you want to do and how you want to do it. You will need to keep an eye on schedules and wait times.

Determining what kind of trip you will be taking involves planning around money, time, and even future plans. However, it is a critical step in the process of having the most enjoyable experience possible. Defining the trip will allow you to then determine how and what you need to plan when it comes to the details. Set yourself up for success.

Do the research

Knowing that Animal Kingdom is the largest Disney World park and Hollywood Studios is the smallest may seem like trivial information, but tidbits such as this can come in handy when you're thinking about how long it will take to get from one attraction to another. That's not to say that you have to memorize the layout of every single park before you get there, but it is absolutely necessary to grab a map on your way in to avoid unnecessary stress and confusion when you're trying to remember where that one ride was.

Each park has a fairly comprehensive layout. Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom are similar; each park is essentially a giant central circle with arms branching off to take you to the different countries/lands. Epcot's "World Showcase" is also a circle, but a very simple one wrapping around a large lake. On the other side of the ball, there are two branches that take you to the park's other attractions ("The Land" and "The Sea"). Hollywood Studios is essentially one big strip with a few small branches throughout and bigger branching sections at the end. (Special Hint: Each part has a central focal point, a large landmark to go by. Animal Kingdom's is the "Tree of Life", Magic Kingdom's is Cinderella's castle, Epcot's is the giant ball, and Hollywood Studios' is Mickey's sorcerer's hat.)

The most important part of preliminary research is knowing what each park has to offer, and thus what each park will demand.

Hollywood Studios, for example, is more about shows than rides. Coupled with its compact nature, this makes it the least demanding of the four parks. Magic Kingdom, on the other hand, has an abundance of rides and entertainment. This is where you're going to be doing the most running around. It's important to be prepared for that in terms of how you dress, how many supplies you bring (water bottles, sun screen, etc.), and how you plan that day's activities. Epcot is similar to Hollywood Studios in that its focus is on things other than rides, but there's still quite a bit to see and do with the "World Showcase" as well as everything on the other side of the ball. Good walking shoes are still important for this park, especially since one ride will require that you take flip flops or other loose sandals off, but ponchos and workout gear might not be necessary.

Animal Kingdom is big, but generally very relaxed. Preparation for this park should mostly include walking shoes, an animal guide presented at the front gates, and something you can get wet in. While there are only a few major rides in this park (including two new ones), one of them is pretty much guaranteed to soak you.

Gathering all this information from experience is a long and difficult trial-and-error process, which is why it's so important to think about these things beforehand. Knowing what to expect is a crucial part of preparing for anything.

Expect sticker shock

Disney World is expensive. There's no denying it, and it's very difficult to get around it. The best thing to do is just know what you're getting yourself into, to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

The average price for lunch at Disney World cafes is $50 for a Family of four. Nicer restaurant dinners will run up to at least $100, especially if it's a character dining experience. Snacks can be about $20 for each trip to the ice cream stand. The easiest way to avoid spending too much money on food is to plan one meal at the park and bring your own snacks for the rest of the day. While it may not be realistic to expect your family to pack a full picnic lunch every day or only eat peanut butter sandwiches, it is reasonable to pack protein bars and water bottles and only indulge in one or two Disney snacks per day. An easy trick to help avoid unnecessary spending is to bring your own reusable water bottles.

Any snack stand that has a soda machine will fill your reusable bottles with water for free. They will also give you cups of ice water for free, but those aren't as easy to travel around the park with.

Food isn't the only thing Disney World has to offer for the draining of your wallet. There are shops everywhere, filled with high-quality souvenirs at high prices. You're going to want everything, because everything is going to look amazing, but it's important to set restrictions. Decide how much you're willing to spend on souvenirs, or simply what kind of souvenir you want, before browsing the shops. Some people prefer to wait until the very end of their trip, to make sure they don't prematurely buy something and then find a better option later on.

Whatever your plan is, it's just important that you have one and you know what you want.

Really, it doesn't matter how much you spend... as long as you're prepared to spend it. If you don't want to spend anything, you have to make plans for that. If you can spend a lot, you need to know what you're willing to spend it on.

Embrace the magic

Aside from all the logic and all the specifics about preparing for Walt Disney World, there is one piece of advice that stands on its own as the most important thing to know and take to heart. Embrace your inner child. Yes, Disney World is the happiest place on earth for kids because it brings their childhood fantasies to life. What a lot of adults miss, though, is that it can also be the happiest place on earth for them too.

Down the smallest details, Disney World is absolutely magical. Parents and teens can appreciate that too, if they're willing to let go and embrace the childish fun. So in addition to looking at the maps and keeping track of the money, remember to smile and look at the big picture of the experience as well.