Everything You Need to Know About Fish Extenders on Disney Cruise Line

Posted by on September 17, 2020 in Thoughts and Opinions | 0 comments

September 17, 2020

By: Christina Szewczuk

What is a Fish Extender and how does it work?

A Fish Extender Exchange (or FE) is a gift exchange – kind of like a Secret Santa! A group, or several groups, of people who are cruising together on the same cruise organize a gift exchange. You are assigned to a group of fellow cruisers. There are groups of different sizes so your commitment can be larger or smaller. (The one I did last time was a group of 10 cabins that all exchanged with each other. There were groups of 5 as well.) You’ll get their names and stateroom numbers and they get yours. You will exchange gifts with each stateroom. You can either give a gift for each person in the room or do one gift per cabin. It is best to chat with your group and get to know them so you can figure out what would best suit each person. Is it a room of friends? A family? A couple? Once you are on the cruise, you distribute the gifts in secret and leave them for people to find outside their cabin door. But don’t get caught! It’s so exciting to come back from dinner to an extender full of fun stuff or wake up to a surprise!

OK I’m in. How do I sign up?

The easiest way to sign up is to search for your sailing on Facebook and join a group page. They generally have a whole group with people who will be on the same sailing. You can post questions, answer questions(,) or just get to know some people before going. It’s a great way to meet people and get information. It’s really fun to run into them on the actual cruise! You can ask about Fish Extender groups there if you don’t see a post about it. There is usually someone within that group who will be organizing an exchange.  If you are not on Facebook, you can Google your sailing too. Some of the message boards have threads for your sailing and you can sometimes join a group there. However, it’s more popular on Facebook.

Why do they call it a Fish Extender?

Outside your stateroom door, there is a little silver fish, starfish or seahorse with your stateroom number below it. Disney Cruise Line uses these to hold messages, and other communications for you throughout your cruise. You hang your “Fish Extender” on here and the members of your group will fill it up with gifts. It’s an “extension” of your fish to hold messages and gifts from your fellow cruisers!

So this extender thingy…. What does it look like and is it expensive?

All of that is completely up to you! You can buy one or make one or just use a bag. It can be a Disney bag, a new bag, an old bag or even just a plastic grocery bag. Some Extenders are personalized, some have individual pockets for each person in the stateroom, and some are plain. It can be as simple or as fancy as you’d like it to be! There are countless Pinterest boards, “how to” blogs and Etsy shops you can use for inspiration or to find one you’d like to purchase.

I made our extender for my most recent cruise. We each had individual pockets personalized with our names on them. I got an organizer with 4 pockets because there were 4 of us and I decorated it with ribbon and iron-ons I made with my cutting machine. It was cost effective, practical(,) and we loved the way it turned out!

What kinds of gifts do you exchange?

There are so many different types of gifts you can exchange! You can decide how simple or fancy these gifts will be. It can be something handmade or purchased. Personalized or not… It does not have to be elaborate and expensive. My favorite gift was a set of coasters one of the couples on our cruise made. I use them all the time! (In fact, I am using one as I write this!) Some examples of things I received are in the photo below. What I gave out was a personalized lanyard for each person in the room and then I made a cabin gift. It was a flashlight that shines Mickey Mouse on the wall along with a magnetic whiteboard clip and a marker to write messages on it. A good friend of mine made regional bags to share some of her favorite treats that were unique to her hometown. She purchased really cute canvas bags with the sail date on them and filled them with treats and a letter explaining what each thing was and how it pertained to her area. Nightlights and flashlights are a great idea because it gets really dark in the room at night. Its nice to have a little light so you can find your way to the bathroom without waking everyone up or tripping. Some other common gifts are sundae kits, magnets, drawstring bags, personalized toothbrush holders, ornaments, towel clip for your beach/pool towel, (a) frame with sail date, drink cups, bracelets, drink cozies, and homemade gifts like soaps, coffee cup holders or potholders… This is another topic you can (find many) examples on Pinterest, Google, and Etsy.
TIP: Make sure to include a tag on your gift so people know who the gift is from.

When do you distribute your gifts?

You can give them out whenever you want- so you never know when you’ll find something in your extender! There is no schedule or strategy, just give them out at your leisure. Consider doing it the second or third night in so everyone doesn’t get all of their gifts the first night. You may have done a Pirate Themed gift that you’d like to give out on Pirate Night. If you’ve chosen a gift that’s good for use during the cruise, you may want to consider distributing that kind of thing the first night so people have a chance to use them during the cruise. This is completely up to you.

What are Pixie Dust Gifts? Do you have to do that?

Sometimes people will make a few extra gifts to hand out to people around the ship that are not in their Fish Extender group. These are “Pixie Dust” gifts because like any dose (of )“Pixie Dust”, it’s an unexpected random act of kindness. You can put it in any extender you see around the ship. These are optional but they are fun to give out.

Is an Ornament Exchange the same thing as a Fish Extender Exchange?

No, ornament exchanges are separate from Fish Extender. Some cruise groups choose to do an ornament exchange. It’s one ornament for each person you’re exchanging with. It works similarly to Fish Extender, but you’re only exchanging with another adult or couple rather than a stateroom of people. So you would sign up for an ornament exchange separately and you may have different people in your ornament exchange than you have in your Fish Extender group. You can choose to do one or the other or both.

Do they do this on other cruise lines?

The simple answer is no, this is just a Disney Cruise Line thing. Although the Fish Extender Exchange is unique to Disney Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line does not run it, nor does it have any affiliation with Disney Cruise Line. It is simply a gift exchange organized by cruisers for cruisers. 

However, some other cruise lines do have things like Rubber Ducky Hunts aboard the ships. People bring their little rubber ducks and hide them on the ship. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one. There is usually a little note attached. Generally, you take a photo and say where you found it. Its your choice to hide the duck for someone else to find or keep the duck for yourself. This is another thing that cruisers plan ahead of time with no affiliation to the cruise line. So if you’re ever on another cruise line and find a random rubber duck – you know what that is too!

What do you think, would you do it again?

Yes! I absolutely loved this. It can be time consuming depending on what you choose to make or buy but I felt that it was worth it. I can’t wait to do it again on my next cruise. I already have ideas!!!

Are you going to participate in a Fish Extender on your next Disney Cruise?

I’d love to hear about it!

For more travel tips and information or to just follow my travel adventures, follow me on my social media accounts!


Also, feel free to email me at Christina@WishesFamilyTravel.com.

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