Interested in participating in a Disney Cruise Fish Extender group? Check out all you need to know to join in! Includes great gift ideas, how to make DIY presents, good pocket door hangers to use, and more!
One of the best things we did on our recent Disney Cruise was to participate in the unofficial Disney Cruise gift exchange program - Fish Extenders. This is not run through or endorsed by Disney at all, but has become a super popular way of exchanging fun little themed gifts with other cabins on your Disney Cruise. It does take a little bit of planning and forethought, but let me tell you, it's so worth it. Our family had an absolute blast putting together gifts for about 9 other cabins and receiving fun treats each time we went to our cabin!
You're not going to hear anything about this when you book your reservation through Disney Cruise Lines. It's not Disney sponsored at all. However, it's pretty easy to find info about your particular cruise's program and figure out what you'll need to do to prepare for your gift exchange, if you decide to participate. Let's take a look at a few basic Q&As about the Fish Extender program.
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Q: What is a Fish Extender?
This is the name of some kind of container you'll hang outside of your cabin on a Disney Cruise. It's called a "fish extender" because it's hung on the signature fishes that are outside each stateroom on Disney ships.
The actual Fish Extender can really be anything you'd like - it can be sewn at home, or you can use simple canvas bags (quite a few people did this). We bought this hanging organizer off of the recommendation of a few Disney Cruise Facebook groups - it's basically the perfect size for a fish extender, has three pockets (the adults can share a pocket if you have 2 kids), and even has kind of a cute nautical look to it. I just used my vinyl cutting machine to make cut-outs to iron on to the pockets for each member of the family.
There are other hanging organizer options on Amazon - if you choose another one, just make sure it's no wider than about 12" or it will block your door. It needs to be no more than about 4 feet long (even though that would be a really big fish extender - it doesn't need to be anywhere near that!). Some people go all out (there are lots of options for custom ones on Etsy here) and some people literally just use any bag they can find - the options are all over the spectrum.
Q: I've booked my Disney cruise. How do I find a Fish Extender group to join?
I mentioned in my Disney Cruise tips & tricks post that you should join your cruise's Facebook group as soon as you book - it's a great resource for info about your vacation. You can find your sailing's Facebook group by going to the Disney Cruise Line Junkies Facebook page, clicking on "announcements," and clicking on the Cruise Pages link.
Fish Extender group sign-ups will happen on your sailing's group page. Each group does this a little differently, but you should be able to search "fish extender" in your sailing's Facebook group to find the sign-ups. One of your fellow vacationers has probably already started organizing the groups into sets of 8-12 families, usually labeled with some kind of character name (for example, our FE group was the Donald Duck group).
Make sure you sign up at least 8 weeks before your sailing - many FE groups close by that time so others have time to organize their gifts and personalize any names. If you don't know your cabin number just yet, that's ok - go on and sign up and you can let your group know later on.
When you sign up, you'll get a spreadsheet of all of the cabins in your group, names, ages, genders, and favorite Disney characters, so planning your gifts becomes so easy.
Q: Is this gift exchange only for kids?
Absolutely not! If you're sailing with only adults, are adults only groups available too. There are options for ornament exchange groups, magnet groups, candy only groups, etc. Since we were sailing out of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, we even had a bead exchange group!
Q: How much does it cost to participate in a fish extender?
That is TOTALLY up to you. I'd say that most people spend an average of $3-5 on each person they're buying for (so about $15 per cabin), but that is absolutely all over the spectrum. We had some people give each of us $10-20 gifts and some spend a couple of dollars. And that's ok - it's not about getting/giving "nice" things! It's really so much more about the thought put into the gift.
Q: What do I give?
Again - totally up to you! Most people went Disney-themed (obviously), but we received all kinds of things (I'll show what we got in a second). You can do fun things, toys for kids, useful items, candy, treats, etc - the options are endless. As long as you're allowed to carry it on a cruise ship, you can gift it.
We decided to do more practical items with a little bit of a Disney twist. I talked about a few of my cruise favorites in my vacation packing post - we gave our other FE participants a few of these! Most everything you see in this collection is from Dollar Tree - so we probably spend $5ish total on each one of these sets (and they were for all of the adults in the cabin).
In this set, we included...
- Key to the World lanyards - the retractable clips were Dollar Tree and the card holders were from Amazon
- Shout Wipes
- Antibacterial Wipes (Dollar Tree)
- Highlighters (Dollar Tree) - to highlight important info in cruise navigators
- Sticky Notes (Dollar Tree) - great for leaving notes around the cabin
- Magnetic Clips (Dollar Tree) - these are great for hanging things on the door, like navigators, artwork from the kids club, and receipts/paperwork
- Starbucks Instant Coffee - cruise coffee is notoriously bad, so these can sometimes come in handy
- Towel clips (Dollar Tree) - these are meant to be laundry clips, but they work great for attaching towels to chairs on a windy deck!
We also gave each cabin a personalized magnetic dry erase board. The boards are Dollar Tree (of course), and I just personalized with my vinyl cutting machine. (And I liked these so much that I made one for our cabin too! 😉 )
We had a couple of teens in our group - they got the following set...
- Personalized waterproof phone dry case
- Retractable Key to the World holder that I talked about above
- Sparkly earbuds - Dollar Tree (I put a Mickey on each case)
Finally, the children in the group got...
- Retractable Key to the World holder that I talked about above
- Sunglasses (not pictured) and a personalized sunglasses case - both from Dollar Tree
- Then, we bought something for each child based on the character they loved (this will probably be included on your Fish Extender list). It was fun to pick these out - even our kids helped! These little individual gifts were all Dollar Tree.
So, as you can see, we did not spend a ton. We had 9 other cabins to shop for - and I'd say we spend around $150 for everything.
There are SO many different ideas in the Disney Cruise Fish Extender Facebook group - I highly recommend joining that if you're thinking about doing a FE group on your cruise.
Q: How do I keep the gifts organized?
Once all of our fish extender gifts are finished, I put each cabin's collection of gifts in a zip-top gallon bag. I'm a huge fan of using these to pack for cruises - Fish Extender gifts are no different! Label each bag with the family name, cabin number, and location on the ship (this was included in our FE spreadsheet). That makes it easy to sort the cabins so you're not running around the ship aimlessly while delivering.
For items that were too big for the bags, sticky notes work. Same method: label with name, cabin number, and cabin location on the ship.
I'd recommend planning for at least an extra suitcase to carry fish extender and pixie dust gifts (more on that in a minute). Remember - you're not only taking things on the ship, but you'll be carrying a lot of gifts home as well.
While you're unpacking your suitcases, go on and sort the FE gifts by location. We chose to deliver on the first day (since most of our gifts were for use on the cruise), but you can deliver these gifts whenever you'd like.
Q: What are pixie dust gifts?
This is a must less organized way to give gifts on the ship. You simply bring small trinkets (beads, candy, jewelry, pirate coins were really popular on our cruise) and randomly select people or cabins to "pixie dust."
We found a case of the newest Zaps chips online and thought they would be a fun pixie dust idea, since we were sailing out of New Orleans. We put a simple label on each bag and voila - pixie dust!
Q: So, what did you get?
Here's that part that many of you have been looking for! 😉
As you can see, the gifts were all over the price range and homemade spectrum. Some were really nice, some were inexpensive but so well thought out, some were fun little trinkets - it really just varied.
There was a good collection of crafted and homemade items - I loved the gifts that had a lot of heart and thought put into them!
We received an absolute ton of beads - some were pixie dust and some were fish extender. That's what you get when you sail out of New Orleans during Mardi Gras. 😉
This cup was my absolute favorite gift - isn't it cute?!
There were also quite a few magnets (which I didn't expect). There was some candy that didn't make the picture - honestly, we received less candy than I expected.
While some cabins spent WAY more and some spent a little less than us, I'd say the average was still somewhere around $10-20 a cabin. That's a good starting point if you're planning your gifts.
Q: What can I not give in a fish extender?
Really - not much! The big no-no is alcohol, like liquor minis. You can't bring those on board anyway, so don't plan on putting them in your fish extender gifts. We did get a few bottle openers though - those are a really cute idea. You'll also want to leave out any kind of play weapons (like knives or guns - those also aren't allowed on board) and any candy needs to be individually wrapped.
I'd personally stay away from anything that has a size, like t-shirts or socks. Also think about your wrapping when packing up your fish extender gifts - anything glittery probably isn't the best idea, nor is crinkle paper filler for gifts (it makes a huge mess in the cabins).
I think that just about covers it! Giving and receiving Fish Extenders was such a great add-on to an already great cruise. It totally isn't required, but it's something I'd really recommend, especially if you have kids.
Have any great Fish Extender tips? Leave them in the comments below.