Interested in participating in a Disney Cruise Fish Extender gift exchange? 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, worst gifts, and more!

collage of fish extender and gifts.

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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, 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. 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.

Why is it called a fish extender?

This is the name for 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.

disney fish extender outside of a cabin door.

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 Cricut to make cut-outs to iron onto the pockets for each member of the family.

How big is a fish extender?

There are other hanging organizer options on Amazon - if you choose another organizer, just make sure it's no wider than about 12" or it will block your cabin 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.

How do I participate in fish extender?

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. Fish Extender group sign-ups will happen on your sailing's group page.

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.

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 stateroom 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 easy.

Is this gift exchange only for kids?

Absolutely not! If you're sailing with only adults, there 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!

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 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.

What's a good fish extender gift?

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.

Our Disney Cruise Fish Extender Gifts

Family Fish Extender Gifts

disney dry erase board and bare necessities gift.

We decided to do more practical items with a little bit of a Disney twist. Most everything you see in this collection is from Dollar Tree - so we probably spent $5ish total on each one of these sets (and they were for all of the adults in the cabin).

disney bare necessities tag on a gift.
disney fish extender gift essentials.

In this set, we included...

  • Key to the World lanyards - the retractable clips were from 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!
disney cruise dry erase board.

We also gave each cabin a personalized magnetic dry-erase board. The boards are Dollar Tree (of course), and I just personalized it with my vinyl-cutting machine. (And I liked these so much that I made one for our cabin too! πŸ˜‰ )

Fish Extender Gifts for Teens

disney teen gift in a bag.

We had a couple of teens in our group - they got the following set...

pink and white disney bon voyage tag.
monogrammed phone case, ear buds, card holder.

Fish Extender Gifts for Kids

fish extender gift for kids in a bag.
so you can look as cool as mickey tag.
frozen cards, sunglasses case, card holder.

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 spent 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.

How to Organize Fish Extender Gifts

fish extender gifts organized in plastic gallon bags.

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.

sticky notes on gifts.

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.

fish extender gifts in luggage.

I'd recommend planning for at least an extra suitcase to carry Fish Extender and pixie dust gifts (more on those 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.

organizing fish extender gifts on a bed in a cruise cabin.

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.

What are pixie dust gifts?

This is a much 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."

bag of zapp's chips with a pixie dust sticker.

We found a case of the newest Zaps chips online and thought they would be a fun pixie dust gift idea, since we were sailing out of New Orleans. We put a simple label on each bag and voila - pixie dust!

So, what did you get?

Here's that part that many of you have been looking for! πŸ˜‰

fish extender gifts on the floor.
kids' fish extender gifts.

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.

fish extender gifts.

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!

mardi gras beads as gifts.

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. πŸ˜‰

disney cruise personalized wine glass.

This cup was my absolute favorite gift - isn't it cute?! Our cruise was years ago, and I still use this cup!

stacks of disney puzzles.
fish extender gifts.

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.

50 Great Disney Cruise Fish Extender Gift Ideas

  1. Stickers
  2. Playing cards
  3. Bracelets
  4. Figurines
  5. Ponytail holders
  6. Sunglasses
  7. Cups
  8. Tic Tac Toe
  9. Pencils
  10. Magnets
  11. Mickey Dice
  12. Puzzles
  13. Hair clips
  14. Fanny Packs
  15. Earbuds/headphones
  16. Glow sticks
  17. Dry erase boards
  18. Laundry Hamper
  19. Coloring books
  20. Magnetic clips or hooks for cabin
  21. Flashlights
  22. Key chains
  23. Picture frames
  24. Eye patches (for Pirate Night)
  25. Laundry kit (detergent, dryer sheet)
  26. Notebooks
  27. Cruise ship Legos
  28. Bottle openers
  29. Mini night light
  30. Sea-bands (for sea sickness)
  31. Cruise beverage carrier
  32. Slinkies
  33. Popsicle Holders
  34. Deck finders
  35. Reusable straws
  36. Lip Balm Holder
  37. Phone holder
  38. Koozies
  39. Door love magnets
  40. Fidget cubes
  41. Drawstring backpacks
  42. Ice Cream Sundae Kit
  43. Lanyards
  44. Manicure kit
  45. Ornaments
  46. Makeup remover cloths
  47. Magnets for stateroom doors
  48. Makeup bags
  49. Luggage tags

What's a bad fish extender gift?

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.

One thing to take into account is any allergies. I would stay away from high-allergy foods, like peanuts or dyes. A lot of fish extender groups have a spot on the spreadsheet to add allergies in your cabin.

I'd personally stay away from anything that has a size, like t-shirts or socks.

Anything messy isn't the best idea for a cruise - stay away from things like Play-Doh or slime. 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).

Finally, just give it the "Would I use this?" test before you gift it. If you wouldn't, chances your your recipients won't either.

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One Comment

  1. Thank you for all the information!!!