Planning a Disney cruise and heard about fish extenders? Here’s everything you need to know about the Disney cruise fish extender gift exchange.
A Disney Cruise Line vacation is unlike anything else. There are many amazing cruise lines out there, so chances are if you choose Disney it’s because you are already a fan.
And let’s be honest here. Sometimes we fans can get a little bit…. extra.
Enter the Disney Cruise Fish Extender gift exchange groups.
Did you reach this post by searching “what is a Disney cruise fish extender” or “fish extender gift ideas”? Or maybe you heard the term and it sounded either fun or interesting so you want to know more.
This was me on our first Disney cruise several years ago. I had never even heard of such a thing so I want to do my best to let you in on everything I’ve learned.
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First off, you should know that joining a fish extender group for your Disney cruise is completely voluntary and not operated or overseen by Disney at all.
That being said, Disney does allow the activity and they permit the small hanging organizers to be hung outside your stateroom door.
I’ve already written about some awesome activities on Disney cruises for adults so this one is more for the kids. Truth be told, adults like this one too!
We have participated once, skipped it once and plan to join again on our upcoming cruise. Here’s everything I know about fish extenders so you can decide if you want to join in the fun on your next Disney cruise.
What is a Disney Cruise Fish Extender?
In short, “fish extender” is a term given to a small set of hanging folders or bags outside your Disney cruise stateroom door.
What you may or may not know about Disney Cruise Line ships is that next to each door depending on which side of the ship you were on there is a hook in the shape of a sea animal.
Our first Disney themed Fish Extender was made using collapsable pockets and Disney Duck Tape!
On the port side (which is the left when facing forward on the ship) the hook is in the shape of a fish. Conversely, on on the starboard side (which is the right when facing forward on the ship) it’s in the shape of a sea horse.
The name fish extender came about when groups of guests teamed up to do a secret gift exchange during a cruise.
Another example from my fellow Disney Parks Moms Panelist, Sally.
To do this, they agreed to hang a small organizer from their fish or seahorse hooks, thus creating a mailbox-type area to leave little surprises in while onboard.
How to Find a Fish Extender Group
There are usually anywhere from 5 to 10 families in a group so the idea is that each time you come back to your room or maybe each day, there is a little gift in your organizer that is a surprise for your family.
Or if you’re like me and spend many of your days on Facebook, just search for your date-specific cruise and join the Facebook group.
To find your cruise, search the name of your cruise ship with the dates within Facebook. So something like “Disney Dream February 21” and a group should pop up.
Remember, many people cruise again and again and all this planning is part of the fun! Chances are there is a group for your cruise dates just waiting for you! And another FYI, these are run by fans and not affiliated with Disney.
Join a Fish Extender List
It’s easy to jump into one of the groups without getting overwhelmed. Plus, it’s fun to connect prior to your trip and ask questions about excursions or cruise activities you haven’t heard of.
Once you’re in a group, ask to sign up for a fish extender list and the admin will likely link you to a spreadsheet or google doc with more info that looks something like this.
You typically add your names, stateroom number and any celebrations or favorite Disney characters you want to share. Some people will use your preferences, but it’s not required.
We join family groups so we tend to get a little something for each person in the cabin. There are also groups for adults only, kids only, and even some for a simple ornament exchange.
There really are no official rules to how you do the fish extender program because it’s a fun and voluntary thing. The idea is to put a little bit of thought into it but don’t let it stress you out.
Fish extender gift ideas
Ok so you booked your cruise, found your cruise Facebook group and got added to a fish extender group. Now what? It’s time to plan your gifts!
A quick Google search will bring up tons of ideas for fish extender gifts from simple to seriously elaborate.
Don’t sweat this! Enjoy the creativity of choosing your gifts, but please don’t get into a comparison game. There is no prize for having the best gift. I promise.
I enjoy very simple crafts, but I also purchase some things.
Britni had this awesome idea for a cruise survival kit. Head to her blog to download free printable tags and customize your own.
When selecting the gifts you want to bring, be sure to keep in mind flight restrictions and bulkiness when packing. You don’t want anything too fragile or too big to fit in your luggage.
You can be really fancy with your crafts or purchase items to share. I personally tend to stay away from food items because there is SO much eating on the ship, but some people also give candy.
Here’s a cute idea from my friend Tracy that incorporates beach themed mesh bags from Thirty-One
As with all things Disney, things can get real expensive – real fast so don’t let this fun little extra get out of hand.
The idea is to sprinkle a little pixie dust around to others on your trip, not break the bank.
This year, I’m doing a variety of small items.
Make or Buy a Fish Extender
Just like with the gifts, you will see an array of fish extender organizers from simple hanging pockets purchased off of Amazon, to handmade quilted works of art.
Love this cute handmade fish extender. See how to make it at Mama’s Geeky!
Again, this is entirely voluntary so do whatever makes your vacation more fun. For my family, I ordered some hanging storage pockets off of Amazon, which required very little effort on my part.
I decided to go with simple decorations. Since we’re doing the Halloween on the High Seas cruise, I found some cute Mickey and Minnie printable bats (yes there’s a group for that) and added our names using Picmonkey.
Then I printed, cut them out, and laminated them before hot-gluing to the front of the pockets, with some of that same wired ribbon I had leftover.
I think it’s adorable and it gets the job done. I also made some door magnets this way and it was super easy! It doesn’t take much to be a little festive and it makes us all smile.
This Sounds Like a LOT of Work. Is a Fish Extender Group Worth it?
Here’s the thing. This is YOUR Disney cruise vacation. What sounds like fun for some, may be a nightmare of stress for others. Not participating in a fish extender group will take zero away from the value of the cruise.
On our first cruise, which was a 3-night Bahamas destination cruise on the Disney Dream, I decided to join a group. However, I would not do it again on such a short cruise.
We had very little downtime on the ship and I found myself feeling stressed out trying to deliver all of my items in a timely manner. Plus, the group I was in had rooms all over the ship and it took me probably an hour or two to get everything distributed.
It’s fun to see little gifts waiting for you when you get back to the room! Check out how Kami’s DIY fish extender.
For our second cruise, which was 4-nights, we decided to skip this activity and I’m glad we did. It was nice to simply enjoy our time and everything the ship and our destinations had to offer.
My boys still talk about finding those little treats so this year for our 7-night cruise on the Disney Fantasy, I decided to give the Fish Extender another chance.
With the longer cruise that includes two days at sea, there will be plenty of time to pass out our gift bags stress free. And if I’m honest, I’m having a lot of fun with it this time!
Participating in a fish extender group on a Disney Cruise can be a really fun way to interact with other passengers and enjoy little surprises each day of the cruise. But if you want to skip it, that’s totally ok.
Whatever you decide, your cruise will be one of your best vacations ever. And that is what matters!