The Ultimate Guide to Disney Cruise Fish Extenders

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Fish Extender 101

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Disney Cruises are Magical

Everything about them.

The characters, the boat, the destinations, all the adventures and activities you can do on-board ship.
(Oh yeah, the food ain’t bad either.)

Want to make your Disney Cruise
EVEN MORE memorable?

Join a Disney Cruise Fish Extender Group!

What is a Disney Cruise Fish Extender?

Fish Extender Example

Example of a Fish Extender in Action Image: A Little Bolt of Life

Outside of every Disney cruise ship cabin, you’ll find a metal fish next to the door.

Aside from looking cute and nautical, this fish serves as a holder for important communications and messages from the Disney crew to its passengers. Think of it as your mailbox for your journey.

Fish Extenders Gift Swaps Since 2005

Since 2005 (we share more of the history of fish extenders later), passengers come together to create Fish Extender groups on each sailing to create a Disney cruise gift exchange.

Metal Fish Extender outside Disney Cruise Stateroom

Outside each stateroom is a fishy friend.
Image: Flickr

Hang Your Fish Extender Off Your Metal Fish

The Fish Extender (or FE for short) is something you hang off your metal fish during your voyage.

Everyone in your Fish Extender group makes or buys gifts and places them in the pockets of your Fish Extender. And you do the same for them!

How Fish Extender Gift Exchanges Work

Each sailing will have a group of passengers that want to participate in a Fish Extender Gift Exchange.

After you have booked your Disney Cruise, you will be able to find your group online (skip to how) of those that are travelling on the same ship.

Once you’ve found your fellow voyagers, you can join the Fish Extender group for that sailing.

Once You’ve Joined Your Group…

Each cabin creates a Fish Extender (you know, the door hanger to hang off the fish that we described above).

Your Fish Extender organizer (a volunteer that deserves a big hug when you meet) will assign you a group of cabins for which you should give gifts. He or she will let typically let you know the first names, ages, and genders of the participants who have given permission to share this info.

Basically, you are committing to provide at least one gift for every cabin in your group. You can place the gift in the pockets of their Fish Extenders any time during the cruise.

At Least One Gift For Each Cabin
It is important that you give a gift to EACH participating cabin in your group. When everyone adheres to this fundamental rule, each family gets a fair number of gifts.

Some people give a gift just for the cabin, but many cruisers like to truly enhance the experience by coming up with separate presents for the adults, teens, kids.

For us, it’s been really fun to pick or create gifts for each individual and try to personalize the experience.
Again, this is completely optional. Just have fun with it!

A Word About Privacy
To participate in Fish Extenders, you’ll likely be asked to share information about yourself. Your cabin room number is mandatory, of course. Usually you will be asked the names of everyone in a cabin, along with their favorite Disney characters or other personal preferences. You might be asked ages of your children.

If you have any hesitation about sharing this kind of personal info about your kids and family, participating in a Fish Extender exchange might not be right for you.

3 Reasons to Participate in Fish Extenders

It's Fun!

1 If you’ve ever participated in something like a Secret Santa, you can probably understand how fun this can be.

It is truly a thrilling experience to come back to your cabin and discover a new treasure from a fellow Disneyphile. The magic just keeps growing and growing!

Connect with Others

2 While it varies from group to group, fish extenders are often combined with some sort of meet and greet.

Many gift givers choose to put their names on fish extender gift tags making it fun to talk with them when you do finally meet.

Gifts are Interesting

3Since Disney cruises attract people from all over the world, your gifts often come from people who live in other states or countries.

The gifts they give often reflect their personalities and culture. It is just another way that a Disney cruise can expand your horizons.

Sign Up As Soon As Possible. Here’s Why.

Don’t dilly-dally when signing up for a Fish Extender group

FE group organizers use their own discretion on deciding when to close the group, but typically the deadline will be 2-6 months before date of departure. This gives the organizer time to share the groups and also provide plenty of time for everyone to make or purchase their gifts.

When to Deliver Fish Extender Gifts

There’s usually not a set gift exchange time. It is completely up to you when to deliver your fish extender gifts. Some super-organized group administrators might recommend a day and time to deliver your gifts so they are spread evenly throughout the cruise.

If your group doesn’t have a suggested schedule, here are some delivery strategies you could consider:

  • Pick a day at sea and deliver all at once during some slow time. 
  • Most people deliver gifts on the first or second day of the cruise. You may need to wait until later in the day if you chose the first day because people may not have their luggage yet or have not unpacked.
  • If you have multiple floors, you may want to either start from the top deck and work down or the bottom and work up.
  • To spread out the love, you could wait until later in the cruise so they get a nice surprise on day 5 since most people gift theirs early on in the cruise.
  • You could gift a pirate themed gift and deliver it in the afternoon of Pirate Night. Or gift beach toys and deliver them the night before your Castaway Cay day (or other beach day).
  • Deliver all gifts before the last night. Everyone needs time to pack up before turning in their luggage for disembarkation.

What is Gift Price Limit?

How much you spend on your Disney Cruise Fish Extender gifts is completely up to you.

There is no price floor or ceiling. With no minimum or maximum dollar spending requirement, let your imagination be your guide!

Both homemade fish extender gifts and store-bought are welcome. Whether you are crafty, thrifty, over-the-top or grab it off the shelf, everyone is welcome in the Fish Extender exchange.

Will People Back Out?

Yes, life happens, as they say.

Sure, a small minority of people will not be able to fulfill their participation in the Fish Extender group, for whatever reason. Most people let the organizer know. (You should too, if you have to back out.)

Should something goes awry with your group, don’t let this ruin your fun. If you have more gifts than expected, find a random cabin (maybe your neighbor?) with whom to share the love.

4 Tips When Selecting Fish Extender Gifts

  • Avoid anything breakable and elaborate packaging

    This takes up too much room in your suitcase and often gets crushed in transit.

  • Keep 'em small

    Each gift needs to easily fit into the pockets of different types of fish extenders. And, again, remember the luggage space situation. You need to get them there and your FE families need to be able to get them home.

  • Put a gift tag on every gift

    While they are optional, we are big believers in using gift tags. We love to know who the gifts are from. You can make simple labels or use our free gift tag templates.

  • Don't load up with candy or Dollar Store junk

    (Or Oriental Trading for that matter.) We say, if you’re going to do this, do it right! Put some thought into it. Make it fun for your recipients. Don’t worry, we have tons of gift ideas for you.

World’s Biggest List of Fish Extender Gift Ideas

As you are likely a first time Fish Extender, you might be wondering what to give for fish extender gifts.

We have created the world’s most comprehensive list of creative Fish Extender gift ideas all in one place.

Now, About that Fish Extender Door Hanger…

Optimal Fish Extender Dimensions

Typically, a Fish Extender has pockets that will easily hold the gifts. Ideally, your FE will have a pocket for each person in your cabin. Deeper pockets are preferred, as they keep items from falling out or curious passer-bys from reaching in.

Fish Extender should be 8-12 inches wide and no longer than 6 feet
Any wider than 8-12 inchease, it will get in the way of the door to your stateroom. Longer than six feet, it will touch the floor.

Buy or Make Your Fish Extender?

No Sew Fish Extender: Our Choice

Sewing isn't your thing? No problem.
We have uncovered the quickest, easiest, funnest (is that a word) quick and easy way to make your own DIY Fish Extender...with no sewing involved.

Easiest No-Sew Fish Extender Idea

Where to Buy a Personalized Fish Extender

Some of our favorite online Fish Extender options are here.
Selected because of their style, design aesthetic (aka, they look awesome) and they can be personalized.
Pay attention to how long the seller needs to both create and ship the item to you. It’d be a shame to not plan ahead and not have your Fish Extender with you on your voyage.

View Our Favorites

How to Make a Disney Cruise Fish Extender

Sew Your Own Fish Extender

If you know how to sew, here is our recommended Fish Extender tutorial.
Margaret from outlines the step by step instructions in her post Sew a Fish Extender or Closet Organizer.

Fish Extender Gift Tags

Gift tags on Fish Extender presents are 100% optional.

Many (us included) believe, however, that they are awesome.
It’s so great to learn who the thoughtful family was behind each gift and makes it more meaningful when you do finally connect and meet up on the ship.

Free Fish Extender Gift Tags Templates

To make it simple for you to create your own personalized gift tags, we custom-made more than 50 editable PDF templates and customizable Avery label templates.

We make all of our Fish Extender gift tags available to visitors as a free download. Click the button below to get started.


Share Your Fish Extender Gift Tag Template!

Are you willing to share your template with others?
If so, email us here with a link to the file.

How to Find Your Fish Extender Group

Search by your cruise ship and year of sailing below:

2019 Fish Extender Groups
2020 Fish Extender Groups
  • Search For Your Group

    Use the links here to find your Facebook group.

  • Join the Facebook Group

    When you find it, click “Join.” Each is a “Closed Group” and requires the moderator to accept you into the group.

  • No Group for Your Sailing?

    If there’s no Facebook group for your sailing, consider creating the group yourself and get the ball rolling!

Become a Fish Extender Organizer

Want to score yourself some Disney karma? Volunteer to organize a Fish Extender group.

Duties of a Fish Extender Group Organizer

Gather information from each participant

1You’ll want to obtain info such as stateroom numbers, ages, genders, allergies, favorite Disney characters and anything else that might be interesting.

Create rules for participation

2The general guidelines are outlined in this document but it is your prerogative to establish any other rules you deem important. Possible rule variations include number of gifts, delivery schedule, min/max price of gifts, number of cabins per group.

Establish cutoff date for accepting new participants

3Best practice is to allow participants 2-6 months to obtain their gifts and Fish Extenders. In order for group members to have enough time, you’ll need to finalize the groups well before sailing and get that information to them in advance.

Act as administrator of your Facebook group

4Or if you find this overwhelming, you might solicit help from one or two other volunteers from your group to manage this task. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Our Favorite Pinterest Fish Extender Pins


Fish Extender History

According to An Open Suitcase, the first Fish Extender group was formed on a Panama Canal Cruise in 2005 when a member of named Debbie rallied a group and started the phenomon:

Credit for the original Fish Extender belongs to a woman named Debbie, who comments under the name EpcotKilterFan on She posted this comment: “When I handed out the first fish extenders on the 2005 Panama Canal Cruise, never in a million years did I think it would turn into this. Yes, I am the one responsible for starting this madness.”

I have seen many articles about fish extenders, but none that credit Debbie, so as someone whose family has enjoyed every minute of our fish exchanges, I am saying thanks to Debbie and the first fish extender group for mirroring the creativity of Walt Disney himself and adding some extra magic to so many voyages! Well done!”

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The Ultimate Guide to Disney Cruise Fish Extenders