Disney Cruises are filled with magic, and it’s not always a result of the crew working onboard. Often, it’s the other passengers who can add a small little touch to make things feel even more special!
Such is the case with fish extenders. If you’ve never heard of a DCL fish extender, or you don’t know what they mean for a cruise, then I don’t blame you, as the name alone is very strange.
But this is a really popular thing on Disney cruises, so let me pull back the curtain and explain everything you need to know about the fish extender Disney Cruise culture – it’s a lot of fun!
What Is A Fish Extender?
Fish extenders are hanging gift bags that you display outside your cabin door, normally hanging from the small metal fish that indicates your cabin number. You use these to exchange gifts with other people on the cruise taking part in a fish extender gift exchange.
These are pre-organised events that are wholly organised by guests and are not officially endorsed by the cruise line. You need to join in advance and then you’ll be added to the list to take part, where you’ll normally be assigned a small group to swap gifts with.
Why Is It Called Fish Extender?
The reason the gift bags are called fish extenders (often abbreviated to FEs on forums and message boards) is that the gift bags are an extension of the metal fish on the wall next to your cabin door. However, you might actually have a seahorse instead of a fish if your stateroom is starboard side.
Don’t worry, there aren’t even more complications added in by having fish extenders and seahorse extenders – they’re all called fish extenders and work in the same way.
How Do Fish Extenders Work on Disney Cruise?
If you agree to take part in a fish extender gift exchange, you’ll need to hang a fish extender outside your room and then deliver gifts to other cabins based on your assigned list. You leave these gifts in the fish extenders and wait for gifts to be left in yours.
To take part in gift swaps with fish extenders, you’ll need to find an online group for your sailing. You can sometimes find these on popular messenger boards such as Cruise Critic or DISBoards, or on Facebook groups. Once you find a group and sign up, you’ll be given a list of everyone taking part.
If the group is small, then you might be expected to deliver gifts to everyone. If a lot of people are taking part then you’ll be assigned a smaller group within that, so that you aren’t spending a fortune. Often it’s done on a one-to-one basis, so you only need to buy one gift.
Then you’ll need a fish extender of your own. A lot of people make them, but some people prefer something a little more professional-looking than they’re capable of putting together, so will order a custom-made one from Etsy.
The bags are usually embroidered with your family name, but this is up to you.
The last step before your cruise is to buy the gifts that you’re going to deliver to others taking part.
Then when you’re on the ship, you need to hang your fish extender on the fish or seahorse, and then find time to go deliver your gifts.
Is Disney Allowing Fish Extenders?
Fish extenders are not an official Disney cruise activity and are not endorsed by the cruise line. For a time during the COVID pandemic and aftermath, they were banned for health and safety reasons, but that is no longer the case.
Just remember that if there is a good reason for them to temporarily restrict fish extenders then the cruise line is entitled to. You can’t complain to DCL if something goes wrong with your fish extender exchange as nothing is official at all.
Are There Fish Extenders on the Disney Wish?
Disney Wish does not have metal fish or seahorses but instead has Cinderella-themed plaques next to the room. These are just as good for hanging gift bags and so yes, you can use a fish extender on Disney Wish even though it is not a fish.
Where To Buy Fish Extenders
If you want to buy a tailored fish extender that is customised with your name, your best bet is a site like Etsy, although this will be more expensive than making your own or buying a generic one.
There are some good storage hangers on Amazon that will do just the job and are relatively cheap. The best one I have found is this one…
How To Make a Fish Extender
To make a fish extender of your own, you’ll need some flat cloth to serve as the backing, and some other material to use as pockets. Stitch the pockets onto the flat hanger, and then attach string to the top so that you can hang it over the fish.
If you are good with embroidery then this is a lovely way to make a custom fish extender that is unique to you and your family.
How Do You Join a Fish Extender Group?
You can find fish extender groups either on online message boards or on Facebook. Once you’ve found one for your sailing, join the group and post a message asking to take part. They will have rules listed, so make sure you read those first to avoid asking unnecessary questions.
Once you’re in the group, the owner will confirm your place and send you a list of the staterooms you need to deliver a gift to.
How Much Should I Spend on Disney Cruise Fish Extender Gifts?
How much you spend on fish extender gifts is your choice – the motto is “give what you would like to receive”. A lot of people stick to Disney magnets as they are suitably themed but quite cheap. Others may choose ornaments, but transporting them without breakage is difficult.
A lot of this will depend on who you are buying for. Some fish extender gifts are aimed at different age groups and some are for adults. Others are ‘by cabin’ where you only deliver one gift for the entire cabin to share – this might make you want to increase your budget.
Ultimately, the choice is yours but bear in mind that if there are a lot of people to buy for, you could end up spending a lot – or receiving gifts worth a lot less than you chose to spend.
The Bottom Line
Disney fish extenders are some of the strangest named items you’ll get on a cruise but they are actually quite wonderful once you know about the community involved.
They can be really magical if you’re travelling with kids – they’ll love the surprise of receiving a gift when it does appear.
There are other ways that people like to liven up their stateroom too, including cabin door decorations – where permitted, anyway. It certainly can liven up an otherwise pretty basic corridor.
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