For a full review of the Disney Cruise experience for adults, click here.
The FE is a fun gift exchange that I recommend everyone try at least once. It makes your cruise just a little more magical. Everyone can participate, even if you don’t have kids like us! Who wouldn’t be excited to receive all these wonderful gifts? (This is the queen sized bed in our cabin.)
Here is a close up of everything we received. Lanyards, tall cups that were stuffed with treats, decorated clothespins.
Lots of tote bags! We gave the mini alcohol bottles to our stateroom host.
Hand-made ornaments, keychains, painted initials, hand sanitizer, chapstick, mini note pads, Disney Pez dispenser.
Writing pens, bottle opener, mini picture frame, coasters, magnets.
Chips, Ferrero Rocher chocolates, altoids, sewing kits, mini flashlight, shot glass, buckeye chocolates, Hershey bars.
To join the FE, you must sign up and to do so you have to go to the website called disboards (or they are increasingly available on Facebook, just search for your cruise date). Joining disboards is free and once you’ve done that, locate the forum with your sailing date and leave a message that you’re interested in joining. You’ll want to check in from time to time so you can get to know some of the people you’ll be sailing with. Disboards is also an excellent place to ask any cruise related questions you might have as people there are always eager to help.
There will be someone on your forum who has already volunteered to organize the FE for your sailing. If not, anyone can volunteer to do so although I do not recommend it as being the organizer is a very frustrating experience (more about that later).
Disboards is notoriously difficult to navigate, thus everyone ends up moving to Facebook and creating a closed and private page where they can get to know each other and start the FE. Many people bypass disboards altogether and simply do a search on Facebook for their specific sail date and ask to join the private page. You can sign up for the FE there.
Disboards has recently fought against this migration to Facebook by deleting every comment someone posts on their boards mentioning the word Facebook, but people continue to move there anyways. Until disboards becomes more user friendly, Facebook will be the more popular place to gather.
Once you have been added to the FE list either on disboards or your private Facebook cruise page, all you have to do is begin making/buying your FE gifts!
If the FE is being organized on disboards, you usually don’t get to see the FE list until the cutoff date for sign-ups has passed. What’s fun about the FE being organized on Facebook is that (as long as the organizer doesn’t procrastinate and adds new people as soon as they ask to join) you always get to see when someone new joins the FE and watch as the list grows. This means you can begin to make or buy your gifts right away.
The person organizing the FE gets to decide how to set up the FE, but most often you will be asked to provide the following information to join. 1. Your family name (last name) or if this is being organized on disboards, they might ask for your disboards name instead. 2. First names of individuals in the cabin. 3. Ages of the kids in the cabin and their gender. 4. Allergies. 5. Favorite Disney character. 6. Special occasion being celebrated while on the ship. 7. Drinker or Non-drinker.
The reason you are asked to provide your name, age, and gender when you sign up is because many people make personalized gifts with embroidery as their gift to you and others like giving age and gender appropriate gifts.
The organizer will usually split the FE list into smaller groups of 10-25 cabins. This means you are responsible for giving a gift to each of those cabins in your group and they, in turn, will give you a gift. You can either give a single “cabin gift” which is a gift for everyone in the cabin to share, or if you prefer, you can give a gift to each person in the cabin. It’s totally up to you. Most people tend to spend about $5 per cabin, but a little more or less is fine. You only need to deliver gifts to a cabin once. You do not need to give them a gift for every day of the cruise.
Do not give a gift that is too large physically or heavy because a lot of people fly home following the cruise and will not have room in their luggage for a big gift. Also, do not give out homemade baked goods as your FE gift. Most people will not eat it so don’t even bother. Any type of edible will need to be factory sealed for people to feel safe eating it.
A popular gift is something special from your hometown such as a special tea, candy, or BBQ sauce. You can make Disney themed crafts or even find little Disney themed trinkets at the Dollar Store. There is website called Etsy that has a wide variety or ready-made FE gifts. Joining Etsy is free and I have always had positive experiences with the shops I have purchased from.
Be sure to label the gifts you are giving out with your name. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy. Some people print out really elaborate name tags but these always end up in the trash so why waste your time? Put your time and energy into the gift- not the name tag. Most often, people simply use plain white stickers and hand write something like this- To: The Whoever Family in cabin 2325 From: The Whoever family in cabin 6580. Happy Sailing!
The first time we participated in the FE we did not label our gifts because I prefer to do things anonymously but after the cruise had ended, a lot of people commented on our private Facebook cruise page that they felt they had not received a gift from everyone in their group. As the organizer of the FE, I knew for sure that I hadn’t received something from everyone in my group.
Failing to give a gift to everyone in your group is against the rules. If you sign up to participate, you MUST give a gift to everyone in your group because they are giving YOU a gift. It is beyond rude, dirty, and trashy to pick and choose who you want to give gifts to. If that’s what you want to do, DO NOT sign up for the FE. Instead, just Pixie Dust which is giving gifts out randomly but not receiving any gifts.
This unfortunate experience taught me to always label my gifts because I would never want anyone thinking I was one of the inconsiderate people who didn’t give a gift to everyone in my group.
If you are crafty, you can make your own Fish Extender or you can have one made online if your prefer. I purchased mine at Etsy. There are so many different designs and different prices depending on what Etsy shop you are browsing. We love The Nightmare Before Christmas but unfortunately, there were no ready-made FE’s with that theme on Etsy. Luckily, we found an Etsy lady who let us pick out our fabric, colors, and characters and we couldn’t be more pleased! We received some trading pins of The Nightmare Before Christmas as an FE gift and attached them to the top of our FE as decoration. We’ve never seen anyone else do that so maybe we will start a new FE trend!
Use a zip tie to securely attach your FE to the fish outside your door. Not all Disney cruisers are angels and there are many stories of FE’s being stolen. FE’s that are personalized with your name, however, usually do not get stolen.
It is so much fun returning to your cabin throughout the day and finding a bunch of treasures in your FE. Some days we had received so many gifts that our FE was overflowing and people left gifts sitting on the floor by our door! A lot of people are very creative and thoughtful and we were so impressed with everything we received. Because I was the organizer of the FE, I do believe that I was given some extra special gifts that were on the pricey side such as The Nightmare Before Christmas mug and trading pins and Crabtree and Evelyn lotion. This was such a lovely gesture and I recommend giving something nice to the organizer of your FE because they really do put a lot of effort into making everything come together.
FISH EXTENDER GIFTS FOR ADULTS
These are considered “NICER GIFTS”:
- I made these foam Disney heads for our latest cruise. They are layers of foam glued on top of each other and fine point and regular Sharpies were used for the small details. Magnets were glued to the back so the heads could be placed on cabin doors. Hobby Lobby has a good selection of foam colors and they are cheaper than Michael’s.
- Tall cup stuffed with snacks. Make one per adult. This cup was stuffed with a mini bag of white cheddar popcorn and mini size Snickers and Twix. A different cup we received had sun chips inside. And you can write something Disney-ish on the cup if you like. Wrap it in a cellophane bag to keep everything together and tie it with a ribbon.
- Good quality Drink bottles with a Disney Mickey head on it or write on it with a marker “Disney Cruise” or something Disney related. A good quality drink bottle comes in handy at the beverage station on the pool deck because they only provide tiny cups.
- First aid kit. You can include hand sanitizer bottles and if you want, you can remove the label and create your own Disney styled label. These can also be bought ready-made at Etsy. A small pack of 15 sanitizing wipes comes in handy and you can find them at Walmart or Target for a little more than a dollar. Other items are band-aids, aloe vera, chapstick, mini sewing kit and altoids. Wrap these together in cellophane bag tied at the top with a ribbon.
- Spa themed gift. I have really dry hands and the free lotion provided by Disney isn’t moisturizing enough. The Crabtree and Evelyn lotion I received really saved the day. It was paired with a bar of soap and a mini loofah in a matching color. This gift was my absolute favorite.
- Small box of Godiva chocolate.
- Wood letter initials. Our last name starts with an H and we got 2 H’s. One H was hand painted with Mini Mouse colors and a little pink bow and the other was hand painted with Micky Mouse colors.
- Starbucks drink mixes or large gum packets in a pretty wrapper.
- A cruise themed notebook and matching pen.
- A calendar.
These are considered “SMALLER GIFTS”:
(combine a few of these in a bag to make a nice gift. ETSY has most of these if you want to buy them ready-made.)
- Hershey’s bar with a festive Disney themed wrapper.
- Tic Tacs that have a Disney label on them.
- Chapstick that is wrapped in a Disney style theme.
- Hand sanitizer from Bath and Body Works or regular hand sanitizer that has a Disney style label on it.
- Movie style box candy. Walgreens, Walmart, Target, and most places carry movie-style box candy for about $1 each. These are good to take to the movie theater because candy there is not free.
- Something from your hometown. A lady from Brazil gave Pacoquita which is a popular snack in Brazil and she included a note about what is was made of and why Brazilians love it. Marsha’s Buckeyes are a nice idea if you are from Ohio.
- Decorated clothes pins. We did not care for this type of gift because we had absolutely no use for them and they ended up in the trash, but since so many people gave them as gifts, it must be popular. Some had Disney characters on them and others were painted black and had cute items glued on them like mini sandals or bows.
- Writing pens that have a Disney theme.
- Light card. This can be bought at Etsy and they are extremely useful. The newer Disney ships have a new system where electricity will not work in your cabin unless your key to the world card is in the slot by the door. A light card can be left in the slot so you never need to use your key to the world card.
- Personalized Door magnet. You don’t leave them in the FE. Just put it up on their cabin door so they can see it whenever they come back to their room. You can hand make them. My personal favorite was the purple Mickey head with our first names on the ears and our last name on the face, surrounded by Disney stickers. All cabin doors are magnetic except for the fancy concierge rooms.
- Tote bags. You can embroider and personalize them or give a tote with a Disney theme.
- Picture frame that is hand decorated/painted in a Disney theme.
- Mini bottles of alcohol or Disney shot glasses. Do not be lazy and give these to people who have stated they are non-drinkers. It is rude. If you happen to receive these as gifts and don’t drink, give them to your stateroom host.
- Night lights. The cabins are very dark at night.
- Yankee candles. Small votive candles are $1.99 but usually a certain scent is on sale for buy one get one half off. I love giving out Yankee Candles to the lady in each cabin and since a single votive fits into my tiny palm, they are small enough to transport easily. I was able to fit 25 votive candles into a large zip-lock bag. Below are appropriate scents for a Bahamian or Caribbean cruise.
- Amazon sells really cute mini Gummy Bears. Not only are the bags tiny, but so are the bears! I gave these out as part of my gift along with Blow Pops that I also bought from Amazon.
- Gifts relating to the persons favorite Disney character. We love The Nightmare Before Christmas and were really surprised to receive these rather pricey gifts.
- An inexpensive cardboard frame.
- Eye Mask.
ORGANIZING THE FISH EXTENDER EXCHANGE (FE)
If you volunteer to organize the FE, the simple part is building the spreadsheet. Do not procrastinate. Each time someone sends you their cabin information, add it to your spreadsheet immediately and if you are doing this on the private Facebook cruise page, you can upload the spreadsheet under the tab called “Files.” This will enable everyone on your private page to see who is participating and watch as the list grows.
This is the information that is usually asked for in order to sign up. 1. Family name (last name) or if this is being organized on disboards, you could ask for their disboards name instead. 2. First names of individuals in the cabin. 3. Ages of the kids in the cabin and their gender. 4. Allergies. 5. Favorite Disney character. 6. Special occasion being celebrated while on the ship. 7. Drinker or non-drinker.
Feel free to set up your spreadsheet however you like but these are the most common ways. The first is to make one big spreadsheet. Continue to add everyone’s cabin information to it all the way up to the cutoff date. Once you reach the cutoff date, separate the list into equal groups of 10-25 cabins depending on how many cabins you have in total. Then, verify that everyone’s information is correct and declare the list “Closed and Final” meaning no more changes will be made to the list except if someone leaves the group. This method can be used whether you are organizing on disboards or Facebook.
The second way to set up your spreadsheet is to create a separate spreadsheet for each group. Every time someone asks to join, add their cabin information to the spreadsheet and upload the new version to Facebook. Once there are 15 cabins in that group (or whatever number you decide on), close the group to new sign-ups. Verify that everyone’s cabin information is correct and then declare that spreadsheet “Closed and Final” meaning no more changes will be made to that spreadsheet unless someone leaves the group. Then, create a brand new spreadsheet and begin adding people to it as they arrive until you reach the specified number of cabins. Again, once it fills, verify the information and then close that spreadsheet. Continue creating and filling new spreadsheets until you reach the cutoff date. The different spreadsheets could be called, “Group 1, Group 2, Group 3,” or something fun like “Group Nemo, Group Aladdin, Group Frozen.”
This method requires more work but the advantage is that people get to find out who is in their group early and can begin making their gifts. Some people will want to exchange gifts with more than one group so let them know that they can sign up to participate in the other groups. This method works best when organizing on Facebook because you can upload as many versions as you want and also because the Facebook group is always eager to see what the FE list looks like along the way.
Early on, you’ll need to set a cutoff date for new sign-ups and sporadically remind people about this on disboards/Facebook. Normally, the cutoff date is a month before sail date that way everyone has time to make their gifts. Past that date, people who want to join can get together and create their own little gift exchange. I do not recommend organizing it for them because it will be more stressful than you think answering all their last minute questions while you are trying to get your own family ready for the cruise.
What I found difficult about organizing the FE was the constant questions, messages, and requests. For example, I got messages from people saying I needed to make the groups bigger while other messages said the groups should be smaller (I had decided on 15 cabins per group). There was once a rude message from a lady who wanted to be taken off the FE because she didn’t like that the spreadsheets were uploaded to our private Facebook cruise page even though I had explained to her that our page was closed and private and FE’s had been put together in this manner for years.
Some messages I received were from people who wanted me to change the cutoff date and there were requests from people who wanted to dictate what types of gifts they wanted to receive such as nothing with artificial coloring. There was even a message from a lady who wanted me to add to the spreadsheet that her mother-in-law had recently passed away and she wanted us to not only give her son a normal FE gift but ALSO a birthday gift (even though his birthday was several months before the cruise) because he was sad that his grandma had passed away.
There were daily messages from people who were too lazy to look up what the FE was on their own and instead expected me explain everything to them. What made this even more difficult was the fact the administrator of our private Facebook cruise page refused to make me an administrator therefore I was unable to pin pertinent information to the top of the page for all to see. She also refused to pin information for me when I asked her to so every single day I was having to repeat the same answers to different people.
No matter how aggravating all this can be, you have to always maintain a friendly and professional attitude. After all, this is a Disney Cruise.
Once you reach the cutoff date and all the spreadsheets have been declared “Closed and Final” you will need to announce the back-up plan you’ll be putting into place in case someones cabin number changes on the first day of the cruise. The best way to handle this so that it does not disturb the first day of your vacation is to place something outside your cabin door (either a piece of paper or little notebook) so that if someone’s cabin number changes on sail day, they can stop by your door and write their new information. When I was the organizer, I stated that this should be done no later than 5pm on sail day and everyone else participating in the FE should stop by to see updated information any time after 5pm on sail day. Be sure to mention that no one should begin delivering gifts until they have had a chance to stop by and see updated information.
I found this little notebook on Amazon for $5 and used a thin cord to tie it to the fish outside my cabin door. It was hanging just below my fish extender.
Some organizers try to spread out gift delivery by requiring people to deliver gifts on assigned days at assigned times but this is unwise as everyone spends their days doing different activities/excursions and will most likely deliver gifts when they want. When I was the organizer, I let everyone know they could deliver gifts any day/time they pleased but I stated that gift delivery should be completed by dinner time on the last day of the cruise because after dinner, people begin packing and placing their luggage outside their cabin door for pickup.
The closer you get to the cruise, the more you’ll want to remind people about these final steps. To ensure that everyone is aware of these last steps, type them into your spreadsheets directly under the name of each group in bold or highlighted font. (Example: If your cabin number changes on sail day, please stop by cabin 2345 where there will be a little notebook outside my door. You must write your updated information by 5pm on sail day. Everyone else, please stop by to see the updated information anytime after 5pm on sail day. Please do this before you begin delivering gifts. Feel free to deliver gifts any day and time you like. Gift delivery should be completed by dinner time on the last day of the cruise.)
When sail day arrives and you board the ship, get to your cabin as soon as you can (usually cabins open at 1pm) and place your little notebook or piece of paper outside your door so people can write their updated information. I do not recommend a dry erase board because people accidentally rub into them as they walk by and the ink is easily removed. Then, hang your Fish Extender and your job is done! All you have to do next is enjoy your vacation!