Whenever you start planning your first Disney cruise, one of the many things you’re going to come across while researching online is the term “Fish Extender.” Fish Extenders were created way back in May of 2005 by @EpcotKilterFan, one of our posters over on DISboards.com. The poster had the idea specifically for a Westbound Panama Canal cruise they were going on as a way for passengers booked on the same cruise to get to know one another prior to sailing. In addition to getting to know each other, a simple gift exchange similar to a Secret Santa-type thing was organized to swap little gifts with each other when onboard the ship. But, where would the gifts be left? We’ll discuss that in a minute.

The name, while it may sound a bit odd at first, makes perfect sense once you understand how it came about. On Disney’s two original ships, the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder, stateroom numbers are notated on a metal fish that hangs to the left of each stateroom door. On the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, the staterooms on the port side have the fish whereas the starboard side staterooms have a metal seahorse.

Now it was time to figure out where folks could leave the gift items for each other. Over the years, cruisers have created many different types of hanging pockets with string at the top that would easily fit over the metal fish or seahorse essentially extending it. You can even find elaborate hand-sewn, personalized Fish Extenders for sale in many Etsy shops these days.

As you can imagine, the concept became insanely popular rather quickly and before too long, it was something that cruisers couldn’t wait to organize and participate in.

Related: Read more about the history of Fish Extenders

The Disney Cruise Meets board, a sub-forum on the Disney Cruise Line board on the DISboards, is a great way for cruisers to get to know each other prior to their cruise even if you choose not to participate in the Fish Extender.

What exactly is a Fish Extender?

A Fish Extender can be literally anything that can hold stuff. They can be handmade or purchased online; the possibilities are endless. Just do a Google image search for Fish Extender and you’ll get tons of ideas.

How do I participate?

The Disney Cruise Meets threads on DISboards make it very simple for you to find folks that are embarking on the same cruise as you are. On that discussion forum, you’ll find links to every meetup for virtually every sailing. Find your thread, stop by, and say hello. Get to know the folks that will be traveling with you and ask about participating in the Fish Extender gift exchange if you don’t see it mentioned.

What goes in a Fish Extender?

The short answer is anything. Gifts can be as small or as large as you like, just have fun with it. Gifts can be centered around a theme such as your hometown, Disney, pirates or the beach. Gifts can be homemade or purchased. Gifts can be given all at once, or can be spread out over the course of the cruise.

Why should you participate?

Kids love coming back to their stateroom and seeing what’s waiting for them – yes, big kids too! It is also fun to go from stateroom to stateroom to check out what everyone’s Fish Extender looks like. You can get some great ideas this way!

Fish Extenders are a great way to spend some family time, both making the the gifts before the cruise and sharing in the fun during the cruise. Please share some of your favorite Fish Extender tips and gifts in the comments section below!