Finally booked that Disney cruise you have been Dreaming about? Your Fantasy is about to become reality! If you are anything like me you have been scouring the Internet for pictures of the ship, details about activities and excursions, anything to pass the time before you set sail on your Magical voyage. One way to add to the fun of your Disney Cruise Line vacation is to join a fish exchange. Now, don’t panic…a fish exchange has nothing to do with eating, smelling or gifting actual fish. Allergic to shellfish? No problem!
What in the name of Triton is a Fish Exchange?
Basically, a fish exchange is like a secret-Santa on water, a gift exchange with other Disney travelers. Interested participants should join the “Meet” group for their cruise at Disboards.com. Typically this is where you can sign up and your sailing group will set the guidelines for your exchange (how many cabins will participate, group gifts as opposed to individual, etc.). But don’t wait too long. Groups are typically closed a month or more prior to sailing in order to give everyone time to plan (and maybe even create) their gifts. The fish exchange group usually arranges an optional time to meet and get to know each other on the ship as well.
So why the fish?
On Disney Cruise Line ships, each cabin has a decorative clip mounted to the wall outside, used by the crew to leave messages, reservation confirmations or other shipboard communications. On the Disney Magic® and Disney Wonder® Cruise Ships, this clip is a pewter fish. Similarly, the Disney Dream® and Disney Fantasy® feature seahorses on the starboard side of the ship, while port-side cabins sport fish. Participating cabins hang fish extenders (more on these below) from these clips and gifts are placed inside, extending the fish to make it large enough for all of the goodies to come!
Giving credit where credit is due
Credit for the original Fish Extender belongs to a woman named Debbie, who comments under the name EpcotKilterFan on Disboards.com. 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!
What do I need to participate?
Most importantly, you need a fish extender, some type of receptacle to hang from your fish that is large enough to collect the gifts you will receive. Being sewing-challenged, I opted to purchase from Jen (StitchesNBows) at etsy.com. We are really pleased with our fish extender and have used it multiple times. Created of fabric, the pockets are deep and hang easily from our fish. My sister Tina purchased hers from Tiffany (Gradysmommy) on etsy.com and also had a great experience. A simple Internet search will turn up many other reputable artists willing to personalize your family’s fish extender. Not up for a professional extender? I have seen tote bags, plastic bags and homemade extenders as well. Whatever your preference, be sure to bring along a few zip ties to secure your extender to the fish to make sure it doesn’t “disappear.” Unfortunately, villains, Disney or otherwise, do sometimes exist!
What do I give? Note: Not crafty? Not a problem!
Now for the fun part: gifts! You can decide whether you want to give one gift per cabin or smaller gifts to each individual. Base your decision on what you would like to give, cost and amount of space you have in your luggage. My family has received a vast array of different gifts. Handmade treasures have included jewelry of all kinds, hair bows, bookmarks, coasters, key chains, luggage tags and pulls, picture frames and magnets. Our kids have loved gifts personalized with their names such as tote bags, water bottles, pirate accessories for Pirate Night and back sacks. My husband Kurt and I have been thrilled with personalized drink koozies, CDs of island or Disney music, recipes, even small bottles of alcohol.
I think many people stress that their gift will not be “good enough,” so I think it is important to remember that the idea behind a fish exchange is to sprinkle a little extra pixie dust around, to be part of making the magic. Many of the best gifts are practical ones, creative necessities: maps of the ship, “emergency” kits with band-aids and safety pins, highlighters or hand sanitizer. Many people choose to gift something exclusive to their hometown, state or country.
I am a teacher, but there is a reason I teach high school rather than elementary school. I do not have a crafty bone in my body, not a shred of talent or skill in this area. My children actively seek out their aunt for assistance with school art projects! I have come to grips with my shortcomings in this area, so when it comes to fish extender gifts, my best friend is Vistaprint.com. My family has gifted postcards, notepads, personalized post-it notes and pens all designed on Vistaprint.com. The Disney Fantasy® mouse pad currently sitting next to me as I type was my sister’s fish extender gift from our cruise in July 2013, also designed on Vistaprint.com. There are so many possibilities; just be sure to have fun!
I have already mortgaged the house to take this cruise!!
So, how much is this going to cost? We all know that Disney Cruise Line is not cheap. Adding fish extenders to the budget does not have to break the bank. Little Simba and Nala still have to go to college some day! How much you choose to spend is a personal decision, typically not dictated by your group. One way to keep costs down is for your group to decide to split into two groups if the numbers get too large. For example, if 50 cabins join your group, you may choose to split into two groups of 25 cabins each. You would only be responsible for gifting the 24 other cabins in your sub-group, making the numbers much more manageable and keeping costs down. What you choose to spend is a personal decision and any amount should be appreciated.
Participating in a fish exchange can really be an exciting addition to an already Wonderful voyage. My children especially love racing back to our cabin (easily recognized with our colorful fish extender hanging outside) to see what surprises have been left for us. However, this excitement is rivaled by the elation we feel when delivering our own gifts, or better still, seeing others around the ship using or wearing the gifts we have distributed. Have fun and enjoy your fish exchange…all of the excitement and magic without the fishy smell!