The Ultimate Fish Exchange FAQ

Welcome to the Ultimate Fish Exchange FAQ: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Fish Exchanges, and likely a little more. Fish Exchanges, at their core, are gift exchanges organized by guests long before your ship sets sail. Each family in the Exchange gives gifts to the members of the group, and in return the members of the group give gifts to them.


What do I need to know to participate in a Fish Exchange?

A Fish Exchange is a gift exchange. You agree to make or purchase small gifts to exchange on your cruise. Here are the basics:

  • Join a Fish Exchange Group (see below)
  • Provide basic info on your family (names, ages, stateroom #)
  • Buy/make gifts for everyone in your Fish Exchange Group
  • Hang a Fish Extender outside of your door to receive gifts
  • Deliver gifts you brought to recipients

What is the difference between a Fish Exchange and a Fish Extender?Fish Extenders

They may sound the same and have the same initials, but the Fish Exchange and the Fish
Extender are two separate things. Here is the basic formula.

Fish Extender = Banner with Pockets for Receiving Gifts

Fish Exchange = The Process of Giving and Receiving Gifts

To learn all about Fish Extenders read DCL Prep School’s Beginners Guide to Fish Extenders.

What Is a FExt

How do I join a Fish Exchange Group?

If you want to participate in a Fish Exchange, you must join one prior to your cruise. To do that, you must locate your Cruise Meet group on or on Facebook. To find a group on Facebook, use the Facebook Search Engine and search by ship name and sailing date. I did a random search for an April 2017 cruise on the Dream, and I found they already have a Cruise Meet group.

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 10.48.38 AM

A Cruise Meet Group (I did not make up that term) is a group of guests who will be sailing on the same cruise. They create message boards and Facebook pages to get to know one another before cruising.

It is on these Cruise Meet Pages where Fish Exchanges are organized.

DCL Prep School Tip: You do not need to participate in a Fish Exchange to join a Cruise Meet page. Anyone can join in the discussion.

How do I know who is in my Fish Exchange Group?

A guest usually steps forward and volunteers to organize the Fish Exchange Group for each sailing. This entails starting and maintaining a document or spreadsheet with basic information on those who want to participate. It is up to the organizer to decide how to collect participant info. Normal routes are email, Facebook Messenger, or direct input into Google Docs Spreadsheets.

This information is shared with the members of the group to aid in the process of selecting and delivering gifts. A typical Fish Exchange document looks something like this:

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 9.39.22 AM

Including the age of the children is important for the gift givers. Everyone wants to give and receive age-appropriate gifts. Always list food allergies, as candies and sundae kits are fairly popular gift items. If you have allergies, read the labels of any food gifts you receive. Do not assume the gift giver remembered or that there was no cross-contamination during travel.

How many people do I need to provide gifts for?

You will be required to make or buy a gift for every person in your gift exchange. Typical exchanges range from 10 -15 staterooms, though each cruise is different. Each room typically has 2 – 4 guests. So you could be responsible for providing gifts for up to 50 or more people. If this doesn’t sound like something you want to do, stop. No one is forced to do this to sail. Joining in an exchange is a choice.

I know the saying is that it is better to give than to receive… and it is. BUT, the entire principle behind the exchange is to give AND receive. If you aren’t willing to give, do not expect to receive.

Ok, soap box is stowed away. Let’s continue with the fun.

Some cruises have so many families who want to participate that the organizers break it into 2 or 3 groups to keep costs and logistics manageable. I find capping each exchange at 50 guests to be ideal for everyone.

Why do I have to join a Fish Exchange Group to participate?

You must join the group so you know who you are responsible for getting gifts for, and who is responsible for getting gifts for you and your family.

Do not just show up at the ship, hang a Fish Extender outside of your door, and expect magical fairies to deliver gifts. It has happened, and those guests were not happy. You must sign up for a Fish Exchange before sailing!

Does Disney sanction Fish Exchanges?

No. Fish Exchanges are guest-led initiatives. Disney Cruise Line is in no way officially involved in the gift exchange process. If you have a dispute with a member of your Fish Exchange Group – rare though that may be – DCL will not mediate or intervene.

Having said that, I am sure DCL knows all about the Fish Exchanges which occur on their ships.

How do I receive my gifts?

Members of your Fish Exchange Group will deliver them throughout your cruise to your Fish Extender. They will place your gifts in the pockets or compartments designated for each member of your family or traveling group.

Each guest has their own pocket for receiving gifts.
Each guest has their own pocket for receiving gifts.

How do I get gifts to the people on my list?

You deliver them yourself. Place each gift in the recipient’s pocket on their Fish Extender. The stateroom numbers are provided as part of the Fish Exchange Group documents. There is no Magical Fish Express delivery service – I’ve been asked. My kids are older now and love being secret delivery agents. It is also fun to see the Fish Extenders created by each family.

You place the gift in the pocket of each recipient.
You place the gift in the pocket of each recipient.

What kind of gifts do I need to make or buy?

Small, thoughtful gifts are the only guidelines. Small, because they need to fit in the pockets of your Fish Extenders. Thoughtful, well, that is self-explanitory.

Pearler Bead creations make great magnets for staterooms doors.
I made these little ships from my mega bag-o-Legos.
I made these little ships from my mega bag-o-Legos.

If you are making Door Magnets as gifts, please use STRONG magnets. The doors on Disney Cruise Line have several layers of paint, and they tend to slam as they close. This means you need a strong magnet to keep your decor stuck to the door. Try these 1/2″ Disc Magnets from Amazon. They already have an adhesive backing.

1/2″ Round Disney Magnet

What is a Stateroom Gift?

A stateroom gift is a larger gift given to the whole family, instead of smaller, individual gifts. An oversized character stateroom door magnet is a great example.

What Kind of Gifts Do You Like?

I have received cookie recipe cards with a Mickey Head cookie cutter attached, homemade door magnets which have the sailing dates, scrapbook kits, photo albums, car decals etc… The creativity of Disney guests amazes and humbles me each time I sail. I especially love gifts that are local to the giver. I’ve gotten Japanese fans, Australian lip balm and a San Francisco family gave everyone post cards from the Walt Disney Family Museum as thank you cards.

I’m not crafty. Can I buy my gifts?

Absolutely. I am only semi-crafty, so my gifts are a mix of homemade and store-bought items. Here are a few ideas:

Underwater Cameras are great for the tough-to-buy-for-teens on your list.

Nautical Wine Stoppers are a fantastic gift for the grown-ups. This one comes in a 10-pack. Perfect!

And this Ship’s Wheel Bottle Stopper comes in a 15-Pack for under $30! Cute and cost-effective.

Babies can be hard to buy for, but I have found adorable washcloth sets like this Disney Baby Monsters, Inc. Washcloth Set one can be broken down into 2 or 3 gifts.

How much money am I expected to spend per gift?

There is no set amount. Be thoughtful and creative. Make your own budget and stick with it. Only you know what you are comfortable spending, but please make sure to give a gift that you would like to receive yourself. When in doubt. Give a gift card. Even a $5 iTunes gift card will make any teen’s day.

My Final Thoughts

The Fish Exchange process is meant to be fun, not stressful. Keep to your budget. Only sign up to participate if you can fully commit yourself to making or buying a gift for the entire group. My kids love the Fish Exchange concept. I had toyed with the idea of not participating in a Fish Exchange on our next family cruise, and my kids thought I was crazy.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.