Our Disney Cruise Experience: Part 1 – Fish Extenders and Facebook Groups

Alright. Let’s start off by acknowledging that a post about our first Disney Cruise experience has nothing to do with picture books. Or does it? Well, there is a connection, but I will get to that later.

Where to start? Well, I’ll start by saying that while this was our first Disney Cruise, this was not my first cruise ever. I’d been on a couple of cruises as a teen/young adult with my family, and had fond memories of them. That said, this was my husband’s first cruise, as well as our first cruise with kids (and yikes – the thought of all of us sharing less than 300 square feet of space for SEVEN nights was slightly terrifying). This was also a trip with extended family – as in, my parents, my sister and her husband and kids, and my single sister, so there were 11 of us total.

As a Disney Cruise newbie, I knew there was a lot that I *didn’t* know, so I dove right into the internet and start searching with queries like “Disney Cruise sleeping two kids different ages” (ha!). Within a day or two I learned about something called “Fish Extenders” and this led to the revelation that there are actually private Facebook Groups for each and every Disney Cruise sailing. Yes, you read that correctly. Every Disney Cruise sailing has a private Facebook group that you can join and connect with fellow cruisers ahead of your sailing date. Don’t ask me how these groups come about or what goes into managing them. All I can tell you is that it is a team of people who volunteer to do this and it’s no small job!

(Header picture from our Cruise Facebook Page)

Once you join the Facebook group you have a wealth of information available to you. Many folks are repeat Disney Cruisers and they are more than happy to share information or tips from their experiences. And this is also where you can sign up to participate in “Fish Extenders” or any of the other exchanges going on (our group had an ornament exchange and, I believe, a magnet exchange as well).

For the uninitiated, Fish Extenders are basically like Secret Santa groups for the ship. Each group typically has about 10 rooms participating, meaning you need to get gifts for nine other rooms. Everyone enters information in a spreadsheet about favorite Disney characters, T-shirt size, and any celebrations taking place while onboard. Then you get to be creative! You can get gifts for each and every person in a cabin, or do one gift for the whole cabin. Gifts range from homemade treats to professionally made tote bags, and it is so much fun seeing what is waiting for you at your room, in your Fish Extender. (Note: you can purchase Fish Extenders like this one or DIY one like this. It’s fun seeing the range of Fish Extenders onboard – I ended up making ours using this nursery hanger, Krylon, Disney-themed fabric, and fabric glue.)

Note: Don’t ever turn your back on your two year old while stenciling names on your DIY Fish Extender! 😳

My kids, who were 5 and 2.5 at the time of sailing, LOVED the Fish Extender experience, particularly whoever the generous souls were who left them both stuffed animals! They were thrilled with each and every gift, regardless of size, and it just added a little bit of extra magic to our trip. Would I participate again? Absolutely. With caveats.

First, I would spend less time stressing about the gifts – it ended up being less fun and more stressful than I had anticipated. Next time I would take it easier on myself!

Second, I would plan when I deliver the gifts more strategically. I delivered ours over the course of the week, thinking that people would like to get a gift later in the week instead of everything at once. While that’s true, I would maybe try to focus deliveries on the “At Sea” days, when people are generally in and out of their rooms more. After the cruise we heard reports of teens stealing gifts out of Fish Extenders and that really stinks. You hope that kind of thing doesn’t happen but with any large group of people you’re bound to find some bad apples.

Finally, I would encourage anyone who books a Disney Cruise to join the Facebook group as soon as possible, regardless of whether you want to do Fish Extenders or not. I can’t tell you how many things I learned ahead of time (so many!), but two tips stood out the most:

  • Book ticketed Character Events ASAP when you are able to register for the cruise (and know that you may even be able to book events before you complete your pre-registration on the day it opens up). There were several ticketed character events that were free, but you had to have tickets. These included  the “Princess Gathering” where you got to meet and greet Tiana, Cinderella, Ariel and Belle, the “Frozen Gathering” with you guessed it, Anna and Elsa, and the Disney Junior Character Breakfast, which featured individual table stops (as in, the characters come to your table for pictures and autographs) with Mickey, Jake (from the Neverland Pirates), Sofia and Doc McStuffins. My kids went NUTS for these and it would have been such a bummer if we had missed out. (Note: they typically reserve some tickets to these events onboard but if you miss out ahead of time it has to be your first stop at Guest Services, to see if you can get some of the tickets that are left.)
  • Get a Rainforest Day Pass for Senses Spa. Here is a video of this area of the spa. You can get five-day passes once you’re onboard but supposedly the individual day passes are only sold ahead of time, and, for $16/person, it’s a bargain. My husband and I loved the hot tubs and the heated lounge seats. Money well spent.

Alright, whew. That covers Disney Cruise tips for BEFORE YOU GET ONBOARD! Now I just need to write up the actual cruise experience. We’ll see how long that takes!

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