Back in September I was given a very special and unique gift. My wife and I were given lunch reservations at Club 33, the ‘secret’ member’s only club in New Orleans Square in Disneyland. Over the years I’ve heard rumors of a secret club inside Disneyland. Mentions of decade long waiting lists and high priced entrance fees. What is it? No one really knew. What do you get? Who knows. The Disneyland website doesn’t even mention it. Any reference to it online does not come from Disney, they like to keep it as much a secret as possible so it was a thrill to get to be a part of it first hand.
Here’s a quick history of Club 33, which may be true or false, or partly both —
When Walt Disney was raising funds around 1964 for his attractions at the New York World’s Fair he got to see some of the private clubs that corporate sponsors had access to. He decided Disneyland should have its own private lounge for their corporate sponsors and VIPs.
As far as the name, one story goes that Walt had 33 sponsors involved with Disneyland – ‘Club 33.’
Another one – the club is located at 33 Royal Street in New Orleans Square, so ‘Club 33.’
Either way, a very practical naming scheme.
As a private club, you need to be a member to enter. To even apply for a membership was closed for more than a decade, and just re-opened (then closed again) earlier in 2012. From what I’ve heard the initiation fee is $25,000 with a $5,000 annual fee.
As the rumor goes, beyond just enduring the epic wait list your application also has to prove you to be a Disney fan, but once accepted and your check clears you get annual passes to the park, free valet parking at The Grand Californian, the ability to have six Fast Passes at once and you can dine at Club 33. Oh, the club is the only place in Disneyland where you can get alcohol, so that can be big bonus too.
So how did a couple of non-members like us get to go inside of Club 33? A bit simple really. We have a friend who has a friend who is a member. She called the Club 33 reservation desk and put our names in for a lunch reservation.
The day of the reservation we went to the park to pick up our tickets — our name was on the list and we were told to not get to the restaurant more than five minutes before our reservation.
The tickets we got worked like this, it was a regular one-day park hopper ticket but it had ‘Club 33’ printed on the back. At this point in the day neither the member who got us in or ourselves had paid for anything. How you pay for the ticket is pretty quirky. A One-Day Park Hopper Pass is $87, so your lunch needs to be $87 or more.
You can look at it two ways — you get a free ticket to the park when you pay to eat at Club 33 or you get a free lunch when you buy a One-Day Park Hopper Pass.
The mood and tone of Club 33 is decidedly adult. Dark and quiet. A grandfather’s steakhouse. The entrance is a door marked ’33’ next to the host’s desk of the Blue Bayou. You ring the bell or knock and the Club 33 hostess cracks the door and checks your name against their list of reservations. The door closes. She’ll be back. You wait. People that noticed the exchange will ask you what’s back there. What’s behind that door? You (me) don’t know what to say. How do you play this game? Disney does its best to keep this a ‘secret’ so do you play along? Hint? Tell as much as you know?
No worries, the door opens and the hostess ushers you into the lobby.
You stand in the lobby area, which is a lot smaller than you imagined. A french elevator. A winding staircase. The artwork, the color palette – very un-Disney. On our visit we waited with another party. The Dad asked the hostess if any non-members have tried to get into the club. The hostess said that yes, people often knock on the door and ask to come in, she says, ‘Sorry. You need a reservation.’
‘How do I get a reservation?’
‘You need to a be a member.’
‘How do I become a member?’
‘I can’t tell you that, but there is $25,000 initiation fee and a decades long wait list.’
I remember this story of hers very well, mostly because the menacing glee she had while telling it. A certain pride was there in the re-telling of the imaginary silly rube who knocked on her door and dared to think he was able to come inside. The excitement I had about my trip to Club 33 was slightly diminished by this hostess who can only be called ‘ a total snob.’
Now. This is my interpretation of the event. For anyone who has been to Disneyland you know that the cast members are friendly to a fault. Mostly. I’m sure there are horror stories out there, but I’ve only have great run ins with Disney cast members and this was the first person I met who was employed at the park who lacked the same welcoming enthusiasm as someone at the Haunted Mansion or Splash Mountain.
If you’ve ever been to an upscale or semi-upscale steakhouse you’ve been to Club 33. The food was very good and the service agreeable, the difference at Club 33 is you have a view of Disneyland that a rare few get to see. Out on the balcony, I watched the jazz band play. I saw the top of the awnings, the back of the musicians.
Those decorative windows and doors that line the second story of New Orleans Square, I was up there. Up there, looking down, which is an apt way of describing Club 33. From what the hostess said about the members, the clientele are members here instead of at country clubs. They don’t golf (well, they probably do) they go to Disneyland.
Again, she bragged about the level of elitism Club 33 offers. I let this hostess color my experience in one of the more exclusive places a mainstream venue has to offer and that’s my fault for not just letting it go.
Since college I’ve been searching for information on Club 33 with the hopes of getting on the waiting list, pretending that when my time came to be called I would have the disposable (does that exist?) income to be even more immersed in Disney than I already am. I wish that my visit was different than it was, but I didn’t see what $25,000 got you as a member. It’s elite, sure, but I missed the magic that the rest of the park and Disney brand has. The world needs places where you can go and feel elite I suppose, but I don’t like it at Disneyland. That’s not Disney to me.
Where are the families? The dads trying to feed a crying son? The daughter, tired, being pushed in a stroller through Main Street? But mostly, where’s the magic?
I will say this – I know my visit was affected by the hostess, so if any Club 33 members read this and have had great experiences I would love to talk to you about it and pick your brain a few minutes. Email me!