Here’s the story of Lance+Jeff and Brian and Phil at Club 33…and how we almost ruined our chances of ever returning.
First, an introduction for the Disney laypersons: Disneyland’s Club 33 might be the holy grail for the most intense fans of Disney Parks. And somehow, we got in.
Club 33 was planned in the years prior to Walt Disney’s death as an exclusive retreat for Disney executives to wine and dine Very Important People, especially potential corporate sponsors. Supposedly, Walt got the idea to create the restaurant after seeing the lounges hosted by corporations like GM at the 1964 World’s Fair, where Walt’s Imagineering had a big presence with such attractions as the Carousel of Progress and it’s a small world.
Nestled above the Blue Bayou Restaurant in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square, Club 33 is a pastiche of different design aesthetics, from the Napoleonic-era main dining room to the Trophy Room, an intimate space meant to evoke a gentlemen’s game parlor.
Suffice to say, Club 33 is meant to be fancy and laced with Disney history. Though Walt died just a few months before Club 33 opened, he was heavily involved in the design of the space, which still includes furniture selected by his wife, Lillian, and a fully-functional French lift recreated from one Walt and Lillian enjoyed on a trip to New Orleans.
Today, the club hosts its fair share of dignitaries, but its mystery stems from the fact that its not accessible to the public. You won’t find Club 33 on any Disneyland park map; there is no official Club 33 website or publicly available phone number. There’s no sign on the front door, save the restaurant’s address, 33 Royal Street.
The only way to get into the club is to be a member or have a Club 33 member make a reservation for you. And this is where many with aspirations of Club 33 run into complications: the membership list is relatively small, and people can remain on the waiting list for years before a slot opens up. When it does, it comes with tens of thousands of dollars in initiation and annual dues. Yes, you read that right: currently the rumor is that members pay a $25,000 initiation fee and $10,000 a year in fees after that.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have $35,000 and ten years of patience lying around in order to eat some truffled mac and cheese.
Without knowing a Club 33 member, my options to get in were obviously limited. So I did a little digging…and while I won’t detail exactly how I secured my reservation, I’ll just say it involved the good faith and efforts of a generous member and zero exchange of money or sexual favors. (Also, the “strategy” I used is suggested on several websites; I was just lucky enough to have it work for me!)
According to the member I worked with, reservations can only be made 60 days out. We both assumed I’d have difficulties securing a table considering Lance, Brian, Phil and I were visiting during Disneyland’s immensely popular Candlelight Processional holiday show, and because the club was closing after the holidays for a lengthy renovation.
Luckily, however, we were able to get a table for lunch on our last full day at the park!
Things seemed to be pretty official, though I was slightly suspicious by how easy the whole process was to secure a reservation, to the point where the thought crossed my mind that this was some elaborate prank pulled by Six Flags fans to sucker a poor Disney devotee. Worse, I would’ve led our new-ish pals Brian and Phil to Disneyland under false pretenses, promising them a visit to the exclusive Club 33 and then not being able to deliver–a Disney faux pas of the worst kind!
The day before our reservation, as we were waiting in the Radiator Springs Racers queue, I got a phone call from Club 33 Member Services to confirm our reservation. “YES.” I sobbed tears of joy. “YES WE ARE COMING PLEASE LET US IN.” I was so happy–this was actually going to happen!
Later that same day, Lance discovered a voicemail on his phone, also confirming the reservation. That’s odd, I thought. I don’t remember ever giving Club 33 Lance’s phone number, but I must’ve passed the information to our member contact as some point.
The next day, once the door to 33 Royal Street unlocked and we rode up the very tiny French lift (we are relatively tiny dudes; how normal-sized people fit in there, I’ll have no idea…), we were escorted to our window-side table in the main dining room.
The meal was prix fixe, $65 a person for a starting seafood platter (shrimp! crab! LOBSTER!), three additional courses, and a dessert buffet. Given the amount and quality of the food, $65 seemed like a reasonable price, not the small mortgage many Disney bloggers suggest.
Apologies for the lack of photos from here on out–I was trying to “live in the moment” as much as possible, though Lance was also saying things like, “there’s an empty four-person table over there…you don’t think your contact made us two reservations, do you?”
Comments like this, stacked on top of the second confirmation voicemail from the day before, were beginning to make me nervous. Had we, in fact, gotten two reservations on accident? If so, that would’ve been really bad, because members get charged for each lousy no-show. For our party of four, the member would’ve faced some $260 in fees!
Still, I felt like I had no evidence that two reservations were made. For my reservation, I received a phone call from the member and a confirmation e-mail from Club 33; I never received duplicates of either.
I tried my best to keep it together during lunch, but I was getting so anxious that I barely touched the truffled mac and cheese that came in a delightful baby cast-iron ramekin.
After our meal, we began to peruse the restaurant, which was adorned with concept art from different Disneyland attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as props and costume sketches from movies like Mary Poppins. We also popped out onto the second-floor balcony which overlooks New Orleans Square and the Rivers of America.
As we were about to leave, Lance came up to me and said, “I just got a voicemail saying that they had to cancel our Club 33 reservation because we didn’t show up.”
So it was true. Somehow, not only were we fortunate enough to get one Club 33 reservation, but two. While a blessing in any other circumstance, I freaked because the member was going to be charged hundreds of dollars for a mistake, and I didn’t want to burn a person who demonstrated such generosity and had placed their trust in me.
I asked to speak to the manager, determined to pay the no-show fee; I just hoped it wasn’t too late, that the member hadn’t already been charged.
Of course, it wasn’t easy trying to explain my situation. “Okay, so apparently two reservations were made for my party, one under my name and one under my husband’s name but we only needed one and I never got any sort of confirmation for the other and…”
I had my credit card in hand, ready to relinquish $260. It’s not like I really budgeted for it, but I knew it was the right thing to do.
The Club 33 manager on duty smiled, and said, “These things happen, especially around the holidays. Thank goodness you let me know before you left–I was about to run the charges through!”
So…it worked out, and I was–and am–extremely grateful for this Club 33 manager’s understanding.
Club 33 was, while unexpectedly stressful, still a wonderful Disney experience that I was happy and very fortunate enough to share with my dear friends and beautiful husband.
I wish I could go back and finish that truffled mac and cheese, though.