We Crash Club 33 Part II: Club Harder

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I’d apologize for the delays between posts, but anymore that’s pretty old hat, so if anything, I’ll apologize for this brand new post throwing off our consistent pattern…!

As a wrap-up of sorts to our blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tenure living in California, let’s discuss our trip to Disneyland’s hallowed Club 33.  If y’all don’t know, Club 33 is a super-duper exclusive, members-only (and for a price!) dining experience in Disneyland.

We’d been before, though I was such a nervous wreck the first time (where’s the lorazepam when you need it??) that the whole experience was a bit of a fog.  Of course, given the nigh impossibility of securing a reservation for us common folk, that’s NOT the kind of recollection you want to have.

So, when we had a pretty decent idea that we would be moving back to Philadelphia (though neither of us had gotten final, official offers yet), I decided to see if I could snag a reservation to celebrate new jobs/a farewell to California/Christmas-y sorta time/creating a hopefully memorable experience for us and our best pals in the Golden State.

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And yes, if you’re wondering, I do know, however indirectly, a member of Club 33, and no, I will not tell you who he/she is and will not get you a reservation. I feel incredibly fortunate to have stumbled into this person and won’t risk any goodwill between us, no matter how much money you wish to make rain on me (I think that’s grammatically correct…?)

Tucked into the New Orleans Square land of the park, Club 33’s open air waiting area is a modified version of the old, publicly-accessible Court of Angels. I’d never seen the space myself, as it has already gone behind construction walls on my first visit to Disneyland. Vaunted by many in the Disney online community as Imagineering at its purest, I was excited to experience it–and it did not disappoint, especially the free hot chocolate made available on this chilly December night.

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After the requisite photo shoot on the staircase, we were called upstairs. The restaurant, renovated and expanded since our first visit,  takes up a significant chunk of the second floor of many New Orleans Square storefronts. The main dining room overlooks Disneyland’s Rivers of America, where the Fantasmic! nighttime show plays.

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Excuse my bleary eyes and dark circles in the photo above. We were on a redeye back from New York City the night before and had worked a full-day before dinner. My hair was about as on fleek (is that nu-gay for “en vogue” or something?) as its ever gonna be, though.

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The only place in Disneyland where you can get alcohol. LIVE IT UP.

Dinner was pre-fixe at $105 (::crying emoji::) a person, and we could’ve opted for a caviar accompaniment for an extra…I don’t know, a lot of money. I don’t do fish, and it would’ve reminded me too much of the opening scene in Finding Nemo, anyway. Not for the faint of heart or wallet.

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The chef sent out this little meat shooter thing before our courses began. I’m not fancy and forgot to write down the name, but it was tasty!

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First course: the Prime New York of Beef Seared Black and Blue with Tarragon-Roasted Garlic Purée. 

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Second course: French Quarter “Five Onion Soup” with Tasso Ham and Gruyere.

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Third course: Grilled Diver Scallop and Gulf Shrimp.

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Fourth course: Petit Angus Filet Mignon.

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Final course: MONKEY BREAD HECK YEAHHH

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The “Just Kidding, Here’s More Food as a Palette Cleanser” Course.

Compared to our first visit, I would have to give this meal the edge. Along with the physical overhaul, the menu was also revised by renowned Chef Andrew Sutton, who is also executive chef at Napa Rose and the wonderful Carthay Circle restaurant in Disney California Adventure. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to try both, but these courses seemed more confident and flavorful than the old Club 33 standards.

Now that the foodie shots are out of the way, time for more restaurant photos. Since we visited pretty late on a Monday night just before the crazy busy holiday season, we nearly had the place to ourselves. As you can tell if you compare photos from our first visit to these, the renovations were quite substantial (and, I’d argue, mostly for the better):

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The new bar area, the Salon Nouveau.

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This used to be a working French lift, commissioned by Walt Disney himself. Now, it is a much-maligned booth for one (??)

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Let us know if you find us in the guestbook!

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Note to self, never trust Lance alone with a camera:

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All in all, our second visit to Club 33 was more magical (and definitely less stressful!) than the first.  With my expensive exclusive Mickey ears on to rub in everybody’s faces, we strode out of the restaurant like kings.

What a night.

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We Crash Club 33

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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.

(more…)

Photo Friday: Gratuitous Pictures of Your Husband at Disneyland

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After six-plus years of being together, it’s always nice to step back, assess the BIG PICTURE, and come to the same conclusion: my husband is quite the catch.

Now I present the best way to cap off your work-week, a series of photos of Lance enjoying Disneyland.  What better way to enjoy the Happiest Place on Earth than with such an adorable guy? (Cameos by two other handsome gentlemen, Brian and Phil.)

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Mayhem on the Matterhorn!
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Splash Mountain super-selfie.
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In the queue for Haunted Mansion Holiday. The guy on the left is not a hitchhiking ghost; he just has naturally dark circles under his eyes.
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Waiting to catch the Aladdin stage show in Disney California Adventure. Lance’s smile will disappear 40 minutes later once he realizes we spent $100 a person to buy tickets for the upcoming Broadway production, which will likely not be as good.
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Mad T Party in Hollywoodland.
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Okay, so maybe Lance didn’t enjoy EVERY aspect of Disneyland…
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Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree selfie.
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Well, I know all those pics put me in a better mood. Happy Friday, everyone!

Our Disneyland Mixtape

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Christmas was just a few weeks after we got back from Disneyland, and I was scrambling at the last minute to come up with some stocking stuffers for Lance that wouldn’t break the bank.

I’d already purchased some “legal enough for eBay” Disneyland and California Adventure attraction posters, like the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Peoplemover, for Lance, since he nearly bought them for himself while we were in California but was too indecisive about which one he wanted.

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Still, I felt like I hadn’t done enough to commemorate/hadn’t beaten the dead horse of our Disneyland trip enough.

What to do, what to do…

I’m one of those assholes who still likes High Fidelity after all this time, and the most important lesson I walked away with from that movie is how awesome (read: not lazy or cheap) a thoughtful, carefully-edited mixtape can be. (Too bad I didn’t see these cassette tape-themed USB devices before Christmas, ’cause they really would’ve been the kicker.)  Not everybody holds this view; mixtapes probably seem outdated in the Playlist Era. But like a Christmas card, I believe that giving something tangible adds just a little weight to your intentions.

Let’s go down the track-list, shall we?

1. “California (Tchad Blake Mix)” by Phantom Planet: 

This was an easy, if outdated, one.  Even though I don’t think either of us have watched an episode of “The O.C.” in our lives, Phantom Planet’s decade-old anthem to heading west is still what plays in my head whenever I wait to board a plane to the Golden State.

2 and 3. “Walt Disney’s Dedication to Disneyland” and “All Aboard! (Main Street Station!) from Disney’s Happiest Celebration on Earth:

Now that we’re in California, who better to welcome us than Walt Disney? To fully complete our transition into the lands of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy, let’s board the Disneyland and Sante Fe Railroad, the E.P. Ripley, at the Main Street Station.

4. “The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room” from Disney’s Happiest Celebration on Earth:

One of our favorite attractions at the Disney parks, the perfect example of what sets Disney apart from their theme park competitors. Who would think that a show about animatronic birds, flowers, and tikis would still survive–and thrive!–fifty years later in our jaded, cynical times?  A pure delight, through and through…and it helps that they sell Dole Whips right outside.

5. “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” from Disney’s Happiest Celebration on Earth:

Okay, this might actually be our favorite Disney attraction, a sister attraction to “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull” in Tokyo DisneySea. An exceedingly well-executed adventure in the footsteps of Indiana Jones as he attempts to escape the destructive gaze of the god Mara.

6. “Welcome to Radiator Springs” by Joe Louis Walker from The Music of Cars Land:

I expected to be ambivalent, at least, to California Adventure’s Cars-themed area since I’m very lukewarm on the films, but like most visitors, we were completely sold by the mid-century-beauty of Radiator Springs.  Cars Land is filled with ’50s and ’60s background pop-rock music, mixed with originals like this song written for a drive down Route 66.

7. “Space Mountain (New Daytime Track)” by Michael Giacchino from Disney’s Happiest Celebration on Earth:

Lance I both love Oscar-winner Michael Giacchino’s work on Up, RatatouilleLost, Alias and Fringe, so of course we’d love this thematic mashup of The Incredibles and Star Trek for a truly retro trip around the cosmos.

8. “World of Color (Orchestral Theme)”:

World of Color is the beautiful, breathtaking nighttime show (how?? It’s just water and lights!) in Disney California Adventure, and its intro/finale music is heartstring-plucking Disney magic at its best.

9. “Dance With Me Tonight” by Olly Murs

How could I not select this as the big finale of our Disneyland playlist? Our good buddy and Disneyland companion Brian hand-selected this song for his DisneySide video about our trip (it’s above and you should totally watch it!), and it seemed like a perfect musical fit to our trip to the Happiest Place on Earth.

Disneyland: One Little Spark

I try to avoid being a stereotype, so I go out of my way to dress as shabbily as possible, listen to alt-rock instead of Kylie Minogue (no, I do that too. Whoops…but at least I had to look up how to spell her last name!), and I definitely do not pay much mind to interior design.  All of these things are what I have Lance around for.

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A “chandelier” at Flo’s V8 Cafe.

However, one particular element of design I find really fascinating is light.  John Hench, one of Disney Parks’ most–if not the most–influential Imagineers, wrote extensively on color and environment in his book, Designing Disney.  These things help to create the fantastical, immersive atmosphere that separates Disney parks from the everyday [Proofreader Mom, is that the right use of “everyday”?].

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The Sorcerer’s Workshop.

So, of course, the use and design of interior and exterior lights is very influential in establishing and maintaining a very specific mood, just as important as the design of buildings, the employment of background music, cast member costumes, etc.

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1901 Lounge.

Disney Parks the world over provide a opportunity to see a great variety of designs in a contained space, as Imagineers strive to provide not only an authentic experience–like in the case of 1901 Lounge in Disney California Adventure, which is inspired by high-rolling Hollywood executive lounges of the 1920s and ’30s–but also a “plus”-ed version of whatever they are representing.  It’s not enough to look like an elite tinseltown club, 1901 has to look like something straight from a movie, everything a slight fantasy.

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1901 Lounge.
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1901 Lounge.
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1901 Lounge.

Above: I love these globe lamps in the 1901 bar area!

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Cathay Circle Lounge.

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I am by no means an expert on light fixture design–I’m sure there are lots of scientific and artsy-fartsy terms for all of this stuff–but these diamond-shaped lights are amazing, probably my favorite of any I’ve seen in a Disney park.

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Carthay Circle Restaurant.
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Carthay Circle Restaurant.

Is there any space in the Disneyland Resort more beautiful than the Carthay Circle Restaurant?

Here’s a sneak peak inside and around the exclusive (ooh, ain’t we fancy?) Club 33, which I’ll discuss in a future post:

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Club 33.
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New Orleans Square.
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Club 33 foyer.
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Club 33…near the bathrooms.
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Club 33.
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Club 33.

As I mentioned, the variety is seemingly endless: from Victorian French Quarter to a bar on the edge of exploration to the neon glow of Route 66.  Beautiful!

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Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar.
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The Cozy Cone Motel.

To The Park That Walt Built

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What could be Mecca for Disney fans but Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom, Disneyland?

I’d been discouraged from visiting Disneyland before. “It’s so small. You’ve been to Disney World; you won’t be impressed.”  And there’s the never-ending East Coast/West Coast rivalry, trying fruitlessly (wait, wait, I’m setting up something good…) to compare the apples-versus-oranges natures of the Anaheim and Lake Buena Vista resorts.

After my Adult Disney Renaissance (a term I think is attributable to @macabresalad over at Food*Fitness*Fantasy), I read up a lot on the creation of the Disney parks, and I kept feeling drawn toward California.  Regardless of how much more expansive and operationally impressive Walt Disney World is, I became obsessed with seeing this little nugget of a park, the park that changed the amusement and entertainment industry forever, the park that’s rooted deep in the history of a corporate canon so engrained into my psyche.

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I was fortunate enough to sucker two of the best fellas and Disney parks companions a guy could ask for into attending our first Disneyland visit with us. The promise of a Club 33 reservation didn’t hurt none, I’m sure! (More on that in a future post.)

When Lance, Phil, Brian and I walked under the Disneyland railroad archways and through to Main Street, U.S.A., it was like we were escape artists pulling off our biggest trick, slipping out of reality.  It was early December, and the park was dripping from head-to-toe in festive decorations, Christmas background music carrying through the air, characters greeting in Town Square in holiday garb…there was an energy in the air I’ve never experienced to such a degree before.

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I’ve been trying to put my thumb on it for awhile, and I’m sure my eventual conclusion is nothing new: there’s such an emotional investment in Disneyland by the majority of its guests, locals who have been attending since they were kids. Disneyland is their land. They have a special sense of ownership over it, and they treat it with respect. Disneyland is not a once-in-a- or few-times-a-lifetime experience for visitors like Walt Disney World is; it’s part of the community.  Disneyland often meets the standards these return visitors expect.  In the same vein, people who go to Disneyland, for the most part, go because they love it, not because they feel compelled to lug their kids to a big resort as part of the American Dream/Requirement.

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There are loads of live entertainment: jazz musicians in New Orleans Square; Mary Poppins, Bert and their big brass band in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle; the Mickey and the Magical Map stage show and the vaudevillian Fantasy Faire Royal Theatre productions; the bands under the tent of the Big Thunder Ranch Jamboree.

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…and that’s not even counting Disney California Adventure!

Disneyland is chock-full of attractions, doubling(?) the number in Florida’s Magic Kingdom close to the point of claustrophobia, though I’d like to think of it as cozy.

That’s actually how I feel about the whole park.  It feels cozy, like a warm blanket or a cherished stuffed animal from your childhood.  It feels like a home away from home, a truly idealized mix of fantasy and nostalgia, both for Americana and the pop culture icons of my youth.

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I have so many other thoughts on Disneyland, on California Adventure, and our whole experience which I’ll elaborate on soon, but for this post, I just wanted to share how immensely enthralled I was by the whole park.  Disney’s California operation is a park-based experience, unlike Florida, which is an all-encompassing resort experience once you get off the airplane. Now, I’m not saying one approach is better than the other; as mentioned above, it’s apples-versus-oranges, and which coast is better is based on your personal preferences.

What I want from a Disney park right now is the in-park experience, the attractions, the entertainment, the “show.” I was disappointed with our most recent trips to Walt Disney World, where we easily knocked out  most of a park’s attractions in a half-day.  I was concerned after our visit to Tokyo Disney Resort that the American Disney parks had just given up on the park experience by comparison in favor to finding new ways to milk their guests out of money.

I think about this inaugural Disneyland trip every day. Disneyland assuaged my fears and made me a believer again.

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The Last Year

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As an old fuddy-duddy wrapping up another year, it’s hard not to feel that particular wave of anxiety every time my birthday approaches.

OMG, what have I done with my life? I haven’t accomplished anything! I’ve wasted a whole year!!!

…You know, that.

That was me yesterday, the last day of what could be called, at a stretch, my mid-20s.  I had a sharp sense of disappointment in myself, about not doing, seeing, experiencing more.  I’m almost 30, dammit! I don’t have much time left! ::sniff::

Thankfully, I saw a few fortuitously-timed tweets by my pal @bkroz_, who, aside from catfishing me, is also wiser and more articulate than I ever was at his age.  They read as follows:

@bkroz_: This is weird, but today I realized my 2013 travels include Orlando, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Williamsburg, NYC, Philadelphia, and Puntarenas.

@bkroz_: In other words, I’ve had a pretty great year and I’ve seen a lot. I’m proud and thankful for what I’ve seen and done! I’m a globetrotter!

…And those got me thinking.  It’s always easy to think about what you don’t have or haven’t achieved.  It’s easy to never be satisfied, to not put things into perspective.

I’ve done a lot since my 27th birthday.  I traveled (a lot!): Walt Disney World and Dollywood at Christmastime, Chicago to see my favorite singer, New York to see some amazing shows.  I went to Hawai’i (twice!) and Kaua’i stole my heart.  Lance and I spent a day with new, awesome pals at Hersheypark and I almost threw up.  Oh, and we went to freaking Japan (!!!) and rode the shinkansen and ate udon in a tiny little shop in Kyoto and made a traditional Japanese meal in a family’s home.  We went to Tokyo Disney and have no regrets (except not spending more time there.)

I got to go back home to Michigan several times this year…oh, and I went skydiving!

I earned a promotion at work and have been able to work on some really great, challenging projects.

We were lucky enough to meet some amazing people because of this blog, in person for the very first time!

And, of course, I got to do all of the above with friends, family, Ripley, Kitty Boo, and especially Lance.  Even though I have the itch to do more, I’m incredibly fortunate and grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.

It’s been a good year.