October 25, 2014

Lunch at Club 33 in Disneyland

Today is our lunch at Club 33 in Disneyland.  I am excited about dining in what is unquestionably one of the most famous restaurants and dining rooms in the world but first, you need the backstory.

Ten years ago, during college, Aaron, Ashly, and I, three friends who were in the same classical music studio studying Handel and Chopin to Mozart and Brahms, took our first trip together to a Disney park.  In this case, it was Disneyland.  While there, Ashly excitedly brought us to a nondescript door in my favorite section of the park, The French Quarter, and explained the mysterious Disneyland Club 33.  She had grown up in California and her mom, Linda, was a school teacher, so they were always taking trips of high school choir kids down to Disneyland; one of their dreams had always been to eat in this magical Club 33, which Walt Disney designed to be an exclusive membership based lounge for visiting dignitaries, celebrities, park patrons, and personal friends.  

I mentioned Ashly’s love of Club 33 in a passing comment, and one of you – you asked me not to say whom so there weren’t requests for club access, and I will honor that but you know who you are – wrote me and offered to make us a reservation.  This person instantly became a hero around these parts because that meant a lot to her.  In fact, Ashly and her mom, respectively, screamed with excitement like Publisher’s Clearing House winners when they found out they were going.  It was so much fun watching them get geared up to have lunch there, as they had been stopping by the Club 33 door for years.  I think they probably knew more about the history of the place than some of the employees!  Normally, they are doing this sort of thing for other people.  

(Linda and Ashly were the ones that would ship me boxes of See’s Candies from California since I had never tried them but always read about them from the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letters.  In fact, it was on that first trip to Disneyland that they stopped in Sacramento specifically to let me go into my first See’s Candy Shop.  It was a huge deal because 10 or 11 years ago, there was no YouTube, there was no Google image search, there were no travel blogs with large pictures … the Internet was basically nothing but text with a few icons, so if you wanted to see something, you had to go visit it yourself.  After Disneyland and See’s, we hung out in Northern California for a few days before getting in a car that Ashly bought on eBay and driving 2,834 +/- miles cross country, with a few detours, back to New Jersey to start the fall term at school.)

This morning, we met up outside of the Disneyland train station stop in the French Quarter – I heard the secret Morse code transmission one of you told me to find, by the way, thanks for the heads up on that! – and waited for everyone.  

Here are the pictures … all of the photos should enlarge if you want to click on them for a better view.

Ian with Evan in French Quarter Disneyland Club 33

We arrived at the French Quarter a little bit before our 11:15 Club 33 lunch appointment, and found Ashly, Ian, and Evan nearby when we got off the train.  Evan seemed to like the train.

 

Joshua and Aaron Club 33

We had to take the obligatory Club 33 door picture …

 

Linda and Her Husband Chuck at Club 33 Disneyland

Linda and her husband, Chuck, at Club 33 Disneyland … You can tell how excited Linda is.  I love this picture because it gives you an idea of how happy she was to be eating here after countless visits with her high school students.  One of her friends also won the Dreamsuite and she got to visit it a few years ago, so she’s gotten the entire Disneyland jackpot.

 

Ashly Evan and Ian at Club 33 Disneyland

Ashly, Ian, and Evan right before we have lunch …

 

Waiting to Get Into Club 33 Disneyland

When we were let inside, we had to wait as our table was prepared.  They had called ahead a week or two ago to say there was a baby in the party, which had been noted, but the staff had forgotten to put a high chair at the table so they apologized and quickly switched it. 

 

Club 33 Lobby Looking Down

Looking back toward the Club 33 lobby as you climb the stairs …

 

Club 33 Stairs

Everyone else took the caged elevator (seen to the right) but Aaron and I walked up the stairs, turned at the landing, and kept walking … I wanted to look at the decor.

 

Club 33 Elevator

They all exited the elevator and we looked around for a moment …

 

Club 33 Private Office off Landing at Top of the Stairs

At the top of the stairs where the elevator opens, there is three-exit area with a private office behind you (seen in this picture), a casual dining room to your right, and a bright hallway to your left that leads to the main dining room.  Walt Disney supposedly had secret mirrors installed so he could see out into the Club and decide whether he wanted to get caught in conversation or not.  Unfortunately, he passed away six months before the Club opened to members as a result of an early death brought on by lung cancer.  It’s tragic to think such a giant was brought down because of cigarettes.

 

Club 33 Trophy Room Hunting Room Long Table

The long dining room table was set in the Club 33 hunting and trophy room …

 

The Hunting Room or Trophy Room Dining Room at Club 33

The informal hunting or trophy dining room at Club 33 has a lot of cool features …

 

Microphones Hidden in Club 33 Lights

The lights above the tables in the trophy hunting dining room area had hidden microphones – look in the center and you will see it – so staff could eavesdrop on the members, then have an animatronic bird in the corner start talking back to the table as a surprise, knowing the details about what they were discussing to throw it into the conversation.

 

Club 33 Hunting or Trophy Dining Room Table

Another shot of the hunting dining room at Club 33 with a set table …

 

Club 33 Hunting Plates

Some of the hunting decor in the informal dining room of Club 33 …

 

Club 33 Hallway to the Dining Room

If you turn the other way, to your left, you see another hallway …

 

Staff Area of Club 33

Straight ahead was an area where the staff kept going, so I’m not sure what is down there, but if you turn right …

 

Walking Into the Dining Room of Club 33

… you see the bar, appetizer, and dessert station.  You can spot the main formal Club 33 dining room in the background.

 

Walking through Club 33 Hallway and Seeing Disneyland Streets Below

As you make your way towards the dining room, you can look out the windows.  The hallway was built over the French Quarter streets of Disneyland …

 

Club 33 Wallpaper and Artwork

Sketches for Disney concepts were framed on the walls …

 

Club 33 Dining Room Disneyland California

They brought us to our table and I was excited because you know I am crazy about First Empire furniture … it’s one of those weird things about me I can’t explain but I just feel at peace when I’m surrounded by it.  It makes no sense since most of the time I like clean, clutter-free, tech-like Tron spaces, but I would be perfectly content to live in a First Empire styled home.  The entire Club 33 dining room is in First Empire.  I was already sold.

 

Club 33 First Empire Dining Room

Another shot of the Club 33 formal dining room … everyone was getting situated …

 

Joshua Kennon Club 33 Disneyland

Aaron wanted a picture of me since I was photographing everyone else and rarely put myself on the blog …

 

Sitting down to the table at Club 33

So I grabbed the camera and took one of that side of the table.  I liked the server’s clunky black shoes.  They are so 1960’s.  Being born in the 1980’s, I still remember when the older people were hanging on to that style so it makes me nostalgic.

 

Evan at Club 33

Ian started seating Evan but you can see the look on his face … “Dad, Grandma, what are you doing?  I’m supposed to be with mom!” …

 

Ashly Holding Evan at Club 33 Disneyland

… and he got his way.  It wasn’t long before he was asleep.

 

Club 33 Drinks

The waiter brought us our drinks and I went with the group and decided to try the pomegranate lemonade.  It was good.  I like the Club 33 Disneyland drink accessories.

 

Club 33 Fine China Disneyland

The Club 33 fine china set at Disneyland was also well done …

 

Club 33 China

Me being … me … I couldn’t help myself but turn over the Club 33 china because there are two companies in the United States that, between them, have a market share of 90%+ of the custom fine china business.  I was not expecting what I saw.  It’s a British firm named Dudson that made the Club 33 dinnerware.  I put it on my research list.

 

Club 33 Butter

I liked how they presented the butter.

 

Club 33 Lunch Menu

The entrees on the lunch menu all looked delicious and were about what you would expect – when the final bill came, the main course plus appetizer and dessert bars was $80 per person + tip + tax, with the paired wine (shown on the menu with prices) being extra if you wanted to add it. For the quality, it was definitely worth the money.  I was going to go with the lamb but then decided that the Chateaubriand would be a better choice so I could compare apples-to-apples to some of the restaurants at Walt Disney World.

 

Club 33 Appetizer Bar and Cheese Board

After you ordered, you went up to the Club 33 Appetizer Bar and Cheese Board … I discovered on this trip that I love this pink cheese that, frankly, scared me by how it looked but it was one of the richest, most wonderful flavors I’ve ever enjoyed.  I have to find a supplier for it because I want it in the house.  I looked it up later and learned that it is called Red Windsor cheese.  It is a pale cheddar cheese made in England that marbles cow’s milk with a Bordeaux wine, or in some cases, a mix of brandy and port wine.  It was out of this world.  You need to try it if you ever come across it.

 

Club 33 Appetizer Bar

Another section of the Club 33 Appetizer Bar … the far end contains shrimp and lobster, with sauces, while each of the three bowls has unique tastings prepared by the chef.  The far right is caviar and cucumber, the middle was some sort of rich blue cheese-like pastry, and the far left was a chipotle-like cheese with other items.  I’m not sure what they are actually called but that is how we referred to them at the table.

 

Appetizer Bar Club 33 Disneyland

A closeup of some of the appetizer tastings at the Club 33 appetizer bar …

 

Soup, Breads, and Oils at Club 33

There was a soup, bread, and oil section …  I kept seeing people walk around with the espresso cups and couldn’t figure out why they were drinking espresso before the meal.  Then I realized it was a chicken curry dispensed into said cups.

 

Truffle Oil Club 33 Disneyland

For the true lovers among you, there was even pure truffle oil you could drizzle all over your plate. I realize I am probably the only person in the United States or Europe that loathes truffles, but the flavor is absolutely overpowering to me. There is nothing subtle about it at all … it like assault. It’s violent, and horrible, and old. Aaron loves the stuff, though.

 

More Oils Club 33 Disneyland

They had more oils you could mix to create a custom bread dip.

 

Joshua Kennon Club 33 Appetizer Plate

Before I went back for the cheese board (it was so good, there are no pictures because I was in love with that Red Windsor cheese and couldn’t be bothered to take out my camera!), I enjoyed one of each of the appetizer samplings, except the lobster.  I just wasn’t in the mood for it.

 

Club 33 Disneyland Steak from the Lunch Menu

I ordered the Filet of Pan Roasted Chateaubriand with Yukon Gold Potato Puree, Baby Tomato Salad, Blue Lake Green Beans, in a Cabernet Demi-Glace. It was delicious. Aaron ordered the same thing, only over a bed of truffle-infused macaroni and cheese.

 

Aaron's Dessert Plate Club 33

My dessert plate was a bit messier than Aaron’s because I broke the crust around the blueberry pie, so here is a shot of Aaron’s desserts.  The Club 33 S’more and pineapple upside down cake were my two favorites.

 

Pineapple Upside Down Cake Club 33 Disneyland

Seriously, this pineapple upside down cake was amazing.  It tasted like it had been soaked in that German almond alcohol that you find in certain European Christmas breads; I can’t recall the exact name off the top of my head, but if you tasted it, you’d recognize it immediately.  I’m crazy about the stuff.

 

More Desserts Club 33 Disneyland

Here is a shot of the dessert bar at Club 33 … you need to try those S’mores.  They are soft, and delicious, and gooey.

 

Club 33 Sugar Cookie

I grabbed one of the Club 33 sugar cookies to have with a cup of black coffee.

As we sat down to enjoy dessert, the fire alarms went off and we had to evacuate the building … (sorry for the bad camera work but I was trying not to get shuffled in the crowd and couldn’t walk and film at the same time).

They took us out of the Club 33 building, through the back alley of the French Quarter, around to the fountain by the Haunted Mansion, and had us bunch together in our safe zone.  

Club 33 Fire Standing in New Orleans Square by Fountain Chefs

The chefs of Club 33 and the Blue Bayou standing around the fountain between New Orleans Square and the Haunted Mansion …

 

Club 33 Fire Our Waiter Disneyland

This was our waiter!  He was very good.  Everyone was standing around talking, waiting to go back inside once we were told it was safe.

 

Linda Getting the Disney Employees from the Kitchen at Club 33 to Take Photographs for Her

We look up and Linda, using her skills as a teacher, had somehow managed to get the entire kitchen of Club 33 together, and had them posing for her so she could get pictures of the experience.  Ashly was laughing because we hear her directing them and they’re just complying.  It’s funny how people have individual skill sets that give them advantages in certain areas.  She was marshaling crowds and charming people.

 

Being Let Back Into Club 33 After the Fire Alarm

We were finally let back in maybe ten minutes later.  We had to go through the checklist process and make sure we had a Club 33 reservation before they would let us return to our table.

 

Returning after Club 33 Fire Alarm at Disneyland

After making it past the Club 33 entrance a second time, we trekked up the stairs, through the hallways, and back to the main dining room.

 

Club 33 Coffee and Chocolate Mint

Finally, my coffee was brought to me!  Twenty minutes, and one fire alarm, later by this point, but it was great – black, strong, and very well brewed.  I also flipped over the Club 33 mints to research the manufacturing, adding another company I need to study.  It was a company called Brijon Chocolates in Hauppauge, New York.  They make corporate chocolates for hotels and other hospitality firms.  That might come in useful some day so I wanted to remember it.

This is around the time I placed the order for some more souvenir shares of The Walt Disney Company.  It is a Saturday, so the stock market is closed, but I decided since this is a weekend trip, and we are out here enjoying this time with friends for a few days, to add fifty (50) more shares of Disney stock to the plan.  I updated the real-time Google spreadsheet I keep on the VSIP.  Maybe I’ll write about it separately sometime in the next couple of days to update the details.

Club 33 Balcony Disneyland Doors

Linda wanted to go out on the Club 33 balcony to see the French Quarter from this view … I am glad we took the time because it was peaceful out there. These doors lead back into the dining room.

 

Aaron and Linda on Club 33 Balcony

Aaron and Linda on the Club 33 balcony …

 

Club 33 Balcony Disneyland

This is how it felt on the Club 33 balcony … I could have sat out here and read all day as people walked on the streets, the steamboat paddled down the river … I like hearing life around me as I think.

 

Blue Bayou from Club 33 Balcony

You can see the entrance to the famous Disneyland Blue Bayou restaurant, which is surrounded by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride as boats float past while you dine under lanterns strung overhead, from the Club 33 balcony. We are eating there tomorrow and I look forward to it.

 

More Club 33 Balcony Pictures

I love how this feels … it is private, and secluded, but public.  I could write a novel here or read stock reports all day, every day, and be beyond thrilled.

 

Disneyland Club 33 Merchandise

I did pick up some Disneyland Club 33 merchandise … a pen set and a coffee mug.

 

Club 33 Pen Set

The Club 33 pen set is now safely at home with me … it had a ballpoint pen and a rollerball pen inside of it.

 

Men's Restroom Club 33

I wanted to see what the Club 33 restrooms looked like …

 

Club 33 Towel Station

The towel station in the Club 33 bathroom …

 

Aaron Leaving Club 33

Walking down the stairs, again, to leave for the final time …

 

Leaving Club 33 and Going Back into the Disneyland Park

Leaving Club 33 and re-entering the main area of the Disneyland park …

 

Mint Juleps after Club 33

Evan needed to be fed and taken care of for about half an hour so we went to the mint julep bar, again, and ordered dessert mint juleps to sip …

 

After Club 33 Music

We listened to the French New Orleans-style music as we sipped our mint juleps … it was wonderful.

After that, Chuck and Linda went to do somethings they wanted to enjoy in the park, and Ashly, Ian, Evan, Aaron, and I decided to go on the Haunted Mansion … fun fact: There is a dusty, defunct chicken restaurant in the upper part of the building that was abandoned decades ago and has remained untouched since.  We passed the fountain that I love …

Haunted Mansion New Orleans Square Fountain Disneyland

I love how the Disneyland staff designed this fountain.  Not only does it look like aged copper, the trees are specifically trained to cast shadow on it for most of the day so you can be surrounded by sunlight but sit comfortably in the shade as you listen to the sound of the water.  I want this kept on file for future ideas.  It’s so simple but so well done.

 

Haunted Mansion

I stole the baby for awhile because he’s awesome.  The wait for Haunted Mansion was only 5 minutes so we decided to do it quickly while we were right next door.

My Thoughts on Club 33 and a Club 33 Membership

If you lived in Southern California and had several children or grandchildren who loved Disney and theme parks, a Club 33 membership would be a no-brainer.  There are only 487 spots open at any time, and they don’t get vacated unless a member dies or doesn’t pay their dues, resulting in wait list that sometimes goes decades before a spot is available.  The initial fee for joining is $25,000, and the annual cost thereafter is $10,000.  The benefits you get for this are:

  • Free admissions to the park all year, no blackout dates, and can stay until closing.
  • The ability to enter the park up to 1 hour before opening during certain days, avoiding lines entirely as you have free reign of Disneyland without dealing with the public.
  • You can drive up to the front of the Grand Californian Hotel, show your membership card, and a valet will take care of your vehicle so you can run into the park without having to fight traffic or find a parking space.  When you are ready to go home, you return and they will go get your car for you.
  • You don’t have to make a reservation to eat at Club 33; if there are openings, they will get you in on a whim.
  • There are special member-only behind-the-scenes tours of new rides, renovations of park attractions, and other things never open to the public.
  • You can tour the Disneyland park on a private Presidential railcar that gets hitched to the Disneyland railroad.
  • There are celebrity guest dinners, holiday parties, and other special events available to members only.
  • You can watch the water show from the balcony instead of fighting the crowd for a place to sit.
  • You can get six Fastpass tickets per visit, and use them immediately without wait, cutting to the front of the line on a ride or attraction.
  • Every year, you get 50 complimentary passports you can give to guests to take advantage of some of your benefits.
  • If your guests use the passport and dine at Club 33, you can get them a 20% discount on park admission tickets.
  • Access to a closed-to-the-public section of the steamboat that you can enter when traveling on the river.
  • If you have a platinum or executive level Club 33 membership, you can also enter the 1901 lounge in the California Adventure park.
  • Several other discounts and special offers.

There’s more but you get the gist of it.  If you are higher income, won’t miss $10,000 per year, live in the area, and have a lot of kids or grandkids that you want to be able to take on a whim, including all of their friends, a Club 33 membership can make a lot of sense.  It makes even more sense if you want the kids to be able to run around on their own, and you just want a calm place to relax and read while they are off riding roller coasters or plummeting down Splash Mountain.

The food itself in the club dining room was very good.  In terms of quality, it is definitely one of the nicest restaurants in the area, and certainly the nicest in the entire Disneyland theme park.  To help you calibrate, everyone seemed to agree that it is probably a half-tier below The California Grill at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, in terms of food, service, and view, but at this point, you’re debating levels of perfection so it’s really just a discussion of taste.  If you have the opportunity, you absolutely must take it and try the Club 33 dining room.  It is worth the experience; no question.

Bottom line?  If I were 50 years old, lived in San Diego or Newport Beach, and had a lot of family around, I’d buy a membership without thinking twice.  It was awesome.  

Thank you again to the shall-not-be-named-person who helped us make the reservation.  You know who you are and you know how grateful I am.  It was a wonderful experience and not only did I enjoy it a lot, but you made a dream come true for Ashly and her mom, Linda.  Seeing them that happy was great, especially as a repayment for all the shipments of See’s Candy they sent me in my college days.  You are awesome.  I am beyond thrilled you took time to make it happen.

  • Felipe

    Hi Joshua, how did you come up with 13.23% growth in diluted EPS to justify Disney’s share price of ~ $63.88 on may, 2nd? Wouldn’t that require an EPS of ~$4.8 following Peter Lynch’s valuation methods (which seems to be the method used to come up with $43.26 and 19.84%)? Sorry if this question is silly. I’m a beginner when it comes to investing.

    • http://www.joshuakennon.com/ Joshua Kennon

      The quick and dirty way: For the “back of the envelope” quick calculations, I used the mean of the lower band of acceptable dividend adjusted PEG ratio (1.00 by the most disciplined investors) and the upper band of acceptable dividend adjusted PEG ratio (2.00 by more modest investors, such as bank trust department managers who just want high quality blue chip stocks for their retirees), resulting in applying a 1.5x valuation multiple based on current consensus growth estimates.

      The more precise, and preferred method: Read the entire 10K, look at the total free cash flow relative to maintenance capital expenditure needs, examine the health of the business competitively and as measured by return on tangible capital (stripping out purchase accounting adjustments), projecting out future profits, and discounting them back at an appropriate rate.

      In this case, both were within a very narrow range. That will not always happen, and the second method is always better, but for certain types of companies, you can ballpark it with the first as a sort of quick-pass test.

      All else equal, barring a disastrous period or an extended golden age, I think a buyer in the mid-$60’s is paying right around intrinsic value. The stock may be up or down 50% by this time next year, but 25 years from now, I would expect the average long-term rates of compounding to be achieved, ranging from 8% on the low end to 12% on the high end (e.g., if one were to just buy a block of shares and throw them in a tax-free account with no expenses or fees; just letting the business compound uninterrupted). I would expect much better long-term results if you were paying in the mid-to-low $40’s or better but I just don’t think it matters that much if you go and put $25,000 worth of the shares in trust funds for each of your two young kids and structure it so they inherit the shares outright when they celebrate their 30th birthday.

      Of course, we live in an uncertain world, so you would never want all of your money in a single business. But if you hold a broad enough range of assets, a well designed portfolio can tolerate a decent amount of failure and still produce very nice results over the decades. That’s the magic of it.

      • Felipe

        Thanks for the info! You should write a guide on about.com explaining the discounted cash flow method in detail and with examples! And of course, a cash flow statement guide like the ones for the balance sheet and income statement would also be much appreciated!

  • Guest

    My heart is warmed knowing someone did that for you. It was very kind of them. ^_^

  • LS

    We were there that day! I see myself in one of your photos and I remember how crowded it was due to the fire alarm. BTW, that fountain you love in New Orleans Square is known as the “Crossroads of Disneyland” as it’s between the last atttraction Walt worked extensively on – Pirates of the Caribbean and the first attraction created after his death – the Haunted Mansion.

    • http://www.joshuakennon.com/ Joshua Kennon

      That’s awesome! Nice to meet you, haha! Thanks for the story about the fountain; I had never heard that and it makes it even cooler!

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