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.
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.
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.
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 …
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.