For many Disney fans, Disneyland’s Club 33 is the holy grail. Thanks to its history and lore that has developed (some true, some false), there’s a certain mystique to the legendary Disneyland restaurant, and it’s a pretty common destination on Disney “bucket lists.” (What, you don’t have a Disney Bucket List?! Better get to writing!)
Stories of a 10-year plus waiting list for memberships, coupled with a multiple thousand dollar initial investment (a minimum $35,000 first year cost for new members as of 2012!) have added fuel to the fire, making a meal at Club 33 even more highly desired by Disney fans.
On a recent trip to Disneyland, we decided to visit Club 33 to give you a glimpse inside the restaurant. To get inside that door at 33 Royal Street, I told the hostess that I was Neil Patrick Harris. She took one look at me, rolled her eyes, and slammed the door. Then, we tried climbing the wrought-iron lattice in New Orleans Square to sneak onto the balcony. A security guard’s teeth ripped into my rear end after I was only 3 feet off the ground (note: the security guard was a German Shepherd…not a human). Finally, we were able to get in by donning monocles, fake handlebar mustaches, large top hats, penguin-tail tuxedos, and telling the hostess we were oil tycoons from 1901. In reality, Club 33 is only available to members and their invited guests. Since most people will never be able to visit the historical Disneyland restaurant, we want to give you a tour of what’s behind that plain door with the “33″ next to it.
The Club 33 experience is largely a result of the ambiance and the history of the restaurant. There are arguably better restaurants at Disneyland Resort (Napa Rose, Carthay Circle Restaurant, and Steakhouse 55), but none ooze history like Club 33 (although Carthay Circle Restaurant gives it a run for its money). Club 33 was a personal project for Walt Disney, who wanted to use the restaurant to entertain. Although he never saw the finished Club, many of the fixtures, art, and furniture have connections to Walt Disney.
After entering Club 33, diners immediately see one of the most fabled pieces of Club 33 lore, the French Lift. Basically, a French Lift is an elevator; it (probably) derives its name from the French aristocrats of the era, who were too lazy to walk around on their own, so they had servants carry them around. That’s just a guess, though. These lifts were frequently used in the late 1880s but are now quite rare. They were similarly rare when Club 33 was being constructed. According to historians, while shopping with Lillian, Walt Disney saw a French Lift in a department store and attempted to purchase it. The store wouldn’t sell, so he sent his Imagineers to the store to study it, and had them construct a similar lift in Club 33.
We dined in the Trophy Room, which is the informal name for the room in Club 33 that is now only a subtle nod to hunting. At one time there were more trophy heads in this room, but over the years Disney has made an effort to distance itself from sport-hunting, so most have been replaced with decor that references hunting, without being quite so explicit.
Editorializing a little, I don’t see the need to sanitize history in this manner, especially in a private club. It’s no secret that Roosevelt and other prominent individuals in American history were big game hunters; the room was nothing more than a historical nod to this aspect of our nation’s past. It’s not as if it was advocating the mass slaughtering of baby dolphins or anything explicit. But I digress.
Of more interest to you than my personal beliefs on the room is some of the decor that does remain. An audio animatronic stuffed vulture that once entertained Club 33 guests still sits perched under the door, and microphones/speakers that were once used for the vulture’s interactive “show” can be found in the light fixtures hanging about tables. Rumors persist that these were actually used to spy on the conversations of patrons, but to my knowledge there is no reliable source to corroborate this. It’s just fun Disneyland lore.
Continuing towards the bar and main dining area, there is an ornate walnut table with white marble top. This table is an actual prop that was used in the 1964 Disney film, Mary Poppins, and is one of the more famed pieces of decor in the Club. Also in this area is a beautiful phone both, and an incredibly detailed table from The Happiest Millionaire.
The various pieces of furniture are works of art, but there are also various real works of art throughout the restaurant. A large Pirates of the Caribbean “map” hangs near the bar, and one of the most emotive pieces of Disney art I’ve ever seen also hangs in Club 33. As stated above, Walt Disney never dined in Club 33, having passed away a few months before its completion. For Disneyland’s 50th anniversary, Club 33 had a painting commissioned of Walt enjoying a meal at the Club. Seeing this painting always gives me chills.
Across from the bar sits a beautiful piano with a meticulous painting of 19th century New Orleans Harbor on the inside of the lid. Club 33 waiters note that several famous musicians have played this piano when dining at Club 33.
If it didn’t hit you as soon as you walked in to the door and saw the beautiful wood-work and French Lift, the fact that you’re no longer “in Disneyland” really hits you when you see the fully stocked bar across from the piano. Club 33 was originally contemplated as a place for Walt Disney to wine and dine business people, so of course it needed a bar to help “assist” with the process.
A corridor lined with buffet stations (during lunch) leads to the main dining room. The main dining room contains multiple tables along with doors that lead to various balconies overlooking New Orleans Square. The ornate details and luxurious furnishings continue here, and the atmosphere of Club 33 is quite a stark contrast to the theme park that can be viewed right outside those balcony doors.
Overall, Club 33 is truly a beautiful restaurant, from the main lobby to even the restrooms! We’ve dined at Club 33 a few times now, for both lunch and dinner. If you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity, I recommend doing lunch at Club 33. You will be able to order the storied Chateaubriand (make sure to request it with the Truffled Mac & Cheese), and you will also have access to the quite wonderful lunch buffet.
I recommend starting your meal by ordering a Mint Julep from the bar (the Lemon Drop or the Mojito also are acceptable options) to add some authenticity to the experience. Plus, when else will you be able to order alcohol in a Magic Kingdom style park?!
Also make sure to head to the balcony between courses to soak up the ambiance and for photos. Dinner is not a bad choice, and one that many Club 33 members recommend for the more formal atmosphere, obstructed view of Fantasmic!, and better overall fixed menu, but we give the nod to lunch.
If you do have the opportunity to dine at Club 33, don’t even think twice about whether you should do it–just do it. It’s pricey, but it’s an amazing experience for a Disney fan, and the ambiance and history of the restaurant alone make it worth the price of the meal!
Is Club 33 on your Disney Bucket List? Have you dined at Club 33 before? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!