When Walt Disney opened the Disney Park in California on July 17, 1955, he delivered a welcome speech to his guests. Some of its first sentences were: “Here, age relives fond memories of the past, and here, youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.” These same words are part of a Morse-code message that is replayed by a telegraph office situated at the New Orleans Square Railroad Station in the Disneyland resort.
There are a few other secrets that a visitor can come across and explore around the park. However, some hidden spots are not accessible to most mere mortals. At least not when it comes to Club 33. This venue is reserved for those who live the high life and are ready to pay a minimum of $25,000 for a sign-up fee, plus an additional annual payment of $12,000.
Depending on the membership, the initiation fee can reportedly go as high as $100,000, and the annual charge to keep your name on the list–up to $30,000. Club 33 is an exclusive, membership-only venue that is housed in an unmarked building at the park’s famed New Orleans Square. It can be recognized only by a plaque with the number “33” hung above the entrance door, hardly noticed by anyone who doesn’t know where it leads.
In this club, Disney wanted to welcome the wealthiest of his guests, whether these were politicians, business leaders, or celebrities. However, he never lived to see the luxurious venue officially opened as he died less than a half year before the official opening in 1967.
Decades after it opened, Club 33 is one of the most exclusive membership venues on the whole planet. And for good reasons. It is a place to enjoy a fancy dinner, be served alcoholic drinks–which are not allowed anywhere else in Disneyland–and enjoy the splendid and lavish decor of the interior.
When entering the venue, there is not only the club’s personnel to greet guests but also a talking vulture perched atop an old grandfather clock. According to some, Walt Disney initially planned to have similar robotic birds in some of the club’s dining rooms, which would be connected to eavesdropping equipment in order to spy on people’s conversation. To date, however, the talking vulture has remained just kind enough to welcome guests as they arrive at the reception.
Plenty more authentic decorations and antique interior elements overwhelm the inside of Club 33, many of which were chosen not by Disney himself but his spouse, Lillian Disney.
One exceptional piece is the French elevator inside the reception area. According to another story, Disney had this element specially ordered for the club. Supposedly, it is a replica of one that Walt Disney saw during a vacation in Paris. He had immediately wished to purchase the elevator, but the owner of the original refused to sell. Disney, however, remained undeterred in his wishes. He commissioned an engineering team to visit the hotel in Paris, to take measurements of the piece, and to produce a faithful copy.
The lift remained operational until the 2014 refurbishment of the club. While back in the day it was used to take guests to the second level where the dining rooms are situated, currently it is simply a decorative booth.
The two dining rooms are known as the Salon Nouveau and the Grand Salon, the latter of which is known to be a bit more formal and exclusively for reserved-seating meals. The Grand Salon also opens to a couple of balconies overlooking the park’s New Orleans section. From here, club members can easily follow through any scheduled show down in the plaza. If they are not in the mood for a show, they can always enjoy the ambiance inside the club where exquisite furniture and Disney memorabilia are in abundance.
Some of the decoration includes a section of wall decorated with butterflies, all pinned under glass. There are also a number of original hand-painted animations cells from the 1940 film Fantasia adorning the walls.
A harpsichord that was reportedly custom-made for Lillian Disney and purposed for Club 33 lurks in one of the rooms as well. It was Disney artists who gave a unique touch to this piece, and so far, it has been played only by famous musicians such as Paul McCartney and Elton John.
There is a phone booth that initially found purpose in the 1967 musical The Happiest Millionaire. Another former stage prop is a marble-topped walnut table–it was used in the fantasy musical Mary Poppins from 1964. Props from several more Disney films further beautify the interior of the venue.
Guests at the club are advised to arrive hungry, as well as needing to be dressed well. They can enjoy a six-course menu that has both French and American cuisine. The strict dress code insists on no shorts; evening dress or business attire is the favored dress etiquette if you wish to be admitted to your reserved table.
Reportedly, only around 500 people have the privilege of enjoying the lavishness of Club 33, while hundreds more can find their name on the waiting list for membership admissions. In case Club 33 is “too much” for some members, they can instead opt for 1901, another exclusive lounge found in the California Adventure’s Carthay Circle Theater restaurant.
Rumor has it that the Disney resort is expanding its lavish offerings, with alleged plans for new outposts in other resorts. Each of the new venues is set to maintain an authentic look. Likely, these will also occupy secret spots, uncharted on any regular Disney map.