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Happiest Club on Earth: Disney’s Club 33
On the very fringe of Disneyland’s New Orleans Square is a certain blue door, adorned with the insignia “33.” A friend of mine, once waiting in a line for a ride on Pirates of the Caribbean, saw a man and his family ring the bell at the door. It opened; the family was greeted by name and welcomed inside. When my friend saw the man later in the park, he asked what it all meant, and the man unveiled the wonderful world of Disney’s Club 33, an elite society for luxury travelers with a Disney taste.
Club 33 requires an application and only has so many members at a given time (estimated at 487; a Disney representative said this low count allows Disney cast members to be familiar with preferences at an individual level). As of June 2007, applications were no longer being accepted and the estimated waiting time on the 1,000 name long waiting list was nine years. Sorry, there’s no fast pass for this ride. Some representatives have said the club membership number may be raised to 500, to help accommodate for demand. Aside from acceptance into the club, members pay anywhere from $10,450 to $27,500 for membership and $3,275 to $6,100 in annual fees.
Belonging to the club primarily features use of the club’s special restaurant and adjoining art gallery—also known as the Blue Bayou’s terrace level. (There is also a club location on Main Street in the Tokyo location, although membership perks are not reciprocal.) Fine wines, gourmet food, exclusive amenities, and privacy highlight the club experience—welcome distractions in an otherwise enjoyable but usually exhausting park. Those who dine at the club also experience regular celebrity sightings (see www.disneylandclub33.com, “interesting stories”), and different rooms of the restaurant feature their own unique amenities, with the Trophy Room being the most famous for its talking vulture, placed by Disney to converse with guests.
Other perks for members include “free” admittance to the park, with the same compliment for a certain number of guests (depending on membership level); access to exclusive souvenirs; and complimentary parking. (No parking in Pumba for these lucky souls.) Members are treated like royalty and have special access to other areas of the park—like the Club 33 car on the Disneyland train—and can request personal attendance by Disney cast members. It is also rumored that, aside from the park, members have special access at Disney parks worldwide and annual cruise privileges.
As for the history behind the name of Club 33, it’s fraught with speculation. Some say the 33 represents Disneyland’s number of sponsors at the time of the club’s founding. Others refer to the fact that the Club 33 area—the only area within Disney parks to serve alcohol—needed an address for the liquor license; rather than list the actual Disneyland address, Disney had the houses with New Orleans Square numbered, and the house with the 33 was the club area. Still others think that the 33 was used as an allusion to Mickey Mouse (“MM”).
But there’s no disputing that this is the way for hard-core Disney fans to travel. So if this luxury option sounds like your bag, I’d suggest watching the availability on the waiting list like a hawk. Or a vulture—whichever you prefer.