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Membership Has Its Privileges

Disneyland's "secret" Club 33 provides exclusive experience

Thursday, November 27, 2001
by Lani Teshima, staff writer

Stewart J. is a familiar face to the regular visitors at MousePlanet's MousePad discussion board, posting as “Steamboat Stu.” Stewart recently joined a very elite club of Disneyphiles by becoming a member of the Disneyland's exclusive Club 33, located in New Orleans Square and tucked away upstairs from the Blue Bayou Restaurant.


A small sign in Disneyland's New Orleans Square identifies the secret club. Photo by Kevin Yee.

Stewart waited patiently for three and a half years, until Disneyland finally contacted him and invited him to join Club 33. Today, Stewart shares his experience—and excitement—about becoming a member of Disneyland's elite club.


How did you go about letting Disneyland know you wanted to be on the Club 33 waiting list?

Having no idea how to get on the waiting list, I did what any Disney fan would do—I went to city hall. They gave me Disneyland's address, and instructed me to send it “Attn: Club 33.” I then simply sent a letter requesting to be added to the waiting list; there was no form to fill out.


Club 33 members and their guests sit down for a relaxing meal at Club 33. Photo by Kevin Yee.

How long did you have to wait on the wait list? How long have you been a member?

We decided to add our name to the Club 33 waiting list in 1997. I had heard that the wait could be quite extensive—some had said as many as 10 years—so we decided to add our name to the list without financial consideration. Notification came via a package in the mail June of this year (good thing I included a return address in my letter). I was given a little less than a month to decide—and we took the whole month to come to this decision. We dined there for the first time on June 27, 2001, our 14th wedding anniversary.

What made you decide to become a member? How tough was your decision to pay for a membership?

This was not an easy decision to make! Unlike some of the members I have met, we are by no means wealthy. The $7,500 initiation fee was manageable but would certainly be felt. However, the lure of belonging to a club that Walt himself intended to use for entertaining dignitaries was very strong. And although we were only on the waiting list for three and a half years, there is no guarantee that a similar wait would get us to the top of the list again. So all that was left was how to justify the expenditure in our own mind. Since country club memberships are similar in price, if not more, the question is, would you rather have a membership to play at a golf course or be at Disneyland? In our case, we chose Disneyland.


Mickey and Minnie stroll through Club 33 as a guest serves some food onto her plate from the buffet. Photo by Kevin Yee.

What type of membership do you have?

When we signed onto the waiting list there was a choice of two memberships: corporate or individual. We, of course, chose individual. Now there are Corporate, Limited Company, Gold and Silver memberships. I am a Gold member.

Has anything changed now that you are a member?

Club 33 membership has allowed me to let two of my annual passes expire. Like premium APs, we get admission to both parks with no blockout days, regardless of whether we dine at the club or not. We no longer have to deal with the parking structures and all their headaches. Parking for members is the valet at the Grand Californian. Membership also includes a subscription to the Disney magazine and a Disney Club card.

I was under the impression that Club 33 memberships did not include admission into the park unless you dined at the club on the day of your park visit.

No. The membership permits the actual member and one guest to enter both parks 365 days a year, without having to dine at the club. However, guests of members who are admitted into the park must dine at the Club, or the members are charged for the guests' admission tickets.


New Orleans Square from a perspective most people never get to see—from the second floor balcony. Photo by Kevin Yee.

Do you find that all your acquaintances are “best buddies” who want to dine there?

Surprisingly this has not been the case. Other than true Disney fans, no one really knows the club exists. The friends and acquaintances that are Disney fans have been very respectful. Club 33 membership is a privilege, not a right. The rules do state that it can be revoked without compensation and most people seem to understand this.

Several months ago a member on MousePlanet's MousePad discussion board started a discussion, asking about a unique way to propose at Disneyland. He was against the tried-and-true areas but rather, looking for a unique, unvisited area to propose in a more personal manner. Since my proposal to my wife was completely unromantic, his romantic intentions caught my eye.

After several private message exchanges, I had decided that this person would be the first one I would leave a Club 33 reservation and Disneyland tickets for. He proposed that following day on the balcony overlooking New Orleans Square, and I received a thankful message the day after his successful proposal.

This is how I would like to use my membership. If I can leave such an indelible memory with a true Disney fan or cast member, then I feel that I am honoring Walt's true intentions for the club. I have read many MousePad posts from people who desire to dine at Club 33, but I have a difficult time distinguishing those who are truly looking to create an everlasting Disney memory from those who just want to add a notch to their Disneyland accomplishments belt.


Stewart noted that other Club 33 members are finding creative ways to use their memberships: “I noticed on eBay a fellow member has auctioned of the right to dine at Club 33. It included club reservations and four Disneyland tickets, food and drink not included.” Before you get upset that people are making money off of their Club 33 memberships, note that this auction had permission from Disney, as every penny of the auction was going directly to a non-profit charity. The winning auction price? $451!


One of the dining areas in Club 33. Photo by Kevin Yee.

Stewart looked into this himself as a possible way to help out a good cause and to also get some of the money back via a tax deduction. Stewart contacted the person who placed the auction on eBay, and learned that the person had a signed letter from the Walt Disney Company giving him permission to do fundraisers this way. The charity he supports is also the benefactor of the annual Ducks in Tux event sponsored by the Anaheim Ducks professional hockey team, which is owned by Disney. The rules that come with the membership explicitly state that you cannot charge anyone for the use of the club. “If I attempted to do this for any charity without Disney's permission I risk losing my membership,” said Stewart.

Stewart recently received an invitation for his first special event. Club 33 was celebrating Walt's 100th birthday on November 19 with a special meal and speakers to share personal remembrances of Walt, including insights into the man behind the Mouse. The evening included a secret behind-the-scenes walking tour.

I bet Stewart had a great time!



MEMBERSHIP INFO

The listing below is current as of November 2001, and is courtesy of Club 33 member Stewart. It is all subject to change; if you are interested in joining, contact Disneyland directly for the most up-to-date information.

Currently there are two types of memberships, Corporate and Individual, and there are approximately 400 members altogether at this time.

There are no "sabbaticals" or time off; that is, once you become a member, you cannot become inactive for a year, then re-sign. This, says Stewart, makes sense. "If you have a three year list of people ready and willing to part with $10,000 of their hard earned cash, why allow someone to take time off?"

Corporate Memberships

Initial fee: $20,000 nonrefundable

Annual dues: $5525 for primary charter member, $4175 per additional associate member (up to nine permitted)

This plan permits a corporation to grant one charter member and up to nine associate members. Corporations hold title to this corporate account, and are allowed to transfer membership within their organizations.

Limited Corporate Memberships

Initial fee: $10,000 nonrefundable

Annual dues: $4175

This plan permits a corporation to grant a single membership to one of its employees. Corporations hold title to this corporate account, and are allowed to transfer membership within their organizations.

Gold Individual Memberships

Initial fee: $7500 nonrefundable

Annual dues: $2825

This plan permits an individual to hold a single membership. Membership is not transferable. Gold members may make reservations for themselves at Club 33 up to three months in advance, and up to two months in advance for their guests.

Reservations for the holiday season open in August for members and in October for guests of members.

Silver Individual Memberships

Note: Silver-level memberships were discontinued in late 2000 and are no longer available. This information is provided for historical reference only.

Initial fee: $4500

Annual dues: $1725

This plan permits an individual to hold a single membership. Membership is not transferable. Gold members may make reservations for Sundays through Thursdays for themselves at Club 33 up to three months in advance, and up to 30 days in advance for Fridays and Saturdays. Reservations for guests could be made 30 days in advance.

Reservations for the December Holiday Season open in September for members and in November for guests of members.

MORE COVERAGE

Read more about Club 33 in these MousePlanet articles:

Chef Kevin: Club 33 by Kevin Yee.

Happiest Potties on Earth: Club 33 by Adrienne and Kevin Krock, reviews and evaluates the poshest restrooms in Disneyland.

Ryman-Carroll Foundation Special Tribute Event by Sue Kruse, who reports on a Club 33 buffet lunch as part of a special event.

The Magic Years: Club 33 by Jewel, who talks to a friend about dining at Club 33 as a teenager.

 

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