Disneyland is known as “The Happiest Place on Earth.” But nestled within the Southern California amusement park is a restaurant and bar that could easily be called “The Most Exclusive Place on Earth.” It’s Club 33, and for a rumored initiation fee of $40,000, and annual dues of $11,000, you too can be a member, provided you get off the waiting list that lasts 10 years or more.
Club 33, named for its theme park address of 33 Royal Street, is a high-end venue in New Orleans Square just around the bend from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride. Originally conceived of by Walt Disney himself, who reportedly wanted a place in the park where VIPs could relax, Club 33 opened for business in 1967. It is the only spot in the Magic Kingdom where guests can purchase alcoholic beverages, although liquor is sold in the neighboring Disney park, California Adventure.
Like many exclusive venues, the entrance for Club 33 is so nondescript that most visitors don’t know it’s there. In fact, Club 33 isn’t even listed on the Disneyland website under dining areas within New Orleans Square (Disney PR also refused our request to comment on Club 33, saying, “It’s a private club”).
“You actually go to this little door that has the number 33 on it and a little bell, and that’s it,” says actor James Calvert, who visited the club as a guest in 2012. “It doesn’t say anything other than that.”
For those who are lucky enough to get inside, like Calvert, it’s a whole different world. Members and invited guests can enjoy a four-course lunch or a six-course dinner with items such as creole mustard-crusted rack of lamb or butter-poached lobster. This is a far cry from the corn dogs or turkey legs that the hoi polloi get at nearby kiosks. And for sweets, Club 33 offers decadent dessert choices like vanilla crème brûlée with apricot conserve and cognac flambé. That sure beats a $4 churro.
As one might expect, the food doesn’t come cheap. An average meal can cost upwards of $100 per person, and that doesn’t even include the Disneyland admission fee of $96. But for people like P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes, who went to Club 33 as guests in January, the high cost was worth it for what was likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“The martinis were superb. The service, it’s fantastic,” recalls Hughes, a Hollywood filmmaker. Both Ebersole and Hughes added that they dined on the house specialty, chateaubriand, and were not left disappointed.
For those who are just interested in having a cocktail and a moment to relax in-between rides, Club 33 offers that, too. In July 2014, Disney completed a massive renovation and construction of a lounge that features decor reminiscent of a jazz club, including a player piano, booths, and a full bar for visitors to belly up to.
Club 33 membership does have other privileges. For an annual fee comparable to the price of a small car, each year members receive 50 club tickets for guests and five VIP park tour passes, as well as valet parking and access to the 1901 Lounge at California Adventure. They also get entry to VIP viewing areas for events like Disneyland’s nightly fireworks. And then there’s a chance to see a celebrity like Johnny Depp or Elton John or Katy Perry, all of whom have spent time at the club.
While these are all nice perks, it brings us to the obvious question: Why would anyone pay such an exorbitant fee to join a private club in the middle of a theme park?
“To a die-hard Disney fan, almost any price would be worth it,” explains a Los Angeles-area finance executive who asked to not be named for fear of having his membership taken away for discussing the secretive club. The self-professed Disney-phile, who visits the park around twice a month, adds that he waited 11 years for his membership opportunity to come through.
As for Calvert, he explains the club’s appeal very simply.
“It’s very exciting ordering a drink in Disneyland,” he says. “It’s kind of fun to turn to the waiter and say, ‘I’ll have an Old Fashioned.’”
Considering the lines at nearby rides like the Haunted Mansion, a cocktail, or three, might just be the cure to endure the wait.
This is the first of our five-part "Members Only" series giving you exclusive access to some of the most exclusive spots in the world. Stay tuned for our next installment.