Inside Club 33 – My Most Exclusive Dining Experience Ever
On my recent trip to Disneyland I got to experience a part of the park that, honestly, I never expected I would ever get to see: Club 33, the private members-only restaurant in the park. My hometown (San Francisco) has no shortage of really good and really fancy restaurants, but this was definitely the most excited I’ve ever been for a dinner.
A little history for those of you who aren’t familiar. As hardcore Disney fans know, Club 33 is located upstairs in the New Orleans Square area of Disneyland. The club originated as a VIP Lounge conceived by Walt Disney when designing New Orleans Square in the 1960s. It opened in June 1966, six months after Walt passed away, with primarily memberships for the parks corporate sponsors, although some individual memberships were offered.
These days getting a club membership isn’t easy (or cheap). The waiting list is said to have be roughly 14 years long, with an initial fee of ~$50,000 and annual dues of ~$15,000. Lucky for me, members are allowed to make a limited number of reservations each year for guests to dine in “Le Grand Salon” even if the member can’t attend. Thanks to a convoluted connection of a friend of a co-worker of my brother, we were able to get one of those reservations.
The Club originally stood at 33 Royal Street in New Orleans Square, but after a 2014 renovation (which included the addition of the “Le Salon Nouveau” Jazz Lounge, which is strictly members only), the entrance door was moved around the corner. It’s still located at 33, but now it’s 33 Orleans street instead of 33 Royal.
Members can enter the club by tapping their card on the entry logo, but non-members ring a small bell. The host answers over the intercom, and assuming you actually do have a reservation the receptionist will open the door for you to a small entryway. Oh, and by the by, there is a dress code. It’s not super formal, but you can’t show up in shorts and T-shirts. If you don’t meet the dress code, you won’t get in (but hey, haven’t you always wanted to wear nice clothes at Disneyland?).
After ringing the buzzer and being let inside, the receptionist led us into the “Cour des Anges” to wait for our table to be ready. We were served glasses of a tasty cinnamony/nutmeggy/orangey water while we waited, and took in the amazing ambiance. Despite just a small wall separating us from the rest of the park now, it felt like we were completely separated. Either I was too overwhelmed to notice, or I couldn’t hear the noise from the rest of the park in the courtyard.
When our table was ready we were led upstairs by the hostess. She pointed out the lobby area (including souvenirs for sale), the direction to the members only Jazz Lounge (that we weren’t allowed to enter), and then took us to our table. The main dining room was elegant but not overly dark. It was also quite a bit smaller than I expected it to be. It felt very much like an intimate restaurant setting. The walls were decorated with artwork, and antiques objects were scattered throughout. We’d get a chance to go take a look at all of those later.
Dinner service in “Le Grand Salon” consists of a five course fixed price menu, with several options in every course. There are additional items that can be added, like caviar or a seafood platter for the table (we passed on these). Maybe most importantly, Club 33 is the only place in Disneyland that offers alcohol. There was an extensive list of cocktails (seasonal and classics), wine, and beer. There was also an option to add a four, five, or full six course wine pairing, which one of our party did (the wine all paired really well).
Our excellent waiter, Alistair, upon learning that all but one of our group had never been in the Club before, strongly encouraged us to explore the room and look at all of the pieces of art and sculpture that hung on the wall. He also invited us to head out onto the balcony at any point. Additionally, he was very helpful in suggesting which dishes in each course were his favorites and which were the most “holiday-y”. He clearly enjoyed getting to introduce the club to new guests and make sure our experience was top notch. At one point when I was looking at one of the art pieces after we had finished, he came up to me and described the piece (and shared how much he liked it).
We decided to start by heading out onto the balcony, after again confirming with Alistair that it was OK. It was pretty awesome to step through the glass doors and look down onto New Orleans Square. Yes, part of why it was neat was knowing that possibly someone was looking up at me and feeling jealous, but it was also just a cool perspective. It felt very special to be back “in the park”, but still in this private area. Sadly, Fantasmic wasn’t showing that night, and the fireworks were called off because of strong winds, so we wouldn’t be able to get a good view of any shows from the club (but I hear you can see Fantasmic really well). It seemed we started a trend of going on to the balcony, as after we came back into our seats, other groups got up and went outside. Maybe their waiters hadn’t encouraged them as much (or they cared more about not looking stupidly excited than we did)?
The meal started started with a goose pate/sausage amuse bouche (and a vieux carre for me). It was a very tasty bite, with the goose fitting for Christmas season. It wasn’t super finely ground, but was more on the pate side than sausage side. For my first course I chose the truffle crepe. It was rich and delicious, and based on the size I think I went with the right option. The other first course my companions got were delicious, but were all pretty big. Not sure I would have made it through five courses starting that way.
For the second course, I went with the Celery Root and Chestnut Soup at Alistair’s recommendation. Three of us ordered it, and the server expertly filled out bowls tableside from two small carafes (she did a really good job eyeballing just the right amount in each bowl). It was another holiday/seasonal themed dish, fitting nicely with the overall theme of the meal. Safe to say I cleaned the bowl.
My third course was definitely my favorite of the night, the seared duck breast. I had been a little worried that the flavors on it wouldn’t quite fit with the rest of the meal, being served with a much more middle eastern/Mediterranean sauce and side, but again Alistair steered me correctly when he suggested it over the pasta. The duck was almost “melt in my mouth” tender with a nice layer of fat on top.
At this point I took a small break to explore a little more of the items and art in the dining room. Sadly two of the rules, along with the dress code, were no photos of the restroom and no video, so I can’t offer a “video tour” view, but this still gives a sense of it. One fun note, some of the pieces that decorate Club 33 are actual antiques that had been collected by Walt Disney’s wife Lillian over the years.
We returned to our seats to find a small palate cleanser, a persimmon sorbet with a little cranberry-pomegranate relish on top. This was actually one of several dishes that had a similar (or the same) pomegranate relish on it, we decided that they must have been in season or something the chef was playing with. It tasted really good, although I’m not sure how much I loved the texture combined with the sorbet (which was also very tasty).
With palates cleansed, we received our fourth course. I went with the Osso Bucco (again at Alisatirs recommendation). It was very tasty, with the nice fall apart texture and moistness of a perfectly braised piece of pork. The apple and bacon of course paired with the pork shank well. I was very temtped to go with the Beef Wellington here, since it’s a classic dish I’ve never had, but I think I made the right choice (I did taste the Beef one of my friends ordered, and it was good, but I the pork was more interesting).
Finally, for dessert I ordered the chocolate Buche de Noel, another classic holiday dish. Safe to say it was both delicious and incredibly fun to look at. Particularly the little mushrooms (which were like a meringue) on the side. I think the detail in the plating here was the best I’d seen all night. The other hit at the table for dessert was the caramel mousse Napoleon, which was equally good, although less fun visually.
Finally, the night was capped with a small box of chocolates delivered to us at the end. These ended up coming home with me after being stuffed with the five plus courses.
After the meal Alistair, again showing that he loved being able to show off Club 33 to Disney lovers who’d never been, brought us a small bag filled with free little souvenirs. Things like Club 33 swizzle sticks and Club 33 coasters. We might have gotten these because I asked if there was any chance I could have an extra swizzle stick, but it was still very thoughtful and generous. In case you hadn’t noticed in any of the photos, they’re pretty good at putting the 33 branding on everything from the menus to the plates.
In addition to the free souvenirs there was a small selection of gifts to purchase, including the glasses and pin shown above. Most of them were pretty high end ($2100 gold cuff links, anyone?), but we couldn’t help ourselves to some of the less extravagant things. Together as a group we got a few different items. I took home a couple of glasses and pin.
Finally, maybe my favorite decoration in all of Club 33, the talking vulture. Walt had dreamed of including audio animatornics in the club like he had in the park. They never really came to pass, but a few did make in, including this vulture on top of the clock by the host stand. Every now and then the vulture will perk up and say a line or two. It wasn’t frequent, but if you stood around you’d hear him.
So, did Club 33 live up to my super excited expectations?
The space itself really does feel like a special place. From the artwork and design that evokes both a fancy French lounge but with a Disney touch, to the fact that it seems so isolated from the park. The restaurant was quiet and intimate, while still allowing one to step out and get the feeling of Disneyland. The most like a theme park VIP I’ve ever felt was stepping onto the balcony and looking down at the crowd.
The service was professional and somewhat formal, but at the same time friendly and warm. At no point did I worry I was going to use the wrong fork or something, nothing ever felt “stuffy”. As I mentioned, our waiter Alistair clearly took pride in Club 33 and pleasure in getting to share the club and experience with new people. The extra touches of taking note of what things we were looking at or bringing us some free souvenirs made us feel particularly welcome, and it was nice for them to subtly acknowledge how special this experience was for many guests.
I think the thing I was maybe most worried about was whether the food would feel worthy of a $120 five course menu, what with it being in a theme park. I can safely say we weren’t disappointed. The general consensus from of our group was that the food was excellent across the board, no one had a dish that they didn’t like. It wasn’t necessarily the best meal I’ve ever had, but we all thought that it would have been a totally reasonable five course meal in a restaurant outside of a theme park. The meal didn’t do anything groundbreaking with the food, but I there was something nice about getting high quality, holiday classics, with some small twists. There was no dropoff in quality of the food despite the fact they probably COULD get away with it if they wanted, and I appreciated that. What may have surprised me most was that the excellent classic cocktails were reasonably priced, actually a few dollars less than what similar drinks are at Carthay Circle in California Adventure.
There you have it, a look inside Club 33 and their 2017 holiday season menu. A huge thank you to the people who helped get me into Club 33 (my brother, his colleague, and her friend). Hopefully at least one take away from this is that it’s actually possible that you’ll know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone who’s a member, and you’ll get a chance to experience this too. And if you do, jump at it. You won’t regret the experience.
If you want to learn more about Club 33, the website disneylandclub33.com is a great reference for everything about the club. And if any of you get super rich and manage to become members, remember one of the nicest things you can do is share the experience with the rest of us. Now to figure out how I can get into “Le Salon Nouveau”…