We’ve had a handful of opportunities to visit Club 33 over the years, and though I’ve had the best intentions of writing up a trip report each time, I’ve just never gotten around to it. Memorable experiences include my Birthday No. 33 at Club 33, a Ryman Arts Foundation breakfast, and the time Patrick arrived with food poisoning, tossed his cookies into the lobby wastebasket, and still had to pay $90 for a meal he didn’t get.
But most of my reports would have been about the same: celebrating some milestone, drooling over the historical details, snarking about the Blue Bayou-quality food at Napa Rose prices, swiping logo napkins from the ladies’ room, and documenting every single nook and cranny in a million photos.
However, now that nearly every vestige of the Club’s former glory has been erased by a ham-fisted, low-budget attempt to cram in more members, I am compelled to share with you one of the best experiences we ever had at the Club, the time we went with our pals and photographers extraordinaires, Nate and Jensey Root. I am so grateful that they made time in one of their rare SoCal trips to go with us and document Club 33 in their inimitable style.
Before we start, you may want to check out the new version of the club, which is nice in a French Quarter Marriott sort of way but seems to be missing the detail pass it would have been given by a real interior designer or—more accurately, considering the experience of the original Imagineers—a movie art director. (Compare the old and new window treatments to see what I mean). Mice Chat’s Andy Castro shot an excellent interior and exterior photo tour of the revamped club, which you can find by scrolling down a bit in this Dateline Disneyland update.
OK! Now, let’s take a look at what Club 33 used to look like…
The way it used to work, at lunchtime there was a buffet of appetizers and desserts, and then you’d choose an entree and get billed the price of a one-day, one-park ticket no matter what you ate. The entrees were decent—the same quality you’d get at the Blue Bayou (because they shared a kitchen). The buffet was always the weakest link in the experience, generally made up of picked-over salads, clammy cold cuts and tough, water-logged shellfish. But the Roots make it look pretty dang good!
Dessert was equally mediocre, with lots of waxy chocolate coatings and weird, booze-filled jelly things. (And yet, as you will see, I ate almost all of it anyway!) The most ridiculous Club 33 dessert I ever encountered was a “s’more” that consisted of a graham cracker and a cold marshmallow floating in Hershey’s syrup.
I adored the decor of the Main dining room—not because it was anything I’d ever want in my own home, but because it was so layered with detail that you felt you were actually in a First French Empire-style chateau. My all-time favorite Disney concept artist, Dorothea Redmond, created watercolor inspirations for the interior decor, and movie art director and set decorator Emile Kuri helped Walt and Lillian select antiques for Club 33 on a trip to New Orleans. I apologize in advance for including every single shot Nate took. I just love them all!
We were always sure to step out on one of the balconies for a unique perspective on New Orleans Square.
I guess even the desserts have that new “free Web font”-lookin’ logo on them now…
One of the highlights of any trip to Club 33 for me and, I’d venture to guess, most people, was taking a look at the elaborately themed restrooms. This is the first time I’ve ever seen what the men’s room looked like though!
The ladies’ room was equally over-the-top and, on my first visit, more than a little confounding.
Views from the balcony on the other side of the club.
The souvenir case was always full of such old-white-dude favorites as polo shirts, money clips and golf tees, but there was occasionally a simple logo T-shirt or a pin that we’d pay through the nose for.
So, I get it… Disney wanted to fit more people in so they could issue more pricey memberships ($25,000 to start + $14,400/year), and by the looks of it, they weren’t given the most lavish budget for the makeover. But the part I don’t understand—and what breaks my heart more than any change to the club—is the decision to block off the Court of Angels, my favorite spot in any Disney park I’ve been to (including Tokyo DisneySea).
Patrick and I are one of hundreds or possibly thousands of couples who became engaged in that spot, and countless families made the stairs the site of their annual portrait. Even for the casual visitor, the court was a welcome respite from the bustle of the rest of the park and one of the best places to become fully immersed in the atmosphere of Disneyland. Now, in its new capacity as an extra lobby for Club 33, it stands hidden behind plastic doors, with an elevator shoehorned into one corner and its upper reaches disfigured by the same off-the-shelf railings you see in spec homes and strip malls with delusions of Tuscan grandeur.
That’s why I’m adding in some shots the Roots took during our anniversary portrait session in 2009. This is one of the ways I want to remember Court of Angels.
Farewell, Club 33! I don’t know if we’ll ever get a chance to visit again, and I’m not sure we’ll even want to. But we sure enjoyed you while you lasted!