Clubbed

by David Koenig, staff writer
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Fourteen years ago, Disneyland introduced the Fastpass ticket system for the first time, on Space Mountain. The system operated fairly well, in no small measure due to the fact that the Fastpass line and the Standby line were basically out of sight of each other. Problems began surfacing when Fastpass was added in more conspicuous locations, such as on Autopia and Splash Mountain, where the two lines were situated side-by-side for long stretches and the “control point,” where the lines merged, was in plain sight. Suddenly, Standby guests felt like rubes as hundreds of fellow visitors were encouraged to cut in front of them. The typical guests seemed to be OK with the free cuts when they were kept low-key, but felt like second-class citizens when the cuts were shoved in their faces.

The same principle has always worked in Club 33’s favor. Few people rail against the existence of a private, members-only, booze-friendly fortress in the midst of Disneyland because they’re either oblivious to it or accepting of it, because it’s always operated so low-profile. It’s not listed on any park maps, it doesn’t have a neon sign, it doesn’t allow drunken diners to throw beads down on to New Orleans Square from the balconies. Those of us who aren’t allowed in are OK with it, mostly because we don’t think about it. We aren’t made to feel ostracized.

So, too, when we outsiders finally are able to finagle a reservation (through a friend’s neighbor’s mailman’s uncle), we come to realize that Club 33’s greatest asset is not its fine food, liquor or opulent furnishings—but its mystique. It’s a thrill to be in on the secret, to relax in what was intended to be Walt’s own speakeasy, while tens of thousands of day guests crowd below, oblivious the place even exists.

Admittedly, that mystique has become a little more mainstream over the years. The Club has expanded its membership rolls, particularly through the addition of countless corporate members. It has increasingly played host to charity buffets and other public events. And, its secrets can now be found in stories and photos all around the Internet (not to mention in those wacky behind-the-scenes books).

But that mystique is going to take to even bigger hit, once Club 33 undergoes its massive overhaul. When the renovation is complete in time for next summer, the facility will take up even more upstairs acreage, lose many of the historic touches and treasures that have contributed to its lore (the tiny lobby, the antique elevator, the Trophy Room), receive a more noticeable entryway than a non-descript green door with a simple “33” plaque, and extend into spaces that are, as of yet, still open to the general public.

Initial construction is just a month away, which begins with the shuttering of the L’Ornament Magique shop and the lovely Court of Angels. Phase one kicks off with installation of a new elevator in the courtyard, next to Le Bat en Rouge. The second-story “bridge” between and above Le Bat and the Arribas Bros Crystal Shop will then be widened and strengthened. L’Ornament Magique will be transformed into the club’s new entrance and check-in area. And, a stained glass overlay will be applied to the Court of Angels’ wrought iron gate, suggesting the courtyard will serve as the club’s lobby and presumably be closed off to the public. 

No exact date has been leaked for when the restaurant will shut down for construction, but I’ve heard guesses of a start date as late as early January. But the last day for the Court of Angels as we know it is September 28.

“Cast members have been telling guests to take their pictures of the Court of Angels before the September date,” said one insider. “The overall mood has been downcast in New Orleans Square. It is no doubt the courtyard will become part of the Club. And the feeling is it will be closed off to the general public. The Club itself has not made any statement to say otherwise.”

Comments

  1. By carolinakid

    Terrific article as usual, David. I'll be interested to read what others think. I'm not a member and have no desire to be, but I think the expansion of that area of New Orleans Square into more and more private space is a loss for everybody. Interesting thoughts about fastpass too.

  2. By MammaSilva

    I'd heard the rumors about the entrance change but didn't realize it meant we were losing access to the Court of Angels. I love the club and thanks to the generosity of a friend have been able to go a couple of times and had an amazing time each time. I will be excited to see the changes after all the expansion and refurb is done but will miss the 'old' just a little simply because it was the original.

  3. By olegc

    how many hundreds, if not thousands, of guests (some who travel once every couple of years) will now NOT get a chance to take a great memory photo in the Court of Angels. Its very unfortunate and another sign that - slowly but surely - the services for those willing to pay more (a lot more) are expanding and the recipient of less is the general guest. Mind you - I have been to the Club and I love the history - and I think it should still be there and available. However, the pricing and structure of services over the last couple of years definitely has created a wider gulf between those with unlimited budgets and those without. And - no offense to the wonderful folks at MP - but the fact that the Parks marketing has done more to include a lot of the online sites for media previews with gifts, services, etc. - does excellent promotion for things that, well, most day guests or even tourists may not be able to enjoy. Its small degrees - but its coming. I can see the private parties coming back at some point because, hey, if airlines make money if first class is full, but coach can be empty, then why not Disneyland..

    but I digress...

    thanks for the article as always David.

  4. By DwarfPlanet

    I have only had a desire to see the current Club 33. With all the changes I probably won't give a hoot about seeing it anymore. I do take offense about the real estate they are now gobbling up to make a few more bucks for something that will not be as memorous.

  5. By carolinakid

    As our next visit is this October, I guess I won't be able to say adieu to la cour des anges.

  6. By MammaSilva

    I'm having the same 'sad' moment, I have a very special 'first time' photo done in the CoA and we have taken several over the years since. Had I a clue we were actually going to lose access I would have made it a point to go take a last opportunity shot on the steps near the plaque one last time. I know that Walt never intended the park to stay the same and go stagnant but I will miss that little oasis of quiet or surprises, we've found character meet and greets in there, Christmas shop over flow at times, I'm not really sure what this will do to the artist that uses the far entry as their area.

  7. By Malcon10t

    While I will miss many areas that are historic, I also look at the changes as a positive. Currently, the club is not exactly ADA compliant. I mean, it is, as you can go up the kitchen elevator, through the tiny kitchen to get into the club, 2 people at a time. I do look forward to better accessibility. And while I LOVE the current elevator, and feel they do plan to keep it as part of the history, there is no way you could get a wheelchair in it. Much of the original Trophy room decorations were removed by the Disney family years ago. I hope they will be using various items that remain in the new areas. I have been fortunate enough to visit many times, and I foresee many visits in the future.

    I personally am a glass half full person. Things change. I would love to see things remain exactly the same, but I know that isn't possibly. The park will change. The Club will change. I will miss some of the things that are changing, but I will also welcome the new. If things never changed, we would still have orange groves where there is now a park.

    BTW- The tone of the article saddens me. I expect it at other forums, but not here.

  8. By MammaSilva

    I do think that the ADA issue will be a nice 'fix' with the new expansion, right now if Missy is in a needs her chair mode we'd have to send her up thru the kitchen, we've done that back in the day to go to the gallery and it really wasn't as 'fun/cool' as a lot of folks thought. I just wish I'd known to grab the photo. I can't wait to see the changes and improvements that the expansion will bring.

  9. By lurkyloo

    First we lost the quiet retreat that was the Disneyland Gallery, and now this—my absolute favorite place in Disneyland. It's devastating to think that I'll no longer be able to stand in the spot where my husband proposed to me and hundreds or maybe even thousands of other couples have become engaged over the years. There are no quiet corners left in Disneyland, are there? What a shame.

  10. By jmorgan

    There are a few quiet areas still left: walk way near the water behind Edelweiss Snacks (the old boat ride); Underneath the Hungry Bear by the water; the picnic tables near the Stage Door; and you can always find a quiet bench on Tom Sawyers Island. Better take advantage of these for I fear it is only a matter of time before a Disney executive discovers these and slams in a meet-and-greet. I am surprised that they have not made Tom Sawyers Island into a night club or built a hotel for the super rich there.

  11. By missm

    Wow that's a bummer about Court of Angels. I have a photo of me on the staircase from every visit. We aren't going until December so we will not get to have one last photo. I typically don't comment on park changes negative or positive but this just really sucks imho.

  12. By Jimbo996

    I'm sure you're trying to be serious about the affect of the changes, but I can't imagine being sad about it. The court of angels is a nice place to get a picture taken especially when there is a character there, but Not Necessarily for just an empty courtyard. There are plenty of other iconic locations.

    The commentary that compares the Space Mountain and Autopia fastpass lines is not well stated. Is the Club 33 changes closer to Space Mountain's example (the good one) or Autopia's example (the bad one)? Hmmm. I would say Club 33's changes are closer to Space Mountain's better fastpass queue. The guests will have no idea of the Club 33's new entrance.

    Also, it isn't like they are clamoring to visit the Court of Angels either. Some know of its existence, but many others bypass it. If there is sufficient noise about its disappearance, I can think of a replacement Court of Angels stairwell for photographs. The closed Disney Gallery can utilize the stairs on both sides for character and family photos. They can provide better separation from the food area and the Pirates ride queue area to allow for a meet and greet area.

    Finally, I thought originally that the Club 33 membership changes with the price hikes will lead to its eventual demise. Apparently, that didn't happen. So I guess it is a success. Funny how that works.

  13. By olegc

    Quote Originally Posted by Jimbo996 View Post
    Finally, I thought originally that the Club 33 membership changes with the price hikes will lead to its eventual demise. Apparently, that didn't happen. So I guess it is a success. Funny how that works.

    good points - but on the last one I personally never thought it would lead to its demise - only a replacement of other groups/individuals with more money and less thought about the historic value (sort of like middle management at TDA - good at what they do in general but can't give you the historic context around why its important for the Parks). Prices at the Parks have gone up on everything (including immersive entertainment) and folks are still buying - but its probably a different set.

  14. By currence

    From what (little) I know about the club, members went from paying around $3-5k per year to paying $12k for the top-tier membership, and new members can only join at the top-tier level. Frankly, I would hope that with an extra $5k+ per member/year the club could afford some needed modernization/expansion. And if there is no longer a 10-year waiting list to get in, perhaps they need a more visible store-front location where they can provide basic information to lookie-loos without tarnishing the experience of current members/guests.

    I think our Christmas card photos were taken at Court of Angels last year, and I do really like that location for that. But in years past we have also taken then at the various Christmas trees and in the sled by Reindeer Roundup so there are other locations for a family photo.

    I do wish they would tell the members exactly what their construction plans are, so that those members can post here (or elsewhere on the internet). I have a friend who is/was planning on going in January and all I could tell them was that it might not be available.

  15. By ReluctantDragon

    Great article, and you can count me among those who are sad about this change.

    I'm certainly not against change when it adds something, but it seems like this takes away something from the majority of guests to benefit only a small (privileged) minority.

    I understand that a lot of people will look at this and say that it's only a small area of the park, it's not a big deal, but these little out-of-the-way spots are what make Disneyland special, in my opinion. There are lots of amusement parks, but what makes Disney special is the way they build a world that feels real, that you can explore and enjoy for many visits, finding something new each time. Sure, not every guest will spend time in the Court of Angels, but every guest can find somewhere that's special to them, and the less places like this you have, the less people can have that experience.



    Quote Originally Posted by MousePlanet AutoPoster View Post
    Clubbed by David Koenig

    Club 33 losing history, consuming a courtyard

    Read it here!

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