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This Disney treat isn't for everyone

Orlando Sentinel

Original Article »

June 20, 2007

The hottest attraction at Disneyland may be the biggest secret.

It's not plotted on any official Disneyland maps. Thousands of tourists pass by every day, oblivious. Only a number discreetly posted next to an unmarked door indicates where the exclusive Club 33 sits.

That's the way the club likes it.

The low profile isn't hurting the members-only restaurant: The wait to join stretches out nine years. It's necessary to call months in advance to book a table for the peak summer months or holidays.

Most of the members are corporations, including Chevron and AT&T. Both are original members of the club founded 40 years ago by Walt Disney himself. A visit to the club and park in Anaheim, Calif., often is used to reward employees or treat favored clients.

"It's a unique facility," said Alex Yelland, a Chevron spokesman. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime, priceless experience. It has that cachet."

Now Walt Disney Co. is opening the door a crack. It plans to increase the 487-member roster, said Gary Maggetti, who oversees Club 33 as head of Disneyland's food and beverage services.

Corporate memberships, which cost $20,000 plus $5,825 in annual fees and $4,375 a year for extra members, rarely turn over and are used more frequently, he said. Individual memberships run $7,500 plus $3,025 in annual dues.

On top of that, members must pay for their meals, prepared by a chef who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. A recent lunch for four, without alcohol, came to $257 before tip. It's the only place in the park where alcohol is served, and the wine list offers $200 vintages.

Diners are more likely to be executives from AT&T, Boeing, Chevron or Coca-Cola than occasional celebrity guests such as actor Johnny Depp or musician Elton John, who has played the antique harpsichord in the hallway, said Michael Bracco, Club 33's manager.

The secretiveness inspires a cult-like fascination among some Disneyland fans. They post elaborate reports about their visits to Club 33, fret about the lengthy waiting list and sell Club 33 trinkets on eBay.

A page on the Mouse Planet Web site,, is devoted to Club 33's restrooms, including photos of the women's toilets and men's urinals.

"A lot of the reason people want to go to Club 33 is the exclusivity and the location," said Tony Phoenix, a co-founder and chief technical officer of Mouse Planet. "For many years, it was shrouded as a mystery and Disney didn't really acknowledge it even existed."

There is no comparable Club 33 at Walt Disney World.

For many fans, the main attraction is the direct link to founder Walt Disney. He came up with the idea of a club to entertain dignitaries, hired Hollywood set director Emil Kuri and traveled to New Orleans to handpick much of the Victorian bric-a-brac, Bracco said.

Disney died at age 65, five months before the club's opening in May 1967.

Access to the club is restricted to members with reservations, and their parties. Even a Disneyland spokesman giving a tour wasn't allowed inside on one occasion.

To enter, guests lift a hidden panel in the doorway, push a buzzer on an intercom and provide a name to the receptionist. Only then will the door open to a small lobby designed like an old-fashioned French hotel, complete with a spiral staircase that wraps around a reproduction of an antique lift.

The upstairs is split between two dining rooms: one light-filled and formal, the other with dark wood paneling and an animatronic California turkey vulture.

The restaurant is decorated with props from Disney films, including a table from Mary Poppins and the wooden telephone booth used in The Happiest Millionaire.

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