Is the expansion of this exclusive club contributing to the overall detriment of Disneyland?
News of the expansion of Club 33 and its subsequent, and “essential”, removal of access to the Court of Angles is not new, or breaking news, by any means. However, does the removal of public access contribute to the overall detriment of Disneyland in general?
Most of you have probably heard about Club 33. Many of you have probably even seen pictures of it. A few of you may have been inside it during one of the various tours that allow you to see it, but I would venture to guess that only a couple of you, if any at all, have ever actually eaten there; or are members.
New Orleans Square
One of most Disneyland Nerd’s favorite spots in the park is New Orleans Square. It did not open with the rest of the park, in fact, it opened over 10 years after Disneyland first opened its gates. It is such a small area, but the visual impact that it has is immense. There are a handful of shops that have changed dramatically over the years, not necessarily for the better, but that small area of the park is one of those highly themed areas where you really feel like you are in the city it is built to represent.
The decorations are wonderful, and of course change with the seasons. From beads “randomly” thrown about, and hanging on light posts during Mardi Gras time, to the southern style, and New Orleans themed decorations at Christmas time, you really feel like you are there. I especially love hearing the “Voodoo Priestess” doing a ceremony that you can hear coming out of one of the windows, just like the sounds and voices coming from the shops on Main Street.
In New Orleans Square, on the second level, above the streets, is Club 33. Walt Disney knew that he needed a place in the parks where he could entertain visiting dignitaries and celebrities in a quiet atmosphere, away from the busy park environment. He also knew from his experience from the ’64-’65 World’s Fair that many corporations had special lounges available for their executives and other important/VIP type people. Walt decided that not only did he want a secluded lounge, but he wanted to serve high level cuisine in a unique atmosphere. So he decided to build Club 33.
Club 33 was so named after its street address: 33 Royal Street. There are additional stories out there about the naming, but I think most people agree that the street address theory is probably the correct one. There were many original art pieces that were created by Disney artists, as well as genuine artifacts and trophies collected from, and given to Disney from around the world. There are many pictures of the inside available online, and it’s easy to see a lot of early 19th century influence.
One of the most interesting rooms was the Trophy room, where a large table was surrounded by wood lined walls, and studies done for the creation of the Tiki Room and Jungle Cruise. Walt actually imbedded microphones in the chandelier that linked back to a room where the controls for an animatronic vulture were located. The vulture sat up in the corner of the room and was intended to interact with guests directly, as the operator would be able to hear their conversations. I don’t believe that the vulture was ever activated, I think they learned that people would not like the idea of having their conversations monitored.
Club 33 is very exclusive. Membership costs have changed over the years. The waiting list to join used to be closed, but due to its expansion, and the addition of another exclusive club in California Adventure, they have started taking names again. They went through the closed list, and mailed out offers for those people to actually join. I am sure that some of them did, but most of them declined when the opportunity actually presented itself. Membership is $25,000 initially to join, then another $10,000 per year to remain an active member. Obviously, there are other benefits to joining as well, such as complimentary valet parking at the Grand Californian, access to the Lilly Belle (the presidential car on the Disneyland Rail Road) and the ability to join the skipper in the wheel house of the Mark Twain. Also, Club 33 is the only location in the Disneyland Park that serves beer, wine and liquor. They cleared out the list for the most part, so if you are interested in getting on the membership list, it is possible to apply again.
There are lots of great, historic, touches in the club itself, and you can read about that on your own. A great site for that is http://www.disneylandclub33.com/index.htm This is not an official Disney site, but it does a great job of describing the history and importance of the club in detail as well as give lots of additional Club 33 related information. The description of the artifacts alone is overwhelming. Way more than can be discussed in blog like this. The food also appears to be exceptional, but I would expect it to be if I was paying that much just for the privilege of eating there.
Court of Angels
Now to the Court of Angels. The court of angels was a small area located by the club that was seemingly built for theming or decorative purposes only. The court itself is quite small. There are two entrances, one on the side, and one that is a short passage way that leads you into the middle of the courtyard. There is a small fountain, but the most striking feature is a huge staircase that leads up to the balconies. You can’t actually go up to the balconies, but it provides a beautiful backdrop for pictures, and the courtyard itself is this quiet little spot where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds.
Many people walk right by it, and don’t even notice it was there. You can’t help but notice it now, deepening on what’s going on, it’s either covered with construction scrims, or the old iron gates have opaque material covering up the entrance so you can’t see in.
What’s happening, in a nutshell, is that due to the expansion of the interior of the club, and the addition of the new kitchen, which apparently was greatly needed, they are moving the entrance to the club itself. The new entrance will be through a tiny gift shop that leads into the Court of Angels. The court will now only be accessible to Club 33 members, and will also be changing as they will be installing an ADA complaint elevator. This is required as the old club had an original French Lift that did not meet ADA standards. They say that the design of the new elevator will coordinate with the architecture of the surrounding New Orleans theme, but the original lift will still remain in place, but will not be used, due to its historic significance.
I am sure that the new club will be a wonderful place to spend time, and have a relaxing meal with your family and/or business associates, as many of the memberships are corporate ones that are shared by companies. However, I am also sure that this is one thing that I will probably (and I say probably because you never know) never get to experience. To me, this is the equivalent of staying in the Dream Suite in Disney World. Can it happen? Yes. Will it happen? Probably not. So, this wonderful experience that most of us will never get to enjoy has now taken away the public’s access to this quiet little spot that contributes to Disneyland being one of the most unique and well themed places in the world.
It’s Removal in Relation to the Park
I have to keep in mind that I believe in the theory that “Disneyland is not a museum.” Walt wanted change, he wanted improvement. He wanted to use the technology that was out there to create the best experience for the guest as possible.
At the same time, there are all these tiny little corners of Disney Parks that are getting taken away to install other things. Court of Angels will be unavailable to the public for all intents and purposes. The Carnation Gardens Plaza was taken away to make Fantasy Faire. Main Street, which used to be a collection of small and unique stores, is turning into one large shop that runs the length of the block. The Arcade was converted to install another shop space with the same merchandise as everywhere else, and the classic arcade games were removed, or moved. Small stores that used to sell unique items specific to the area they are in are converted to sell the same merchandise as you can find everywhere else. Green space and water are being removed from the Hub in Disney World to make way for more walkways.
The Pop Corn Cart Measuring Stick
One measurement tool I use is the popcorn carts. It’s seems silly, but if you look at a popcorn cart, there is a little figure turning the wheel of each popcorn cart display, and that little character is different on each cart depending on where the cart is located. I think of this specific example when I think of small, minor touches, that don’t really bring in any extra money, and are not required for the operation of the cart. When these characters go away, or when they are all replaced by some generic one, that’s when I know that the end is really near. That’s when I know that Disney has officially stopped caring about doing the little things that some people never notice, just to save a couple of bucks.
Sure, there are large things we can all complain about as well, like the complete closure of buildings in Epcot or Disney’s Hollywood Studios without replacement, but what I am talking about in reference to Club 33 and the Court of Angels is the removal of another small, quiet space, that generated no money, or had no purpose, other than to add to the theme and envrionment, and give visitors a spot that adds to their overall Disney experience. That is what sets Disney apart from other theme parks in the world. However, this area is now being removed from the view of the “public” and will only be available to those who are willing to shell out huge amounts of money to be part of an exclusive group that most of us will never be able to join. Hence – The Rich get Richer.
What’s your favorite spot that is gone now? What did you like best about the Court of Angels? Have you ever been to Club 33, and can you take me with you next time? Thanks again for reading. Please feel free to comment below, and as always, you can follow me here on WordPress, or on Twitter @saddlesoreswnsn or on Facebook or all three, if you feel so inclined.
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