Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Kool Aid at Club 33, Pt. 2

Yesterday's post covered how the Club 33 remodel impacted the regular pass-buying guest. The guest who spends: $150 per Park Hopper ticket + $17 for parking + approximately $50 for food/snacks (and that's extremely conservative) + $50 souvenirs = $267. If you are spending the night, you'll spend a minimum of at least $130 (again…very conservative) for a room. GRAND TOTAL FOR ONE PERSON: $397. That's at least a $400 day. For one person. Wow.

Want an Annual Pass? One that doesn't have blackout dates and also includes parking? You'll be shelling out $700. For the next level up in service and status, a VIP Tour would probably be what you are looking for. At a rate of $315-500 per hour (depending upon the season) with a minimum of 6 hours, you'd be spending a total of $1,890-$3,000. PLUS admission.

Not enough status for you? Is your wallet still bulging with cash to burn? Your next step would be to attempt to get a Club 33 membership. The unique thing about Club 33 was that it was the ONLY loyalty program that existed at Disneyland. Buy a Park ticket, have a magical day, exit the park, and you're back to zero as far as the Disney Corporation is concerned. You won't be given a discount or any kind of incentive to come back. Same thing for the Annual Passholders. Even at the Premium level, you don't rack up points or gain any special privileges for the years you continue buying. Every year, you are back to square one. At Club 33 though, you plunked down your initial wad of cash (at one time it was $10,000) and then paid the approximate equivalent of a one-time VIP Tour Guide every year thereafter. For Disneyland fanatics who couldn't get enough of the Park, this was a no-brainer! You also had the friendship and camaraderie of other members who renewed every year. They drank the Disney Kool Aid and automatically renewed every year, getting to know the Cast Members while creating a familial bond with them. Life was good.

At one time, the waiting list for this magical place was YEARS long. You could put your name on the list and expect to collect Social Security before you ever got a phone call. Then in 2012, something happened. No new Gold and Silver memberships were added to the existing roster; instead, a new level of membership was created and titled Platinum, which required an initial investment of $25,000 with annual dues of $10,000 (now raised to $14,400 annually). These new members were allowed to use 1901 in Disney California Adventure.

The Silver and Gold members were told if they attempted to enter 1901, they would risk losing their membership. The paltry Gold Member $3,800 annual dues obviously was not of value anymore to Disney. When Club 33 shutdown in January for the remodel, all members were allowed to use the Hollywood Room in the Carthay Circle Restaurant for special occasions until Club 34 (as it has been unofficially dubbed) would reopen in July 2014. They still were not allowed in 1901 (Heaven forbid!). There was no discount provided for this inconvenience; to entice members to go ahead and renew in January, Gold Members were assured that they would have use of the new Jazz Lounge being built above The French Market. Note: although it is being called the Jazz Lounge, so far, the only music that will be playing there is not "live," but rather on a Yamaha Disklavier Reproducing Piano. I guess that saves having to pay a musician.

Although they were still smarting over the Platinum snub, most renewed anyway and looked forward to better levels of service and an improved physical space; both had slipped substantially in the last few years.

The previous view from the Court of Angels out to New Orleans Square:

What Club 33 members see as they sit in the Court waiting for their table to be ready. Something ironic about the former entryway being covered by plastic. Not even real stained glass.

At a very quick glance, the Court looks pretty much the same...

minus the hideous merchandising that was dumped in here seasonally.

But then you notice the elevator crammed in the corner...

and the metallic vines that have been added to the gracefully curving staircase.

Like much of the Club 33/New Orleans Square renovation, it recalls this scene in "Cinderella." You really shouldn't try to shove a size 10 foot into a size 5 shoe. It just doesn't work, and it's definitely not pretty.

At the Dog-and-Pony show last month, members were introduced to the new merchandise offerings (tacky) that featured the new logo (I've already commented on that ill-conceived mess). The food, familiar to those who'd dined at Andrew Sutton's Napa Rose and Carthay Circle, failed to "wow" members, who had not been consulted about what they wanted. It was obvious that the dishes served did not meet their expectations. A beautiful plate is not always the top concern to those who dine out.

The biggest blow came when Gold Members were told that unless they had dinner reservations (which comes out to a minimum of $100 per person), they would not be allowed to use the Jazz Lounge. While you digest that, I'll show a few photos of the interior, graciously supplied by Andy Castro.

The harpsichord made the transition.

It was handpainted by Imagineer Collin Campbell:

One of the vultures from the historic Trophy Room (a casualty for a larger kitchen) was plopped atop this grandfather clock.

The interior and decor are almost unrecognizable to me. They are akin to the Dream Suite, not the Victorian-style that Walt and Lillian lovingly created for the original Club.

One of the biggest questions for me is why would you have a menu at a supposedly exclusive club that mirrors at least 2 other restaurants in the Resort?

Additionally, why would you remove the history and unique flavor that made the Club so special, and replace it with something that has no relation to the area (New Orleans Square) in which it resides. I've been to New Orleans many times, and this interior has nothing to do with that historic city.

Sure, it looks nice enough, but why would anyone plunk down thousands of dollars to experience this when you could visit any other "fancy" restaurant/lounge in the Resort and get the same ambiance?

If a picture can be worth a thousand words, then this one speaks volumes. Recognize this tiny enclosed lounge space wedged in the corner?

It was once the elevator in the lobby of Club 33. The one Walt had built specifically for his VIP restaurant/lounge. It has been stripped of all use and meaning. Need I connect the dots?

Yesterday, a comment was left on the blog that possibly Disney was planning to eventually open the club to the public; perhaps this is why they made the changes allowing it to be so conspicuous. I highly doubt that. Just like the Pressler years, I believe Management has seen the amount of money people are willing to pay for Premium Passes and even for the Platinum Membership, and they are going to see just how far they can push it. So far, they haven't hit the threshold, but I have a feeling they are close. Another person asked "When did Disneyland become so shi shi?" If I wanted to experience "shi shi," Disneyland would not rank anywhere on my list of places to go. For levels of quality and service, it falls far below what I would call a truly elegant, tasteful, and gracious experience. I don't think the people who put the new Club together would know what "shi shi" was if it bit them in the a$$. Expanding the kitchen and adding the lounge allows the Disney Corporation to host more high level parties and events; these can bring in the big bucks…much more than a mere $100 a plate dinner would. I truly believe this is what drove the changes. Ever since the 50th Anniversary in 2005, the amount of premieres, special events, and exclusive parties has mushroomed while the space to handle them inside the park has not. Has the Disney Corporation gone too far? Have they raised prices and lowered quality to a degree that they will alienate patrons like they did back in the Pressler years?

I think the Kool Aid is wearing off. Somebody better mix up a stronger batch.

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See more Daveland Disneyland Club 33 photos at my main website.


stu29573 said...

I used to think Club 33 was a wonderful place that I would actually consider being a part of, if I lived on the West Coast...Now, I just feel bad for all the current members who got shafted, and the folks who were maybe about to join, but now realize there is no point. Witness the end of a dream. In this case, Disney sucks.

N576BB said...


I read your daily posts daily, and you never miss a beat. Besides your wonderful photography, I love your witty banter. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a picture and your comments combined are worth a million.

Anyway...I fully agree with your comments over what's happened at Club 33--and the look and feel of the new New Orleans Square. It's just cheapened the whole thing.

When I first heard of Club 33, I sent off a letter to Disneyland and tried to get on the waiting list (which was closed at the time). I even tried a few other times, but to no avail. At this point, however, I don't see the need. Sure, it would be a bragging point, but why do it?

I've dined at Napa Rose (just in the lounge, which was still fabulous), and you're correct in the ambiance and even the menu. I can get the same "feel" and even "taste" in Napa Rose as I could in Club 33 at this point--and without the insane annual overhead or the initiation fee. (Which isn't to say that I wouldn't dine at Club 33 or 1901 given the opportunity.)

Disney just can't resist chasing the almighty dollar, and that's caused them to lose focus of what's really important--the people.

That's all for now. Please keep the photos and the comments coming!

Most sincerely with best regards, I am

Ben Boatright (at gmail)

K. Martinez said...

I completely agree with your assessment of the new club. Drinking the Disney Kool Aid sums it up perfectly.

Fifthrider said...

Often I look at something and can't put my finger on what's wrong. You on the other hand, sum it up perfectly. The new architecture is forced and fake, not to mention out of place for NOS. It feels like every other upscale Disney eatery now. I really wish this would flop and Disney would see the err of it's ways but deep down I know their only response is "Well, we did it anyways so let's get rid of the complainers and bring on new members who are impressed with this simplified tragedy instead!"

If Club 33 management were reading this and could take away only one thought, please let it be this:

I used to look up there and wonder what it looked like behind those walls. I envied the people who got to go up there. Then, one day, I got in. It was glorious. Now I'll walk in NOS below and look up to those windows and my envy is gone, replaced by pity for those up there. The awesome past of Walt is gone, replaced by a shoehorned style so terrible it makes me prefer to be down below. I don't want to be up there and wouldn't put my name in to be a member now. I pity those up there now, this is awful.

Jason said...

I'm confused. Is Silver and Gold still around? So gold is 3,800 and Platinum is $14,00?

Can someone explain what the membership tiers are, what the investment is, and what the rules and privileges are?

Dave DeCaro said...

Jason - Silver and Gold still exists, but no new members at those levels are being taken. All levels had a hefty initial investment and then smaller (but still hefty) annual dues. I think if you take your time and re-read the article, your questions will be answered. As for rules and privileges, not sure how specific you are wanting to get, but that's really not my department. Maybe you could contact Disneyland City Hall.

Tim said...

Is there any "going back" now that these changes have been made? I'm not sure what could be done. Can complaints from club members be enough to make a difference?

giddy girlie said...

Up until about 3 years ago, I managed our company's Club 33 membership. We have been Platinum Level members since forever (we were probably there at the beginning but I don't know exactly) and so just based on that alone, we renew every year - don't want to end up at the bottom of the list! But the benefits of being a member were/are so few. The one nice advantage was being able to book the club for private events which really impresses clients, but the reality is that the club is really hard to book. A reservation for 2 people for dinner might need 6-8 weeks of pre-planning and a group of 20 or an entire club buy-out might take a year -- even though they don't actually accept reservations that far in advance. It was always a headache because they couldn't commit to us, so we couldn't plan ahead and more than once, they switched the dates or times on us with only a short notice. And, of course, even though we COULD make reservations, the costs were additional and the minimums are high (as you covered, about $100 per person before taxes and gratuities).

My personal impression is that a large number of the reservations are made by Disney employees and execs and NOT the members. The evidence is anecdotal but I work with Disney a lot in other capacities and the Event Sales teams offer meals in the club. Being there in the club people are pretty open about how they got in and the wait staff tends to ask. I have overheard a LOT of people saying things like "my brother in law is a waiter here" "my mom's friend is a manager for Disney" and even "I bought it off someone on eBay" In my 15+ years of managing that account and visiting the club, I have never met another member, even another corporate member like myself.

The remodel (including the annexation of Court of Angels) is clearly to make the club more available and flexible for private events. WDW makes excellent use of their properties for events (you can literally rent any sidewalk or balcony in any of the parks if you ask) and Disneyland doesn't. The Anaheim parks have very few "approved" places for events and they are VERY finicky about when you're allowed to use them. The club expansion will provide more spaces, both inside and out, that they can sell for events. And since a space like the Court isn't *technically* inside the club, they can use it for other private events - but it will feel very exclusive and "chichi" for the attendees (while also keeping the private event out of view of the general public).

If this were my personal membership, I'd be grumbling loudly. But as a corporate member, this looks like a lot of benefit to me: bigger spaces, more seating, private event options, etc. As a Disneyland purist and lifelong fan, I think they have done a disservice by overhauling the decor and I think the ostentation is definitely a slap in the face to everyone else who visits the park. Club 33 is no longer something that people can admire or aspire to. It's completely unattainable, just like being a princess -- but maybe that's Disney's whole schtick now?

Darryl R said...

Dave, I consider your blog as one of the premier blogs on Disney, well written, beautiful photos, great commentary...and might I add very little negative, nit-picky posts.

But here you obviously let loose as you could no longer hold in your feelings, which obviously stems from your true love of Walt's Park....and you nailed it!

I have not been able to view NOS and the changes, but from your history of quality and accurate entries, I can only agree with you as you are much more of an expert than I am.

I too have been to the Big Easy a few times and you're correct, the Club has no resemblance to NOLA, the French Quarter, etc. Looks like it was designed by a cruise ship designer. They should at least get the exterior to blend in better, more authentic and like you said, open the Court up during the mornings.

Thanks again Dave.

Mike Pierce said...

Club 33 is like Space Mt for me. I have no desire to ride it. Some people really like it and are going to wait in line and fly around in the dark for 30 seconds and feel that they got their money's worth. There are a number of rides and other events that I feel are worth my time and money and as long as those things are still there I will continue to enjoy the park. I realize that change is going to happen, some of it I will like (the addition of Disney dolls in IASW) and some that I do not like. Most of the changes are done for the bottom line. Sad to say but that is the focus of stock held businesses.
I certainly do not disagree with any of your points. For me the good stuff still out ways the bad things. The biggest issue for me is the employees. The pay, benefits and how they are treated. Payroll and benefits are the biggest expense but if the people working for you are not taken care of that will (has) come through and will (has) impact the experience of the people who are paying all the money.
This has been an issues for a few years now. They broke up some of the music groups, got rid of some of the talent within the park and they continue to their other CMs as if they are just employees rather than really part of the show.
Thanks for all you do to keep us informed and to keep the park alive for all of us.

stu29573 said...

There are some good points here, but I'm pretty sure that gutting the soul out of an organization to serve the bottom line in the short haul often backfires in the long haul, especially for a company who tries to appear as focused on tradition and history as Disney.

N576BB said...

The only problem is, as Dave pointed out, they've pushed and pushed and people haven't backed down.

Look at the Annual Passes this year. They cut out the lowest ranking Annual Passes and upped the price on the rest. What happened? They sold EVEN MORE annual passes.

Disney hasn't (at any of their theme park operations) reached the point at which customers say 'no, I won't pay that.' Until they do, Disney will keep chipping away and giving you less for more money.

I've already stopped buying simple things like t-shirts. When I look at the shirts I bought 5 years ago, the material thickness was very sturdy. Today, it's like paper. You can see the same "declining by degrees" (see Kevin Yee's columns on MiceChat) across the board. The new NOS and Club 33 are just further examples.

Linda Fontejon said...

It's so sad! They're trying to take the Disney out of Disneyland! I truly think Walt would be sad with the state of his park. He created this park for families, and now they are pricing families out.

stu29573 said...

I've been saying that for a while now, Linda. Walt was very proud that his park was a great value for everyone...EVERYONE. I'm also not real sure how canned chili loving Walt would have liked the extent that his restaurants have become exclusively snooty and overpriced. So there!

olegc said...

so my question is why do so many, many, many people who regularly visited Club 33 previously and have gone to visit the new version LOVE the new version? Is it just because its so new? is it the opulance? is it blind love for anything someone else can't have? the food? Some of the folks I know are long time park guests, AP holders, Club regulars, commentators and critics, and most of them love it. that whole "in" thing to me feels like its creeping in but I can't be sure. Its just odd.

CoxPilot said...

This age will be known in future times as "The Generation of Scam". Everywhere you turn, everything you do, you have to be careful of the rip-off. I never thought Disney would fall into the same narsistic trap. It will fail, as it always does, new and better will rise from the ashes. It just takes time.

In the mean time, enjoy the fruits of the simple. Less IS more.

Fifthrider said...

Agreed with CoxPilot, "the generation of scam."

Why do so many people like it? Who? I haven't heard one that does. ...or are you talking about columns written by people who were given comped tickets to get in? ( Bias ) People who work for publications under pressure to assure a positive spin article about it? People who've never been to the previous Club 33 and have no point of reference? A full-on campaign to promote this while appearing to be a grass-roots level of approval? This is like when companies hire these groups who go onto Yelp and write a ton of fake reviews to assure a high-return of positive results.

I know of no one who has said it's better, let alone breaking even. As for Disney making money until people stopped paying, I'm one and I've stopped paying. When this AP runs out, so do I. My Disney is dead, this new Disney is the hollow, plastic resemblance of something we used to love, and that was worth loving. said...

These two posts on the remodel are truly upsetting. And I agree with all of the points you have made.

It was always a dream of mine to be able to dine in Club 33, and now that dream doesn't even exist anymore for me, as the entire Club appears to lack any of its original charm! The one reason I prefer Disneyland to any other of the Disney Parks is that it maintains a level of originality that the other parks don't.

The most heartbreaking thing for me is the elevator. It looks like it was just tossed in there awkwardly with no respect for its history.

I am extremely thankful that I took the Walking in Walt's Footsteps tour last September, prior to all of the tacky changes, which allowed us into the original lobby of Club 33 and get to experience some of the original magic of the place.

Thank you for your insight, Dave and thank you, Andy, for the photos!


Major Pepperidge said...

I feel like I could write many paragraphs about this post… Dave, you struck a nerve! I agree with atomicredhead, the sight of that once-beautiful elevator, now demoted to some weird, functionless "nook", says volumes.

My Disneyland has been replaced by some weird "Disneyland-like" park. It can be fun, but something is missing.