In the heart of the New Orleans sector of Disneyland’s Adventureland sits an unremarkable, gray-green door partially hidden by a potted plant. Nothing special distinguishes it from other nearby entrances except a small sign featuring the number 33 and a brass speaker box with a buzzer.
Good luck attempting to get behind this boring little door, however…
The Secretive Club 33
The door marks the entrance to an exclusive club whose members pay a purported $50,000 initiation fee and annual membership fees of $15,000. But money doesn’t do all of the talking when it comes to this members-only experience. With membership capped at a few hundred individuals, it can take years to gain acceptance to these hallowed ranks.
Built in 1967, rumors have swirled around Club 33 for decades. Some claim the name alludes to Walt Disney’s rumored status as a 33rd-degree Mason. In fact, speculation about the club’s nefarious Masonic and Illuminati rituals remain primetime YouTube viewing. But could “the happiest place on Earth” really house such a dark history?
Thanks to recent lawsuits brought against Disneyland by former Club 33 members, we have new insight into the organization and its strict rules. Let’s dive into what we know about Club 33.
The Inspiration for Club 33
According to Matt Gray, Disneyland Food and Beverage General Manager, Walt Disney was inspired to create Club 33 after visiting the New York World’s Fair in 1964. While in New York, he was impressed by the executive lounges where fair organizers wined and dined potential corporate sponsors.
He realized that Disneyland needed an adults-only space for its most exclusive sponsors as well as visiting dignitaries. It would be the only location in the park that served alcoholic beverages coupled with fine dining, live music, and sophisticated décor. VIPs would have an exclusive retreat located in the center of the park where they could kick back unbeknownst to other guests of the Magic Kingdom. Voilà, the concept for Club 33 was born.
Club 33 Becomes a Reality
Disney worked tirelessly on the concept for his VIP lounge to be located at 33 Royal Street in New Orleans Square. Liam Quack and James Jeffs of JQ Construction built the structure. Disney hired watercolorist Dorothea Redmond to create concept renderings of the club, and Disney and his wife had renowned set designer Emil Kuri accompany them to New Orleans to select antiques for the establishment.
While multiple theories have circulated about the origin of the name “Club 33,” the two most credible and popular remain 1) an homage to the site’s address and 2) a nod to the 33 corporate sponsors of Disneyland at the time of the club’s construction.
Club 33 Today
Club 33 officially opened on June 15, 1967. Sadly, Disney passed away six months before its completion. Yet, his dream lives on in this legendary club. Its membership has expanded beyond sponsors and dignitaries to include celebrities, and its legend has grown in equal parts.
While you don’t have to be rich or famous to become a member of the club, it won’t hurt considering the steep membership fees. So why all the secrecy? Celebrities from Johnny Depp to Kanye West and Kim Kardashian appreciate the privacy the club affords. It’s a great way for them to visit Disneyland with their families and remain protected from the crowds and media frenzy.
Trouble in Paradise
But it’s not all smooth sailing behind the closed doors of 33 Royal Street. Executive members Scott and Diana Anderson filed a lawsuit against Disneyland in 2017 alleging that they were unjustly kicked out of the exclusive club. Members since 2012 through their company Carlton Enterprise, their membership was a dream come true.
That is, until a new general manager, Luke Stedman, took over the club in 2016. The Andersons claim that Stedman let “favorite” members harass and bully other members. When the Andersons complained, they got kicked out of the establishment for various infractions culminating in their permanent termination as members.
Losing the Magic
Disneyland spokeswoman Suzi Brown has defended Club 33’s actions stating, “Like other private clubs, Club 33 has rules and regulations that address, among other things, member conduct. All members must abide by these rules and regulations so that all members may enjoy Club 33 benefits without disruption. In this case, the termination of membership was due to multiple violations of Club 33 rules.”
What were the violations referred to by Brown? According to Disneyland, they included speaking in a raised voice, public drunkenness, and recording a live performance. The Andersons deny these claims alleging that Stedman wanted to push out older members to make way for new ones. While we won’t know more until this case goes to trial next year, this isn’t the first lawsuit filed by unhappy members.
Two years prior, Joseph Cosgrove sued the park after his membership was terminated. A friend auctioned off Cosgrove’s passes, a huge violation of club rules, leading to the membership denial. Cosgrove has since settled the case and, due to a gag order, can’t comment further.
But according to David Koenig, author of The People v. Disneyland: How Lawsuits & Lawyers Transformed the Magic, Cosgrove turned the club’s exclusive dining experience into a scene out of Chili’s by inviting everyone and their dog for dinner. (One of the privileges of Club 33 membership is permission to bring a select number of non-member guests to dine each year.) After interviewing numerous Club 33 members, Koenig learned that Cosgrove repeatedly violated the organization’s most sacrosanct rule, privacy.
Privacy Is the Golden Standard at Club 33
Because of the advent of social media (just look up #club33 on Instagram) and a handful of lawsuits, Club 33 has lost some of its mystique. Nonetheless, it remains an exclusive dining and drinking establishment that few if any of us will ever see.
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Although it’s easy to let your imagination run wild when it comes to what goes on behind closed doors, Club 33’s clearly going for privacy rather than secrecy. So, forget about devilish Masonic rituals and Illuminati high jinks. Oh, and if you do have a chance to go, remember to keep your voice down and your experiences private.
By Engrid Barnett