Friday, July 11, 2014

One More Club 33 Post

Club 33, it seems, has been beaten to death both literally and in discussions these days, so please excuse yet another contribution to the conversation.  The previously exclusive and “top secret” restaurant residing in the upper floors of Disneyland’s New Orleans Square has recently undergone an extensive refurbishment and remodeling, bringing forth a seemingly endless tide of opinions and debates.  Since my last post on the subject, much more information has been released as well as progress made on the actual project, as construction is to wrap up this month.  And I say “progress” in the loosest sense possible because the results have been less than impressive.  Change is apparent but it seems overall more will lost than gained when Club 33 is completed. 

In my last post I touched on some of my reservations (no pun intended) with the refurb, including a “cheapening” of the overall experience for everyone.  My reasoning was that more capacity would be added so more members = more money = big win for Disney.  I argued this would lead to a decrease in exclusivity when more members have access to the Club.  I can tell you now some of my opinions have changed with new information that has since been released.  It appears Disney has managed this by making it harder for members to make reservations for non-members.  The number of these reservations is now limited to 20 a year, and can only be made 14 days in advance.  So the exclusivity remains intact as non-members are more limited in ability to partake in the Club.

Something not addressed in my last post was the then-rumor that the Court des Anges (Court of Angels) would be removed from the public’s access.  Time has now shown that rumor to be true as the Court has been locked and walled off since October.  I was thrilled to find it still open during my trip to Disneyland in October, only to be devastated to find it locked the very next morning as I was headed home.  Instead of serving as a serendipitous alcove themed beautifully and peacefully to be “found,” now it will be an area for those awaiting their reservation time at Club 33.  The public will no longer have access to it, which echoes the recent loss of the Disney Gallery to the now exclusive Dream Suite.  Quiet, historical, and unique areas of New Orleans Square are disappearing one-by-one, and not without notice and outcry by its fans of all kinds. 

One of the great benefits of Club 33 of old was its extreme secrecy.  One could try to see members sneaking through the blue door with a “33” inconspicuously hanging on the frame.  One rarely noticed guests on the upper levels and this contributed to its allure.  Those on private tours only got to see the entrance and lobby but were not granted access to the dining rooms.  One of the main noticeable differences that will come with the new remodel is that several areas have been changed to a huge degree.  The Court of Angels is gone, the bridge connecting the main area and the new jazz lounge cuts through the street jarringly, and the fa├žade facing the Rivers of America has been rid of its two small windows in favor of one large and brightly lit one.   If that doesn’t scream “Look at these people!” I don’t know what does.  It seems that Disney has moved from the philosophy of exclusivity and classy secrecy to blatant advertising. 

Photo (along with many more) from Dateline Disneyland

As someone who has never set foot in Club 33 I recognize that I don’t have all the information.  I can only draw conclusions based on what I’ve learned through the Internet and what I’ve experienced in the park.  I’m positive members will have a better dining experience with a new kitchen and other improvements, but now much of the old charm will still be there with the new theme?  And how much will that matter to members?  I’m eager to hear differing viewpoints when it does open once again.

Bridge connecting the main dining room and jazz lounge (photo from In the Parks)

Finally, if I sound bitter, it’s because I honestly am.  There are a variety of different levels of experiences at which guests can experience a Disney park, which is to be expected.  When one’s experience at one’s level begins to impede on mine at my level, I feel I have a right to start taking it personally.  I get that Disney is in the business to make a profit.  The fact that they’re doing this under the guise of harmless renovation is what rubs me the wrong way.   They aren’t adding anything for the rest of the general public to make up for what they’ve lost so guests may actually begin to spend less time there. 

I like to examine the different strata of park experiences, including those of privilege, and I also feel there is a right way and a wrong way to market to the wide variety of people who visit Disneyland.  Myself and many others to whom I have spoken are just not interested in Club 33 anymore because of the connotation it now has with cheap change, removal of history, and conflict within the community.  Maybe one day I’ll be open to the idea but I can’t find myself supporting the way Disney handled this area of the park anytime in the near future. 

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