There are such things as heroes and there is such thing as magic. The spirit of Walt Disney lives in us all, but in some rare few it lives and acts with generosity because that is simply their nature. Such is the case with a Club 33 member I will only refer to as "Mr. Smith."
Mr. Smith invited me to join him at Club 33, an offer no sane Disney fan could refuse. Initially one would think I'm just singing his praises for the offer of a trip to Club 33 but on Saturday April 6th I got the Disneyland day of a lifetime. I got to know Mr. Smith as a genuine and amazing human being who just enjoys making magic Disney moments happen and in doing so is his own sort of Walt Disney. When a little boy ran up to the Lilly Belle his mother stopped him and told him that was only where the VIPs go. Mr. Smith got out at the next stop and asked them if they'd like to come back and see what it was like to ride in a rather exclusive attraction. A man eager to propose to his girlfriend at Disneyland caught Mr. Smith's attention when he tried to get reservations for the Blue Bayou but couldn't. Smith saved the day by upping his plans to a proposal in Club 33 instead. Not everyone who simply wants free Club 33 fastpasses ( with no time restriction ) will catch his attention but if you've been good and Santa's been watching, a little magic could come your way courtesy of a very generous man whose hobby is making a good day GREAT for Disney visitors. This isn't so much about my trip to Club 33 as it is about publicly thanking a man who has been host to so many people with nothing asked in return. ( But seriously, if you ever know a Mr. Smith, offer to pick up the tab as a simple common courtesy. ) Before I even start this trip report, I want to publicly thank a man who gives to so many, asks nothing in return, and chooses to remain anonymous. If that isn't a Disney hero then I don't know what is.
Myself and a small group of friends met Mr. Smith at the Grand Californian Hotel at DCA on Saturday April 6th at 7am. We met in the lobby with our Disney Hostess, Angie. He had warned us this day would be so different from anything we'd ever seen before that it would utterly ruin it for us ( in a good way ) and boy, did it ever. Thanks to him, in the next 16.5 hours we would go STRAIGHT ONTO 14 rides within seconds each with no waiting. We would see three shows with VIP seating, ride the Lilly Belle and see both Club 33 as well as 1901.
Our group consisted of myself, my friend Eric and his wife, and my friend Sean and his wife. We were joined by a couple of other people, most of whom won't be seen in these pictures to respect their privacy since they were ALSO Club 33 Platinum members. On a side note, at one point our tour group had THREE Club 33 Platinum members in it. I should mention that Club 33's own website claims there are only 487 members and those are typically divided over silver and gold memberships. Last July when 100 new members were allowed to join the deal was "Join as a platinum member or not at all." Currently, there are only 100 Platinum Club 33 members. So basically, there's over six billion people in the world, only 100 are Platinum Club 33 members, and three of them are together in one place at the same time. I'll admit, if they were to ever be in the same place at the same time I guess you would expect it would be at Disneyland and yet still, the chances of this are still pretty rare.
One more thing I want to clarify before I get on with the story is about who a Club 33 member is. For years I have walked by that "33" plaque and admired it, same as many Disney fans, and just imagined that only millionaires get to go past that door. I assumed it was for the ultra-privileged and that commoners would never make it beyond that threshold. While I refuse to say who they are or what they do for a living, you would be blown away to know that at least 3/100 Platinum members are average, everyday working joes like you and me. ( Well, okay, EXCEPTIONAL everyday people. ) You were probably standing by one in the supermarket, they may even have been the person at the counter helping you when you came in. I mean honest-to-God decent, down-to-earth people same as the rest of us. Every one of them were kind, decent people. It might also be worth noting that Disney's screening process for Club 33 isn't as simple as putting your name on a list, getting selected, paying a fee and then you're in. There's an interview and with good reason. Also, Wikipedia claims that members pay $10k to join and annual dues ranging from $3,500 to $6,100. Platinum members don't get off that lucky. Out of respect I won't speak figures but I will say the word "triple" would enter my description of what it takes to get a membership today. Imagine how motivated you would have to be to save money for x amount of years while waiting patiently just to get an chance at it!
I really feel that things like this need to be clarified, especially on this board, because there's so many people who have said something snide about Club 33 members as if they were self-entitled. Nothing could be further from the truth. From what I've seen they WORKED to get where they're at, no one gave it to them, and you simply don't walk into the park and request a membership by whipping out your checkbook and asking "How much?" It's members are about character. Mr. Smith is about more character than the majority of people I know, and whether in the park or not, you might run into him like others who did him a good turn and got the surprise of a Club 33 trip in their future.
Between 7am and 10am we left the Grand Californian and entered DCA. We went straight onto Mater's Jamboree and then Luigi's tires. After that it was Radiator Springs Racers ( twice ) and then California Screaming and Toy Story Midway Mania. In 3 hours we had been on 6 rides. SIX RIDES! No waiting! To steal a quote from Mel Brooks, "It's good to be the king." We were clearly on a VIP tour and a few ruffled feathers were heard from people in line but after years of seeing one of these tours it was pretty nice to be in one. Now I could understand it. The next time I'm at a park and see a group like this come through I'll choose to be happy for them because I'll understand just what a magic day they're having. Getting jealous is easy, it takes a bit more to be happy for someone else. You haven't seen the park until you've seen it this way.
From 10am to 11:20 we went to 1901, the DCA equivalent of Club 33. To say that going in there was "cool" is an understatement. If just going to Disneyland can make some adults feel like a kid again then this "kid" felt like putting his hands in his pockets to assure he didn't break any of the expensive stuff in 1901. When the doors opened we were greeted by a CM behind a counter. Behind the counter was a wall that blocked the view of the interior. Walking around either side of that wall revealed two basic rooms. There was the bar with four director-style chairs at it and a few tables between the bar and the wall behind the concierge. The four director style chairs read Walt, Lillian, Roy and Edna. The other room to the west of the bar was the lounge that looked out onto the circular hub of DCA. I perused the menu and ordered a Scotch Mist, identified on the menu as Walt's favorite drink. I forgot that I wasn't really a drinker, took a sip and my tongue went fuzzy. From what I've learned over the years, this means they didn't cut corners. The bartender, Ashlianne, told us that one of the secrets was using the right ice. Pure water with no bubbles like normal ice. The chunk of ice was put into a heavy aluminum device that clamped around the ice and use the aluminum body like a heatsink to form the ice into a perfect, crystal clear ball within seconds. I've always been a fan of crushed ice in my drinks but now I know I'm a rank amateur who knows nothing about ice. This is ice the 1901 way. This is what it means to be a Club 33 platinum member.
Our tour guide poses for a picture with us in Walt and Lillianís chairs.
The 1901 bar menu:
A customer waits for her drink. Itís 10am and technically we should have all been drinking hours ago.
Seated at my table, enjoying the sights. The picture in the upper right is actually a framed LCD of Walt drawing Mickey.
Every now and then Mickey would hop to life, turn around and wave, then jump back onto Waltís paper again.
Enjoying a quiet, peaceful moment in 1901. There is a certain amount of civilized decorum one must maintain in an exclusive place like 1901.
Well, there goes THAT!! Seriously, it was MY seat and I just got up to go to the restroom. Twenty chairs in the place and Eric just HAS to steal mine!
Some of the unique sights and pics never displayed outside of the archive.
Looking from the bar over to the lounge
Absolute class, all the way. No detail overlooked, memorabilia on every surface.
Mickey sure changed a lot over the years, this incarnation clearly being a pre-Disney theme park version.
Studio memos and a diagram of the steps to making a Disney Animated movie.
Walt over the decades at his various desks.
Self-explanatory to any true Disney fan.
Thatís some ceiling.
Sean and Kelly talk to our host about all things Disney, past and present. Sean works for Pixar as an animator and director and had a pretty good story of his own to tell. Animators at the studio are allowed to theme their offices. In Seanís case he did the most logical thing a Bostonian could do and made it up to look like the bar from Cheers. I donít just mean a sign or two, I mean wall paneling to look like wood or bricks, a bar counter complete with beer taps, barstools and an elevated desk area behind the counter. Going to see him at his desk must feel like stepping up to the bar and ordering a beer from the coach. You can imagine Seanís surprise when veteran Pixar voice actor John Ratzenberger came in one day, pulled up a stool and ordered a beer. The best part is that Sean actually had a couple of cold beers ready to go. <Ratzenberger voice> "Say there Normy, did'ja know the average Pixar voice actor does about two films? It's true. Except for me, I've done them all."
That drink sure helped to go climb on Tower of Terror around 11:40. Thrill rides arenít my thing, Iím not a kid, Iíve got nothing to prove. Öand yet Waltís favorite drink was the perfect warm up for this. Itís fun to note that our Disney hostess was with us through many of the rides, and for 16.5 hours! You can see Angie in the back right with the red bow on.
Once off the ride I bought a souvenier photo from a CM whose nametage said he was from Wake Island. ....Seriously, WAKE ISLAND! How many people in the world have ever been born on this famous ( or infamous ) battleground of World War Two? Show of hands? Anyone? No one? That's what I thought. Wake friggen' Island! There's Wal-Marts that are bigger than that. I had to congratulate him on being one in about 6 billion just for that.
From Tower of Terror we had reservations for the 12:40 showing of Aladdin which was amazing. Iíve never seen it before and now I realize what Iíve been missing. If youíve ever been to DCA and passed up on it because itís a stage show and youíre too interested in running from ride-to-ride, stop in and give it a look. Genies jokes are always fresh, taken straight from whatever was popular on the internet 5 minutes ago. The show itself doesnít remain contained to the stage, it spills out in the audience and sometimes flies down from the ceiling. The wire-work in this show deserves an award.
From there we went to Club 33 for a 2:15 lunch.
Eric pushed the coveted button and shortly thereafter we found ourselves inside. ( Seriously, that's a button-pushing face if I've ever seen one. )
The view outside from the trophy room to Royale Street below.
The famous talking bird and microphoned chandeliers that Wally Boag once manned for Waltís guests prior to opening.
Some of the sketches for gags meant to be used in attractions like Mine Train Through Natureís Wonderland.
Jungle Cruise and Schweitzer Falls.
Our party was so big that we needed to sit in the trophy room not the regular dining area. As the story goes, friends of Walt gave him taxidermied animals and heads. He didnít know what to do with them so they were put in here but as the years went on after Waltís passing, Lillian removed them and replaced them with drawings or stuffed animals in some cases. At one point her butterfly collection was on display here.
Lower right, Indiana Jones on vacation.
Club 33 souvenirs.
The famous harpsichord that Sir Elton John and Sir Paul McCartney have been known to play. In the background, Sir Sean works Sir Cameraphone with great success. ( Success-Sir? Too many puns? I'll stop. )
You came all this way to see Club 33 and then NOT have one of these eclairs? Of course not.
From the main Club 33 outside patio overlooking Royale Street and the Trophy Room.
Trinity enjoys a once-in-a-lifetime view of New Orleans Square from the balcony while Eric matches wits with his phone. Iím not sure who won.
A view from the balcony overlooking the Rivers of America.
Then it was time to get back to the rides. Our first stop was The Tiki Room where Mr. Smith asked Maynard ( or Tiki-Maynard for those of you who know him ) to have me wake up Jose. I've only heard about Maynard, never met him, but he's a bit like Howling Mad Murdoch from the A-Team only with Red Bull and a bottle of painkillers. In short, that's one talented dude. I can now see why he's Disneyland's favorite CM.
Next was the Haunted Mansion. You havenít LIVED until youíve had the Haunted Mansion elevator to yourself.
I got this unassuming picture for no other reason than that I could. Itís the floor of the elevator while weíre going down. I took it because you can SEE the floor, not 100+ people crowded together.
After the ride, a quick stop out back to see the oft-overlooked Pet Cemetery.
Next up was VIP fastpassing through PotC and Indy, then a trip toÖ
There it is, the world-famous Lilly Belle. Rarely seen and even when it is, accessible to only a few. Iíve been curious about it for a long time but just assumed that like Club 33 it was simply out of my reach. To quote Jeff Bridges from Tron:Legacy, ďÖand then one day, I got in.Ē
The interior was beautiful! This project was all about craftsmanship. Not a hinge off balance, not a screw missing, not one detail overlooked. Much like being in 1901, I was scared to touch anything. This car is a museum! Emperor Hirohito once gave the Disneys a Japanese kimono and it hung in here for many years. To preserve it better the kimono was moved to the archives and a replica now sits in its place. That seems like a wise move because itís entirely too accessible to sticky fingers, even at a limited access attraction like this.
A photo of Walt and Lillian sits in the corner.
The crushed velvet seats and carpet were in fabulous condition, like they had hardly been used. Our benefactor enjoyed taking the chair Johnny Depp once claimed as his own which now makes that chair twice as valuable in my opinion. On the Lilly Belle this should technically be called a throne. Inside a drawer in the nightstand were two books. One is a logbook that guests can sign ( been there, done that! ) as well as a photo album of rarely seen Disney pics. Hereís President Johnson giving Walt the highest honor a civilian can be given, the Presidential Medal of Freedom on September 14, 1964.
This sign might have raised an eyebrow from Walt had he ridden it, but probably wouldnít have stopped him.
Well thereís a view you donít get every day.
We got off the Lilly Belle about 7pm and made one pass each through Matterhorn, Space Mountain and Star Tours. Star Tours had a wee delay for a code green but hey, anything can happen in space. Some brief shopping then off to VIP seating at the 9pm World of Color. Even if youíve seen it before, you havenít seen it from any better seats than the reserved ones. You can see EVERYTHING without obstruction.
After World of Color we did some shopping, went to go see what the new Fantasy Faire looks like and then grabbed VIP seats for Fantasmic. Fantasmic was spectacular, as always, but from those VIP seats you could see everything from one end to the other, perfectly. Our host explained that Shockwave ( again, no names, Iíll let you figure it out ) not only designed the fiber-optics in the performers costumes but came up with some of the lighting patterns ( or should I say ďlightningĒ patterns ) when Maleficent shoots lightning towards the exiting floats.
We did SO MUCH in one day! We saw things behind the scenes, we had the royal VIP tour, we missed nothing, and I don't recall ever standing in any line for more than 30 seconds. At the end of the day my feet felt great which is so completely abnormal after a 16 hour day. Our host thanked our tour guide Angie who put in a miraculous amount of time putting up with us and in case anyone reading is a CM that knows her, please extend the thanks of everyone there who couldn't thank her in time.
On Sunday I woke up and just sat there thinking "Did this really happen? Was I dreaming? Have I been hitting the sauce again? Why do I smell like a scotch mist?" I've been walking around all week with a smile on my face you couldn't remove with a belt sander.
Thank you Mr. Smith. Such generosity to complete strangers. I asked him if anyone ever bothered to thank him by returning the favor and he said, "No, that's not what I want. What I want is YOU to pass on the magic to someone else. When you see the opportunity to do something nice for someone else that just plusses their day beyond expectations, do it."
I recognized the smile on his face as he said that. It was the same one I'd seen in a photograph of Walt in 1901 earlier.