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LA Times

Wait to get into exclusive restaurant may be longest ever at Disneyland

The park plans to expand membership in its almost-mythical Club 33, but that might come too late for some.

By Kimi Yoshino, Times Staff Writer June 21, 2007

Modest facade

The wait to get a membership for Disneyland's exclusive Club 33 is so long that wannabe members joke that the only way to move up the list is for somebody to die.

Dale has been parked on Club 33's waiting list since 2001, and Robert Tickell for about that long. And poor Chris Villaflor Walt Disney Co. informed him this month that the list is so bloated, he can't even get on it.

But now, there might be hope at least a glimmer of it. Disneyland officials said that over the next year they plan to rearrange some tables to add seating capacity to the members-only restaurant tucked away in New Orleans Square, identifiable only by a green door with the address: 33.

The membership, which stands at about 487, could increase to 500. Not exactly a huge growth spurt, especially considering that the nine-year waiting list is capped at 1,000 people.

It's so incremental that Tickell laughed hysterically when he heard the number. "That sounds like Disney," he said. "They're very protective of that club."

The club, created by Walt Disney himself as a place where he could entertain investors and business associates, didn't open until 1967, after his death. Since then it has been visited by presidents, princes and celebrities.

The restaurant, named for its address on 33 Royal St. in the park, is so secretive that the door remains locked and only members with a reservation are allowed in. (The club needed an address because one was required for its liquor license.)

Of its 487 members, individuals slightly outnumber corporations. Corporate memberships cost $25,000, plus $5,925 in annual fees. Individuals pay a $9,500 initiation fee, then $3,175 annually, Disneyland Resort spokesman Bob Tucker said.

Aside from the exclusivity, there are other perks. Reservations for a meal at the club include access to Disneyland for the day for those in the member's party, though they still have to pay their meal tabs.

Members are also invited to behind-the-scenes tours and holiday events and can request the presence of Mickey Mouse or any other Disney character at their meals. Memberships cannot be sold, leased, transferred or bequeathed.

"This experience cannot be matched anywhere else," said Mary Niven, Disneyland Resort's vice president of food and beverage. "Because the club is for members and their guests only, our cast knows individual preferences at a level that is truly unique."

Membership is limited by the capacity of the restaurant, Niven said. Even now, members must make reservations weeks in advance. Park officials want to make sure that members can still come when they want.

New membership slots are allocated starting at the top of the waiting list. Dale, an Anaheim resident who operates http://www.disneylandclub33.com , a fan website, doesn't know exactly where he stands in the line.

"They really don't like to disclose to you your exact position," he said. "It's merely, 'Well, you're near the top.' That's what I was told."

That's better than Villaflor, a 30-year-old Garden Grove resident who got his rejection letter June 12. When he got home and saw the mail, he excitedly ripped open the letter, only to see a brief message that due to "overwhelming demand," Club 33 would not be adding any names to the waiting list.

"I started screaming, 'Why? Why? This isn't fair!" said Villaflor, who works as a copy editor. He can't afford the pricey membership fee, but figured that with a near-decade-long wait, he had plenty of time to save up. "If they don't have more people, I'm never going to be on the list!"

Villaflor hasn't set foot in the club, but he's read plenty about it.

The Internet is full of myths and secrets about Club 33. Many revolve around the Trophy Room, which incorporates microphones in each chandelier and a vulture that can talk. Walt Disney intended to spice up dinners by having the vulture converse with guests.

An antique glass elevator whisks people upstairs to the elegant dining room, where gourmet meals are served. Lucky guests might catch a glimpse of a celebrity: Elton John, Kobe Bryant and Arnold Schwarzenegger have all dined there.

Visitors can also buy limited-edition Club 33 souvenirs, which can't be purchased by regular park guests. Many of the items are highly collectible. A single blue dinner plate with the Club 33 emblem, for example, was selling for $450 on EBay this week.

Tickell, a 55-year-old Signal Hill resident, is less interested in the souvenirs than the experience. He's had a soft spot for Disneyland since he was a child. On one visit, Tickell lost his wallet and $5 his mother had given him. He reported this to her, upset and tearful.

Walt Disney himself overheard.

"About two shops down was their souvenir shop," Tickell said. "He came back with a Mickey Mouse wallet and he put $5 in it. And he said, 'No one at Disneyland should ever have to cry.' "

Uncle Walt can't rescue him this time. With only five or six years under his belt, Tickell's got a long wait ahead.



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