Tracking clues to Shanghai Disney's hidden perk: a members-only Club 33
By Julie Makinen
Jun 17, 2016 | 1:39 PM
Opening its $5.5-billion resort in mainland China this week, Walt Disney Co. has been eager to share all manner of details about its Shanghai theme park — down to how many bok choy it expects to serve in the first year of operation (12 million, if you’re wondering).
But one thing Disney reps have not been keen to discuss is whether the resort has a Club 33, the members-only establishment for well-heeled and well-connected fans of the Mouse House.
Design documents for the theme park posted online three years ago revealed that significant elements of Chinese culture were being incorporated. The documents also posited a less-than-egalitarian Club 33 would be located in the Shanghai resort, which is operated by a joint venture in which Disney holds a 43% stake and the state-owned Shanghai Shendi Group owns the rest.
Still, evidence was scant until this week, when the park formally opened its doors to the public on Thursday.
One morsel came courtesy of Michael Chase, a senior project manager with Walt Disney Imagineering who designed the Walt Disney Grand Theatre in the Disneytown shopping district, where a Mandarin version of the Disney Broadway show “The Lion King” debuted on Tuesday evening.
On June 8, Chase posted a photo on Instagram tagged with the location “Club 33 Shanghai Disneyland” and showing a white-linen-covered table with a flower centerpiece and a leather-bound menu with the number 33 on it. A link to the post on Twitter said, “Just a hint at where I had dinner last night. #club33 #shanghaidisneyland.”
More confirmation came from no less than Willow Bay, director of the Annenberg School of Journalism at USC (and wife of Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger). Asked Friday via Twitter whether a photo she took of the park’s opening moments was shot from Club 33 above Mickey Avenue near the entrance gates, she replied: “yes, it sure is.”
Bay did not respond to follow-up messages. A Disney spokeswoman did not reply to multiple requests for comment on Friday.
An arched doorway with the address 33 and flanked by painted trees apparently is one entry to the exclusive club, located just west of Mickey Avenue and facing the Enchanted Storybook Castle and Gardens of Imagination.
After Thursday morning’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, a number of VIP guests made their way to that doorway but were told by staff that they could not enter and were diverted to another venue.
Eagle-eyed visitors to the adjacent Disneytown shopping district have spotted another doorway marked with a simple “33,” indicating the club is accessible from both inside and outside the theme park gates.
The original Club 33 opened at Disneyland in 1967, six months after Walt Disney’s death. The impresario had envisioned Club 33 as a private place to entertain investors and business associates. The limited membership, said to number just 500 at Disneyland, has only added to the club’s mystique.
The club's annual dues, said to run $12,000 a year, entitle members to park admission, exclusive benefits and access to the only alcohol regularly served at Disneyland.
Another Club 33 operates at Tokyo Disneyland, and a members-only club called 1901 (the year of Walt’s birth) operates at Anaheim’s California Adventure park.
Yingzhi Yang in The Times' Beijing bureau contributed to this report.