Club 33 has announced to its members at Disneyland that a separate Club 33 will be coming to Walt Disney World later this year. Actually, make that four Club 33 locations, one in Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Each of these locations will be themed to the travels of Lillian and Walt Disney.
This news broke last week, and while Disney has not made an official announcement to the general public nor has Walt Disney World opened up memberships for purchase, those interested can email WDWClub33@disneyworld.com. You probably shouldn’t expect an official announcement on this, actually. Club 33 at Disneyland has proven wildly successful at Disneyland by being (mostly) discreet, and the wait list for membership there has often been measured in decades.
The rumor of Club 33 at Walt Disney World has floated around for a few years, with some even expecting that the location now housing Skipper Canteen would be the club prior to that restaurant’s announcement. Now that we finally know for sure that Club 33 is coming to Walt Disney World, we’ll take a look at what this likely means, and my thoughts on whether Club 33 is ‘worth it’…
Since the news of Club 33 coming to Walt Disney World broke, there has been a lot of chatter about whether this is sustainable in central Florida. After giving it a lot of thought, my take is yes. Despite Florida lacking the level of affluence found in Los Angeles or Orange County, California, I think there’s a huge market for Club 33 at Walt Disney World.
It’s the same market that drives Disney Vacation Club sales and Golden Oak mansion purchases: wealthy, out-of-state purchasers. While some Club 33 members will no doubt be Florida locals, I doubt this will constitute a majority–and I’d also doubt this is even the target demographic Disney will cater. (To the contrary, I’d expect Walt Disney World will actively avoid locals when pitching Club 33.)
Several years ago during its period of largest expansion, Disney Vacation Club operated two “Doorway to Dreams” stores in affluent suburbs of Chicago and New York City. These stores have since closed (we visited the one in Schaumburg regularly–it was really cool), but they demonstrated just how huge of drivers these areas are for Disney Vacation Club.
Likewise, Golden Oak has proven quite successful since its opening, to the point that the new Four Seasons Private Residences expansion will have starting pricing even higher, at $5 million. About half of the current residents at Golden Oak do not list the home as their primary residence for tax purposes, meaning there is ample demand to spend over $1 million plus annual dues on a home inside Walt Disney World.
Given that, it’s easy to envision there being demand from vacationers for a club with an initiation fee of (let’s say) $25,000 plus $5,000 in annual dues. It might be naive of me to assume Walt Disney World will offer a lower buy-in price than Disneyland, but I think the potential frequency with which Club 33 members will be using the locations at Walt Disney World as compared to Disneyland helps justify the numbers.
Additionally, it’s always easier to raise prices later if demand proves high than to lower them. Club 33 is not a temporary cabana that Disney can remove if sales do not meet expectations. Once opened, this is a long-term commitment for Walt Disney World.
I could see Disney starting sales for Club 33 by quietly soliciting Golden Oak members and Disney Vacation Club members with the highest point-holdings. This could be done by offering each an “introductory offer” with the prices listed above (or somewhere in those ballparks) in an effort to secure an initial slew of members sufficient to make Club 33 viable and appear successful. (Photos on social media of empty Club 33 locations would certainly not be good for future sales.)
As for my thoughts on this, it holds little interest to me. If you read our New-Look Club 33 at Disneyland Review last year, you know I was not exactly full of praise for the experience. While I can admit to myself that (like everyone else) I’m drawn to exclusive experiences, I’m too frugal to be interested in them for their own sake unless there’s something substantively meritorious to them.
At Disneyland, Club 33 used to have the Walt Disney history as its meritorious draw. It no longer has that. To me, it’s now just a fancy restaurant, with no meaningful substantive distinction between it and Napa Rose. Likewise, I have a hard time envisioning what these Club 33 locations at Walt Disney World will be able to offer on a substantive level to make them “worth it.”
Being located inside Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom would be the obvious answer, but it seems doubtful Disney would convert Cinderella’s Royal Table (itself lucrative) and the Cinderella Castle Suite is too small. Although the locations are all themed to Walt and Lillian’s travels, I think it’s likely “cool” in-park spots will be chosen for the Club 33s, rather than thematically-appropriate ones.
At Epcot, an obvious choice seems like converting one of the former sponsor lounges. (I just hope they don’t take the Imagination Lounge from DVC members!) At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, reviving the once-rumored Tower of Terror bar seems like a winning idea. Pandora makes sense at Animal Kingdom, particularly since an area could’ve been set aside during construction.
In three of these locations, the space will need to be retrofit or carved out of an existing spot. Even if my guesses at locations are wrong, this is almost necessarily the case irrespective of actual locations since the supposed opening for Club 33 is Fall 2017–a relatively short timeframe.
To me, that suggests that what’s coming is not a slew of large restaurants, but rather, four lounges. This also makes sense given the demographics of buyers, and the ability to drop in for drinks and light refreshments probably makes a lot more sense than a 3-hour fine dining experience.
Even if these restaurants/lounges are in the coolest spots in each park at Walt Disney World, it’s pretty difficult to say this will be “worth it” beyond exclusivity. Like I wrote in our new-look Club 33 review (while comparing a desire to get into Club 33 to my cat’s desire to get into a room with a shut door), I get the allure of exclusive experiences. It’s human nature. We all want to feel special, and having access to a thing other people do not is one way that makes people attain that feeling.
It sounds almost silly writing about in the abstract, but this is the main appeal of membership clubs like this, whether or not people want to admit it. The difficulty is in recognizing this desire and admitting it if you don’t have the level of wealth at which money is no issue.
On the other hand, this is one ‘stratification’ or upcharge that really does not bother me, so long as it’s integrated into the parks tastefully and not blatant to normal guests. There’s a surplus of unused facilities at Walt Disney World that could easily be converted, and there’s the potential for this to enhance some guests’ experiences without impacting others in a negative way. Moreover, it’s a way for Disney to chase a new revenue stream (something they’ll do regardless) without impacting existing guests.
For Club 33 at Walt Disney World to succeed, Disney needs two types of people to buy into it: the uber-wealthy who can purchase without thought for the sake of status (think Golden Oak owners) and mass-affluent Disney fans who visit multiple times per year, but who must still give thought to discretionary purchases (think DVC members).
If you’re a multi-millionaire who already owns a house in Golden Oak, it’s likely you have the amount of income or net worth that allows joining Club 33 without giving the financials a second thought. The actual amount of the Club 33 initiation fee and dues are no concern, because you’ve already decided you want to join, and that’s all that matter.
On the other hand, if you’re a hardcore Disney fan who wants to be a part of something special and are awaiting final numbers to determine whether membership makes financial sense for you, give serious thought to the real value of exclusivity. Even at a conservative $25,000 initiation fee and $5,000 annual dues, you could purchase a 162-point Grand Floridian Villas DVC contract via resale, pay all annual dues on that every year, and still have enough money left over to do 16 meals at Victoria & Albert’s–with wine pairings–per year. I’m not saying that’s a good use of that same money, but from my perspective it’s an unquestionably better substantive use of those funds than buying into Club 33 at Walt Disney World.
What do you think about the addition of Club 33 to Walt Disney World? Does a membership interest you, or do you view this as more stratification of the guest experience in the parks? Would you have more or less interest if this were a restaurant, or a lounge? Any potential locations for the dining experiences that you think make sense? Let’s hear some of your thoughts about this news in the comments below!