Walt’s Is Better Than Club 33.
This blog doesn’t exactly shower restaurants at Disneyland Paris with praise. Positives–any positives–about the dining scene in France’s Disney parks are few and far between, but here’s a big one: Walt’s – An American Restaurant is better than Club 33.
That’s right. I would rather dine at the general public restaurant on Main Street at Disneyland Paris that pays tribute to the park’s lands and life of Walt Disney than I would the posh and private eatery above the plebs in New Orleans Square. This is true even if money were no issue, and is not hyperbole. Even though the cuisine is exceptional at Club 33, I think Walt’s is the better themed experience.
Now, before you go dismissing this as sour grapes or me wanting to reassure myself that I’m not missing out on an exclusive experience that I can’t have anyway, we’ve been to Club 33 several times. I have zero desire to return. In fact, there are a few restaurants that offer roughly comparable experiences to Club 33 that are superior to Disneyland’s private membership club.
At Disneyland, there’s Napa Rose and Carthay Circle Restaurant. At Walt Disney World, there’s Victoria & Albert’s, Jiko, California Grill (and perhaps others). At Tokyo Disney Resort, there’s Magellan’s and Teddy Roosevelt Lounge (and perhaps their Club 33).
While all of those might be interesting comparisons to the original Club 33, the most fascinating is Walt’s – An American Restaurant because it’s the most analogous.
Walt’s style and theme are quite similar to what Club 33 used to be, and in fact, former Imagineer Eddie Sotto even stated that the thinking when designing Walt’s was, “why can’t people who don’t have a membership get the experience like Club 33?”
Even if the two restaurants are radically different today, the shared lineage raises an interesting question: in a Disney setting, is the luxury-first approach of present-day Club 33 better, or is the theme-first style of Walt’s and OG Club 33? In this post, I’ll share photos from Walt’s to make my case (even though they don’t really do it justice), plus my thoughts on both restaurants.
Note that this comparison focuses solely on theme and design, which I believe are the defining characteristics of Disney restaurants (great meals can be found in abundance among real world restaurants; usually better and at lower price points). If we were discussing food, Club 33 trounces Walt’s, and that’s even taking into account the dramatically-improved new menu at Walt’s, which is quite good.
As background, I did not exactly having glowing things to say about the remodeled Club 33. In our New-Look Club 33 Photo Tour & Review post, I described it as “Art Nouveau Riche” and lamented the design that featured excessive ornamentation for its own sake, as if to flaunt its own fanciness and say, “look at me…I’m expensive design!”
My opinion of Disneyland’s Club 33 has not changed since. The design is not well-appointed, it’s every bit as tacky as a designer handbag with a logo pattern. (Okay, maybe not that bad.) Club 33 has a McMansion aesthetic, trading in character and rich design for the pretense of wealth and faux luxury.
It might seem excessive, but the McMansion comparison is apt, and I’ll take that one step further with an analogy: Walt’s is to Club 33 what Palm Springs is to Calabasas. Walt’s is elegant and well-appointed, and the interior design was carried out in a thoughtful manner.
With every detail and flourish at Walt’s, there’s the sense of a greater purpose. An effort to tell a story, evoke the atmosphere of a particular land, or make homage to aspects of Walt Disney’s life. Like a complex dish, disparate ingredients are carefully presented in such a deft way that they meld beautifully, and create something that is more than the sum of its parts. Something perfect.
For me, this is the magic of Walt’s – An American Restaurant. As an abstraction, “fine dining themed to pay tribute to the life and work of Walt Disney” sounds like a really tough concept to pull off.
It’s not that the paying tribute to Walt Disney is somehow at odds with a fine dining restaurant, it’s that accomplishing both simultaneously is a tall order.
However, the Imagineers responsible for Walt’s nailed the design. Ornate woodwork, draperies, carpet, light fixtures, wallpaper, and so on, all was chosen with purpose in Walt’s.
Even though none of these things explicitly reference the theme, the choices in each dining room are unique and do an excellent job of reinforcing it.
It’s remarkable how minute details implicitly work to evoke certain thematic motifs, which in turn provide to guests a sense of the old west, fantasy, adventure, discovery, and so on.
It’s also impressive how, much like in the park itself, these very different themes work together. It’s not just that they don’t clash, which alone is impressive, the restaurant actually has a cohesive design!
Contrast this with the design for the new-look Club 33, where it sure seems that the tail wagged the dog. A large chunk of its Walt-centric history was gutted, and replaced with generic high-end finishings.
The goal was not a rich restaurant, but a fancy one. Most style choices appear to be predicated on a conspicuous display of wealth. The new design is superficial and gaudy. There’s no there there.
In a nutshell, that’s ultimately what separates Walt’s – An American Restaurant from present-day Club 33. The latter is fancy and luxurious, no doubt, but an argument could also be made that Cheesecake Factory is ‘fancy.’ (Too far?)
Likewise, Walt’s – An American Restaurant is luxurious…but it’s also richly detailed, thematically deep, and skillfully designed. It doesn’t rely upon a bunch of overt signifiers that its fancy, because its elegance speaks for itself.
So there you have it…if you’ve been itching to drop tens of thousands of dollars in initiation fees, plus thousands more each year, for the experience of Club 33, instead drop a couple thousand on airfare to Paris and a meal at Walt’s – An American Restaurant. So long as you aren’t preoccupied with exclusivity, the latter is the better and cheaper option…and you’ll get to see France!
If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, tips for booking a hotel (off-site or on-site), where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!
If you’ve been to Walt’s or the new-look Club 33, what did you think of them? If you’ve been to both, do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!
Thinking of trying to visit Disneyland Paris with my kiddos, but wary of traveling abroad with kids in a country where I don’t speak any of the language. I felt safer staying at Disneyland where I knew some English will be available. I was thinking of staying there for the entire trip and taking some of their offered excursions to see Paris sights as part of our stay. Have you done this? Would you recommend this or trying to navigate it on my own?
This blog was sent in an email by the designer of Walt’s, Eddie Soto. Why? Because I, along with my immediate boss, Bob Brown (Walt Disney’s son in-law who was married to Sharon) and Dorothea Redmond were responsible for the deign of the original Club 33. Not Emile Kuri as it states in the Club’s menu. My position at WED Enterprises, now Imagineering or WDI was Interior Designer and I was the only Interior Designer at that time (1964-1970)
I actually traveled with Walt, his wife Lilly, Walt”s brother Roy, his wife, Edna, Bob Brown and Sharon, Herb Ryman, Bill Evans and four others to New Orleans where we did research into the architecture and where many of the antiques and artifacts were purchased for the interior of the
original Club 33, sadly most have disappeared.
I visited the newly re-done Club 33 a couple of years ago and was surprised at the decor as there was an ordinance in
New Orleans that no Art Decor or Art Nouveau design could
be used in Old Tow nNew Orleans and on which Disneyland New Orleans is patterned.
Every designer wants to leave their mark but when I was there the person we had to satisfy was Walt and Walt approved of the design and furnishings for the original Club 33 including the French Maid costumes for the waitresses that were designed by John Hench.
Sadly Walt died before Club 33 was finished so never saw the end result but we tried to produce what had been planned and in looking back, know he would have approved’
of the original CLub 33.
I have not been to Walt’s so cannot compare the two but have shared what I know of the original CLub 33
I appreciated your article comparing the design of the two spaces. We tried to tell the story of Walt Disney as a person on the ground floor and the success that led to the first Disney park, then show guests though art and sculpture how Imagineers designed the lands in the various dining rooms. Continuity and details were our watchwords.
At the time, operations questioned the ethnic design of one of the dining rooms as being “out of theme”. We showed them our research of how interiors of that time mimicked exotic places (not to mention period wall covering featuring those designs) to show how well travelled people were, how those rooms were “escapes”, and that those themes were indeed incredibly well drawn and accurate. They relented.
Obviously the original Club 33 we were mimicking had great views, was exclusive and was intimate and personal. Those qualities along with telling Europe the story of a “man” versus a “brand” was our goal (and was appreciated by Sharon Disney his daughter when she toured the space) . Thank you for seeing the story we were all trying to tell. Our team that worked so hard at making it “seamless” thanks you for noticing. – Eddie Sotto, Ex Imagineer, Designer for MSUSA DLP.
Comparing restaurants that are so far away as well as having completely different objectives, menus, and clientele makes no sense. This is obviously a first world problem and a narrow subset of fortunate Disney fans that have the chance to visit and compare. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
Literally every topic discussed on a blog about Disney is a first world problem. The topic of the post is readily ascertainable from the title, so you probably could’ve saved yourself some ridiculousness by simply not reading it.
Now I enjoy the atmosphere of Walt’s as much as the next guy, but “a meal at Walt’s is cheaper than signing up to Club 33” is about as valid a comparison as “well, a tent at the Magic Kingdom is cheaper than sawing off your arm”.
I know it was tongue in cheek; but you can’t help but let out an ironic sigh at paying €50 for a meal that comes with a side of “Walt’s favourite Chili Con Carne”. I don’t view many things at DLP as a rip off, but this restaurant is a blatant attempt to cash in on Walt’s name and legacy to sell “fine” dining that isn’t even that good.
The design is absolutely fantastic, I absolutely agree about the restaurant’s incredible sense of place, and I am forgiving of Disney food standards not matching the real world. But Walt’s food quality to price comparison relates to the real world about as much as “Planet Z” does. For your money, a meal at Cali Grill or Yacht Club will give you a better experience, which is just as on-point for its theme.
My wife and I had opportunity to eat at Walt’s many times while living in Paris for a few years. We both loved it especially at lunch during a parade. We eaten at most of Disney’s fine dining restaurants and still feel that Walt’s is one of our favorites.
While I have not been to Walts in Disneyland Paris, I have been to Club 33 at Disneyland many times, both before and after the renovation.
First, the old club 33 was much different. The cuisine was better than anything around at the time, by far. They took time with each meal, and it showed. Plus there was the history. Walt went there, often, and it just as he left it. You could almost feel him being there or expect him to walk in the door unannounced.
With the renovation, new Club 33 had new decor and opened the members only lounge it seems like Walt had left the building. No more decor or artwork that Walt had picked out, or furniture he could have sat on. It was gone.
And gone was a great menu. The replaced prefixed menu was made for profitability and consistency, not a fixe star chef in the back taking extra care for every meal. There were no more James Beard Award chefs there any longer. They left the building too with the renovation.
So while I haven’t been to Walts, i do agree with your assessment with of Club 33 in Disneyland. If you want to go to any of the lounges in Orlando, let me know and I’ll meet you there. (I’m a member).
actually, Walt never visited Club 33 as far as I’ve read…it opened after his death…
Nope. Disagree strongly. And I have dined at both multiple times. Now, it’s been a few years since I was last at Walt’s and I don’t like what they did to expand Club 33 (really to get the bloggers, addicts and fans with more money than sense … much like what is happening at WDW now with its four 33-branded lounges). I agree with much of your post. But the food at Walt’s has never been in the same ballpark as 33. Also, didn’t the recent menu change add a 55 Euro burger? I know you like your burgers, as do I, but really no burger on the planet is worth that.
As to DLP dining, have a meal at the California Grill if you want to have an experience on par with the absolute best Disney restaurants on the globe. Somewhere that compares favorably with say Victoria & Albert’s. … If you just want an excellent meal in the park itself, try the Silver Spur Steakhouse.
But I have probably dined at Walt’s close to 10 times in my life and not one meal came close to my experiences at Club 33, let alone the California Grill (DLP version … or for that matter — WDW version too!)
“But the food at Walt’s has never been in the same ballpark as 33.”
I guess I should’ve been more clear in the post that I’m focused on theme and design. While the new menu at Walt’s (it was entirely redone last year, I believe) is a huge improvement over the meh cuisine before, it’s still not in the same ballpark as Club 33.
If anything, Club 33’s menu is better now than it was before the gut-job. That’s really the one good thing that came out of that whole debacle. However, it wasn’t my intent to compare the two in that regard.
However, if I must, tack-on the cost of any random Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris to the equation. The trip to France is still cheaper and better than joining Club 33. 😉
I agree about membership fees. I think people who are members have more money than sense (and I obviously have friends who are members or I would not have been at all). I do think the new food is fantastic — and my friends warned me going in that the food hadn’t been great post-renovation. The former chef, BTW, is now head at Steakhouse 55. Anyway, I have a standing invite now to the Club 33 in Shanghai, so will try that whenever I get back there. And I am sure you will get multiple folks offering you entrance to the Orlando lounges (btw, are they open? Some people say that EPCOT has opened. And considering the ridiculous secrecy I could see them demanding no photos until they officially make a big deal about them.) … Back to Walt’s, much like Club 33 (the real one) it has changed from the original, which lost its entire first floor dining room for more retail space. I have had good to very good meals there, but not exceptional.
But seriously, try the California Grill at DLP. It is by far the best experience at the resort. Our meal on our honeymoon was one of the best meals I have ever had in France. Period.