Disneyland's Hidden Gems
Membership Has Its Rewards
Of these concealed treasures, the most famous one, which yet remains elusive to the great majority of guests, is the park’s “secret” club. Tucked in among a barrage of colorful shops and eateries in New Orleans Square stands an unobtrusive door with the simple identifier of the number 33 to the right of the door, and a doorbell that seems to have no effect when pressed. For those with approved access, however, a press of the doorbell is rewarded with a response via intercom, followed by that grand moment of the door’s opening, affording an immediate view of the beautiful staircase and rare French Lift that carries guests upstairs to the exclusive Club 33. Crossing the threshold is a special moment to savor: the bustling sounds of New Orleans Square quickly subside as the door gently closes, and you are enveloped in elegance. Your VIP treatment begins as the Club 33 host greets you and invites you upstairs.
Hidden in Plain Sight
New Orleans Square Secret
How to See Club 33 Without a Membership!
The nearby Pirates of the Caribbean attraction is crowned with the Dream Suite, unique accommodations crafted as a prize for winners of a particular Disneyland promotion. Long before the Dream Suite was developed, this space was originally built to serve as special accommodations for another purpose: a private apartment for use by the Walt Disney family. A series of connected rooms surrounded an open, outdoor patio with a cheery, splashing fountain, and vestibules opened out to balconies overlooking New Orleans Square and the Rivers of America. Sadly, Walt did not live to enjoy this in-park cottage, but luckily for Disneyland visitors, these rooms were opened to guests for two decades, serving as the Disney Gallery, which sold cels, lithographs and prints of Disney artwork. The Disney Gallery has since relocated to Main Street, in the former Bank of America location, and with the end of the Year of a Million Dreams promotion, the lovely rooms above the Pirates of the Caribbean have once again been closed off from visitors, save for VIPs or the lucky few who win or otherwise obtain a special stay in the now beautifully refurbished rooms.
Capture the Hidden Secrets!
Although Walt never did get to enjoy his fancy New Orleans Square apartment, he did have a special home away from home located right in the park. It is still there to this day, discreetly positioned above the fire station on Main Street. Glancing up from the fire truck, visitors may see a light on in the upstairs window. That lamp stands in Walt Disney’s private apartment, where he could keep an eye on the construction of Disneyland and gather his family to be with him during the long hours he put in at the park. The lit lamp in the window was a signal that Walt was in the park. After Walt’s passing, his widow, Lillian, would still come to Disneyland and use the apartment. Then, the lit lamp in the window was a signal to all that Mrs. Disney was present in the park.
Walt's Home Away From Home
Mrs. Disney is also connected with another quiet gem of the park. Working with model trains was intended as a relaxing hobby for Walt Disney, but it turned into a major production when he installed a ⅛ scale line at his Holmby Hills residence. He loved to play engineer and invite people over for a ride on his Carolwood Pacific line. In his wife’s honor, Walt named one of his model trains the Lilly Belle. All visitors can see the actual scale model Lilly Belle on display inside the Main Street Railroad Station in Disneyland.
A Belle Model
The Lilly Belle Car
Walt extended his love of trains from his home to the new park he was building in Anaheim. Years later, after Walt had passed, the original Grand Canyon Observation Car was made over into a VIP car and also named the Lilly Belle in honor of Walt’s widow. This car was romantically dressed out for her comfort and in her taste, with burgundy mohair upholstered furnishings, mahogany wood panels, carpeting from the bolt originally intended for Walt’s apartment, stained glass windows at the ceiling and delicate lace curtains throughout. This parlor car still runs at the park, primarily reserved for VIPs and special guests. Visitors may yet catch a glimpse of it on the tracks now and then, always placed as the caboose. While it is not typically available to Disneyland guests in general, a request to a friendly conductor just might afford an opportunity to ride in this ornate car of Victorian elegance.
The Walking In Walt’s Footsteps tour at Disneyland may grant guests limited access to some or all of these special places within the park. But even without gaining entrance to Club 33, Walt’s apartments or the Lilly Belle, just knowing of their presence at the park adds another layer to the Disneyland experience, one of mystique and intrigue that goes beyond the thrill of the E-ticket rides, adding the thrill of history and romance to any visit.
© M.S. Ross - All Rights Reserved
Your Turn: What Hidden Gems Have You Experienced?
Have you ever dined in Club 33, spent a night in the Dream Suite, visited Walt's apartment or ridden the Lilly Belle? Share your experiences in the comments section below.
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