Tucked away, in the midst of the Magical Kingdom, just above the long, winding line for the Pirates of the Carribean, lies an exquisite and private dining experience, one which is so subtly concealed that most people would never even know that it was there. The 21 Royal Club, initially constructed as a private residence for Walt and Lillian Disney, now beckons those in search of a “magical” evening, rich with not only fine food and wine, but also with stories and hidden buttons, which can be pressed to make trains start up and Disney songs begin to play.
A group of ten of our friends, and my husband and I, were recently at a fund-raising event for the Pacific Symphony. We collectively bid on, and won, one of these special evenings. Publicized as costing a shocking $15,000 for the night, it is now even more exclusive than that — dining is by invitation only.
On the appointed afternoon, we met our VIP concierge, who ushered us into an elegant black mini-bus and drove us through “backstage Disney,” before depositing us near the foot of the staircase leading up to the 21 Royal.
We were welcomed into the parlour, offered warm hand-towels on a silver tray, and were time-warped into the elegance of the 1960s. Decorated in the “Empire Style” of 19th century New Orleans, every detail feels period-appropriate.
Walt had initially constructed a six-hundred square foot apartment for his residence while he was at the park. But, it wasn’t large enough to handle grand-children and other visitors. So, he envisioned this New Orleans-style hide-away. Sadly, he died before its completion. For several years, the space was utilized for offices, and then for an art gallery.
But, the detailed watercolor paintings and sketches which he had comissioned from famed production designer Dorothea Redmond still existed. And so, in 2007, the dream came to life.
We were offered a choice of two signature drinks — champagne with Crème de Violette or a spiced fizzy gin cocktail — and then turned loose to explore.
Every detail exudes Walt Disney’s whimsical touch, from the carousel horse in the parlour, to the “Cinderella” old-fashioned heater in the guest bedroom.
Even touches like phones from the 1960s added authenticity to the experience.
If you didn’t know better, you would think you had landed in a New Orleans estate, rather than in the midst of a crowded theme park. Gilded birdcages dangle from the ceiling, and elaborate marble-work leads you down the hall.
The Master bedroom, a vision in blue, dances with light and song. I had the odd experience of stepping into this room alone to take photos. With my back turned to the door, I sensed a man walking in, and assumed it was another of the guests who had wandered in to see the master bathroom. But, when I turned around, no one was there. Could it have been Walt himself? Who knows?
Replete with details, such as another period-piece phone and an antique lamp, this room makes you feel as if you really have drifted into another time and place.
After drinks and appetizers, we were led into the decadent gold and robin’s- egg blue dining room, where gold and crystal serving-ware adorned a crisp white linen tablecloth. The centerpiece of ballet pink roses draped from one end of the grand table to the other.
The club is known for its elegant decanters. This one reminded me of a dragon.
Our elegant dinner table, bedecked with gilded-edged plates, sat beneath a sky-blue ceiling panel painted with gold “stars” and crowned with an elaborate chandelier which looked exactly like it belonged somewhere in Disneyland — maybe even in the castle of “The Beast.”
And then, as if Tinkerbell, herself, had arrived on the scene, the mirror above the mantel sprang to life with fairy dust and the lighting of the candelabra.
The menu, created by Chef Andrew Sutton, pairs exceptional wines with exquisitely-crafted dishes, such as this Kona Kampachi with sunburst tomato, golden osetra caviar and potato pillows served with Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne.
After the main course, which, by the way, was crafted individually for those with food preferences or intolerances (I am pescatarian, and was served a delicious Copper River Salmon, while my husband had pheasant), we took a “Fantasmic! intermezzo,” wandering through the elegant guest bedroom and out onto the balcony, where we watched the fireworks and the evening Fantasmic! water and light show.
The magical train, in the guest bedroom, comes to life at the press of a “Good Night Kiss” button. It circles around hidden tracks, winding through Disney scenes and blowing its whistle.
The balcony offers clear views of New Orleans Square, Mark Twain Riverboat, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Rivers of America. We were lucky enough to be there to to view fireworks and the Fantasmic! show, in which forces of good and evil battle in Mickey Mouse’s dream.
Before dessert, I ducked into one of the elaborate restrooms, and was entranced by this beautiful lamp casting its own light show on the wall behind it.
After the show, we returned to the table for “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” dessert (Valrhona chocolate mousse, passion fruit curd with strawberry essence accented with lemongrass, served inside of a “sugar bubble”) paired with Royal Tokaji, 6 Puttonyos, Gold Label dessert wine.
After dessert we were each gifted a 21 Royal “Goodie Bag,” filled with mouthwatering breakfast pastries, tea bags, coffee, and our menus from the evening, long with a 21 Royal pin.
As we departed for the evening, we passed by Mlle. Antoinette’s Parfumerie, which Walt had built as a gift for Lillian. The baby pink walls and the “reverse painted” mirrored panels of flower bouquets, birds and butterflies combine to create a dreamy space, reminiscent of a frosted wedding cake, but smelling like elegant perfumes.
This exquisite evening, like a little girl’s dream “come to life” in magical Disneyland, will stay with me forever. Thank you to Walt for having the vision to create such a happy place for adults and children alike. I grew up waiting all week for “Disney Sunday,” which aired in the 70’s, long before video recorders or DVD’s. The only way to enjoy the show was live. And, to me, this night felt like the culmination of a dream, a way to reach out and touch, in some way, the magical world of Walt’s Disney.
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Photos and story ©Erika Burkhalter. All rights reserved.