Disney Side Monday: Disneyland Social Clubs, the Truth behind a West Coast “Family”

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Over the last year or so I have learned that though Disneyland and Walt Disney World are both Disney Theme Parks, they are in fact VERY different universes. Walt Disney World is pushed as a tourist destination. Disneyland is a much more intimate locals theme park that gets visited by tourists. Shortly before my first trip to Disneyland in August 2013 I went searching through social networking sites to find some Disneyland based groups that would have locals in the know. Thanks to the two or three amazing groups I found on Facebook, I felt I had a better understanding of the “mentality” of Disneyland, as well as some awesome tips and tricks to help me through my trip. Prior to finding these groups I had no idea what “The Mad Tea Party” was, or why it was such a big deal, I had no idea how different the parks were, or what a Disneyland Social Club was. Until today honestly, I had a concept of what the Social Club’s were but didn’t really delve into understanding them because well to be honest they were a West Coast thing, and I am an East Coast girl.

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While roaming around Disneyland on our first day my husband said “what’s with the biker style Disney vests?” I very quickly said “Some West Coast Disney Social Club thing, it’s beyond my understanding” and the topic was left at that. Over the following months the topic would randomly come up in the West Coast based Facebook groups, and I would watch, or in my standard sarcastic manner crack jokes about “wearing uniforms” and “in park dance offs” and would then explain as a WDW girl the concept was just foreign to me. Over the last few weeks news outlets have started picking up on the Social Club phenomenon, and those articles have started getting posted and shared in Disney forums. As I started seeing mention of Social Clubs in East Coast Disney based groups, I also saw a lot of misconception about what these groups were, and why they existed.
So this week I thought I would write about Disneyland Social Clubs and perhaps spread a positive light on them while helping people understand what they are. Disneyland Social Clubs are at their deepest roots, a group of people showing their Disney Side as a group, in and out of the parks. They tend to be made up of Annual Passholders, Disney fans of all ages, sometimes even families with children. The first Disneyland Social Club was the “Black Death Crew” with groups like “Walt’s Misfits”, “Main Street Elite”, the “Neverlanders” and “Wonderlands” forming over time.
Rhiannon Mim a member of the Wonderlanders, was wonderful enough to talk to me about Disneyland Social clubs, and what they are truly about. Each group tends to take their name from areas of the park, attractions, movies, even characters in Disney’s history. Many of the groups have vests using a “rocker” style patch system, with the clubs name on top, the clubs logo in the center (some clubs allow members to customize the logo some), and a bottom rocker stating where “home” is (usually Disneyland). Rhiannon explained to me that she “likes to think it’s that bottom rocker that brings all the clubs together. We all call the same park home. That patch is our family. We wear it to show we are family. A crazy kind of Disney obsessed family.” The vest unite members like a sports team uniform, or a frat/sorority t shirt does, and provides members the ability to wear Disney trading pins too. Another way to look at social clubs is that each club is a community within the city (Disney) they all live in. The Social Club vest really is just a symbol of a members love of Disney, allowing them to show the “community” they are a part of, while still allowing them to uniquely show their love for their “city.”

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There is somewhere between 20-90 Disneyland Social Clubs depending on the source you are researching and when it was published. But as Rhiannon explained, even though there has been a boom in new clubs being created lately, the different clubs all have a common ground, their love of Disney. It’s not uncommon to see members of different groups hanging out together or greeting each other warmly in the parks. The concept of these clubs after all is to be social and share their love of Disney. The Social Clubs do not have turf wars, or well choreographed rumbles full of pixie dust and jazz hands in the middle of the parks. They do have die hard Disney fans that come together to help others, form friendships, create “families of choice”, and in some cases like with the Pix Pak (a group of Pixar fans) quiz park guests on Pixar trivia and award correct answers with “Up” style buttons.
Rhiannon told me about how in July 2013 the Neverlanders organized a Social Club meet-up to show the parks that the Social Clubs are all united. “There were two photographs taken, one in Disneyland and one in California Adventure, where over 100 members of at least 5 different clubs gathered to show unity. We wanted it to be an outward symbol for all those who really didn’t understand what we were about.”

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Each club has it’s own prospecting process for new members, but “the important thing to remember is everyone who has a patch on their back represents every other patch in the club. That’s why the prospecting process can be so selective.” The Wonderlanders have their own approach to new members. “We asked each of them individually to prospect because we all just clicked. It’s funny we never really had to go looking for Prospects, along the way we’ve just made some amazing friendships who we knew would fit right into our family. Then there’s also the formal part of prospecting. Before a member becomes a prospect, we hold a vote. Then that prospect has a 3-month prospecting period just to give everyone in the club time to get to know one another on a personal level, so we know without a doubt that’s someone we want to be a member of our club. Then at the end of that period we officially invite them into the family!” The Wonderlanders currently have 16 members and 7 prospects and range from the ages of 3-55, with these numbers including 4 former, and 4 current cast members. The Wonderlanders usually have at least one member in the parks almost every day of the week, with more on the weekends, but officially we have one meet a month. The one member in the park daily occurrence is not something that is scheduled, these guys and gals are just die hard Disney fans who go to the parks as often as they can.
When I mentioned I couldn’t find all the Social Clubs on Facebook, Twitter etc. Rhiannon explained “Social Clubs aren’t about being an online presence. We’re present in the parks in person. This is where we enjoy ourselves and love to get together.”
The thing that has impressed me the most about these Social Clubs is what they are about and how the members I have met carry themselves. Recently a discussion about Social Clubs and gangs in one of the West Coast based Facebook groups had several Social Club members very calmly explaining how though “gangs are technically large groups of people with common interest etc.” and that they prefered being called a Social Club or even just group because they stood for more than what most people envisioned when they heard the word “gang”. As Rhiannon explained to me in the interview “We strive for integrity in our members. If we see trash on the floor we pick it up. I always use Cast Member’s names and make sure to be respectful and thank them for their work, and we often write guest compliments. If we see a family trying to grab a photo we offer to take it for them. A Wonderlander favorite, if we’re in line and we see someone with a birthday button we’ll sing them Happy Birthday”
The goal for Social Clubs is to help make magic happen for other park guests. From giving extra fast passes to a family that could use it, to Rhiannon, a photographer, making a simple offer to take a photo for a family so they were all in the shot helps make other guests visits more magical. Recently one of those offers to take a family photo turned it into a mini couples photo session in front of the castle when she found out that the parents were celebrating their anniversary. The goal is for everyone in the Wonderlanders to be welcoming and friendly to park guests. Says Rhiannon “We are all so outgoing and love meeting new people at the parks. We practically sing and dance everywhere we go…I guess that’s standard Wonderlander behavior! We do this clap in line and sometimes we’ve managed to have the entire queue join in!”

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A good majority of the Social Clubs also try to help local charities. The Wonderlanders first community project was the Children’s hospital of Orange County (CHOC) Walk where they walked with a group representing a child that has passed away at CHOC. The family does the walk every year to remember the child and to thank the hospital. They also recently went to a children’s hospital where they decorated for Valentines Day, did Valentine’s crafts, and interacted with the children in the hospital. Other clubs participate in other fundraisers and assist other charities in manners that work best with their membership. But as each group reaches out to help others, they do it showing their love of Disney, and their Disney Sides as they go.

I would like to thank Rhiannon Mim for allowing me to speak to her about Disneyland Social Clubs.  I would also like to close with two quotes made by Rhiannon in the West Coast based Facebook group that made me realize, it was time to open my eyes to this amazing #DisneySide concept of family.
“Come up to the Wonderlanders and we’ll sing you a song. We’re a club…not a gang” “I love Disneyland. Sometimes I go in a vest. That’s all there really is to say.”
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Author: Michele

Michele Atwood is the Owner/Editor of The Main Street Mouse and it’s subsidiaries and author of the book “Moving to Main Street U.S.A.” Michele also contributes Disney news to the Joe Kelley Morning Show on 96.5 WDBO in Orlando. She and her family made the move from Michigan to the Orlando area to pursue their Disney dreams. Michele is a life long Disney fan, and has two sons who have followed suit, each going on their first Disney trip before their first birthday’s. Part of the goal Michele has for The Main Street Mouse is not only to keep members informed, but to create somewhat of a Disney Family by relating to others through personal experiences and opinions. Also, Michele is making it a priority to share stories of inspiration and hope to other Disney Fans in an effort to share the Magic and hopefully make a difference in the lives of others.

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