Jungle Navigation Co., Ltd. Skipper Canteen in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World is a Jungle Cruise-themed restaurant. This review features food photos and our thoughts on the ambiance and experience of dining at this new table service spot in Adventureland. The menu is “daring” (odd word choice, but I didn’t want to go for the obvious “adventurous” pun, but I guess I’ve done that anyway with this parenthetical) by Magic Kingdom standards, making it an interesting place to try.
In keeping with that interestingness, so are its policies. It accepts the Disney Dining Plan and accepted Tables in Wonderland the day it opened, but currently doesn’t. Even more curiously, it doesn’t accept Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs). You show up, wait in line, and are seated. This may seem like anarchy for those who plan every detail of their trips eons in advance, but for people like me who still haven’t dined at Be Our Guest Restaurant for dinner because of the ADR difficulty, it’s a breath of fresh air.
When Skipper Canteen was first announced, the concept reminded me of three different restaurants: Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, The Explorer’s Club Restaurant, and Magellan’s. These are three of my favorite Disney restaurants/bars anywhere, each being exquisitely done thematically. If it could live up to the reputation of any of these, it would be a huge success for me, especially since it was previously a vacant location in the Magic Kingdom.
Did it live up to my lofty expectations? Well, let’s start with thematics, and go on a bit of a photo tour of Skipper Canteen…
Prior to closing in 1994, this location housed the Adventureland Veranda, a counter service restaurant with interiors designed by Disney Legend Dorothea Redmond. Since then, it’s been largely neglected, used during hard ticket parties for makeshift meet & greets, and also housing Tinker Bell and her pixie homies for a spell. Unless Skipper Canteen were botched significantly, this would be an upgrade from all that nonsense, at absolute minimum.
Fortunately, it’s a huge upgrade. Many of the Dorothea Redmond interiors remain intact, and portions of the restaurant are 1971 opening day Magic Kingdom originals. Alongside that, there are new design elements and decor that have been added, providing added texture and newness that compliments that original design.
This is especially evident in the lobby and the main dining room, the Crew’s Mess Hall. This is a light, breezy area where the colors pop and texture is provided through details along the walls and overhead. We dined in here for my second meal at Skipper Canteen, and although it’s my least favorite of the rooms, that’s relative. I’d still take this over almost any themed area at other Magic Kingdom restaurants.
Despite being called a “mess hall” (words you never want associated with a table service restaurant) this area succeeds in not feeling over-crowded thanks to the spacing of the tables and the airy feeling of the restaurant. It almost reminds me of the type of restaurant you’d find in the South Seas, or heck, even Florida. I’m a bit surprised it doesn’t have an open air component. (My biggest disappointment is that the remaining verandas outside are sitting unused…perhaps that’s why “Adventureland Veranda” wasn’t chosen as a name?)
For my first meal, I was seated in the S.E.A. Room—a secret meeting place for the Society of Explorers and Adventurers. I’m a huge fan of S.E.A. (despite it shunning Disney’s greatest explorer: Duffy the Bear) and the way it has weaved together multiple attractions and restaurants from around the world with this common motif.
I know there must be some Imagineers who are big fans of S.E.A., too, because it’s been showing up in more and more projects as of late.
This room reminded me a lot of the hidden wine cellar in Magellan’s at Tokyo DisneySea. While there’s a coolness to that wine cellar actually being a secret room, the S.E.A. Room at Skipper Canteen works better because it conveys the stately elegance that you’d expect from a meeting place of people of such status as the members of S.E.A.
It’s not quite as ornate and lavish as Magellan’s as a whole, but this room works really well in the context of Skipper Canteen, and is my favorite room of the bunch. It is warm, intimate, and rife with detail.
You could probably spend hours just looking at the book shelfs trying to place all of the references. I spotted about 20, including this to the extinct Tokyo DisneySea show, Legend of Mythica. I suspect every title or author name contains such a reference to Disney history, some more obscure than others (at least a couple were probably lost on me).
From the secluded “Butterfly Booth” to the tables by the fireplace to the sea mural, every seat here offers a unique draw. This room is really a treat, and for me, exemplifies how this space was repurposed in a way that was respectful to the original Adventureland Veranda, while bringing something new to the table.
I am slightly concerned about the potential for overuse of S.E.A. and the Navigation Co., as both are very self-referential, and I think there’s a fine line between respectful, self-referential homage and over-the-top fan service. A location should stand on its own thematically, adding to a common theme, rather than devolving into a simple tribute.
Thankfully, these are only cautionary words (in my opinion) as Skipper Canteen stays on the right side of that line, keeping its references to respectful homage. Some things could stand to be a little more subtle, but by and large, it’s all well done.
The final room is the Jungle Room, which is the former Falls’ family parlor. This is the only room in which we haven’t dined, but we spent some time exploring it, and I rather enjoyed this room as well.
Thanks to stained glass lights and parrot light fixtures, it has a vibrant sense of the tropics, with the carpet, ceiling, and fireplace offsetting that with a bit of formality.
Texture and depth are words that keep coming to mind when describing the rooms of Skipper Canteen, and that’s true again of the Jungle Room. My favorite of these details is–by far–the parrot light fixtures. I’m currently putting together a caper to heist one with the help of Bill Murray and the Wu Tang Clan. I’ll keep you posted on our progress.
All in all, I’m pleased with the theming at Skipper Canteen. It’s more restrained than other recent high-key efforts like Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar and Trader Sam’s, and in this case, I think that’s a good thing. The aforementioned bars work in their own ways, but I’m not sure if that would have been the case at this table service spot. At some point, a high-level of decor crosses from appropriate theming to looking like the lair of a hoarder, and that does not occur here. There’s plenty to see, explore, and discover without wondering if some of the Jungle Cruise skippers need a Buried Alive intervention. My only complaint is that some aspects of the S.E.A. room do feel a bit overly-new, but I can’t recall any specific examples to cite, so this is a minor quibble.
Phew. That’s been an abnormal amount of text devoted to theme. Now, for the menu. I’m almost not even sure it’s worth bothering. Skipper Canteen has a very ambitious menu. It’s far more adventurous than anything else in the Magic Kingdom, and as such, I would not be surprised to see this menu change dramatically before the year is over. Still, the inveterate optimist in me hopes that the restaurant retains this menu, so I’ll cover each of the dishes we tried.
The meal starts with bread and a honey dip. I was unimpressed by the bland loaf, and the honey only improved things a tad.
Specialty beverages are served at Skipper Canteen, but the whole appeal of these is the souvenir mug, and the shipment of these has been “lost in the jungle.” That’s a curious way of saying, a bunch of low-life, opportunistic eBayers bought out our entire stock on the first day we were open. Nothing like expressing your Disney fandom by ripping off your fellow fans with astronomically priced mugs. Your parents must be so proud! But I digress… (Point being, we saw no reason to order these drinks without the mugs.)
For my first visit, I started with the S.E.A. Shu Mai. This is 6 pork, shrimp and mung bean mixed dumplings presented in a metal container. From the first bite, I knew this wasn’t your average Magic Kingdom restaurant. These bad boys had a spice that I was not expecting.
They weren’t spicy, per se, but rather, they had a complexity more akin to an authentic Chinese restaurant than anything at Walt Disney World–and that includes World Showcase. Highly recommended.
After the unexpected taste of the shu mai, I was really excited for Skipper Canteen’s take on lamb chops. Well, the Grilled Lamb Chops were definitely…different. They were incredibly thinly sliced, which really subdued the natural, distinct flavor of lamb (something I really like, but your mileage may vary). The berber spice was a nice addition, but not enough. Much to my surprise, the green lentil stew was actually the highlight, and had a delicious flavor to it. Still, not enough for me to recommend this dish. It was good, but should have been better.
For the second visit, we started with the Falls Family Falafel. This was Sarah’s choice, as I’m not the biggest fan of falafel. Despite that, I thought these had a good texture, with the garlic and herbs carrying this dish. The dip and tomato-cucumber salad actually made it good, which is more than I can say about most falafel. Again, I’m the wrong person to ask on this, though.
Sarah had the Rice Noodle Bowl with Chicken, which she really enjoyed. The herbs and fresh (she emphasized this) jalapeños mixed well with the perfectly-cooked vegetables, and the chicken breast provided heartiness to the otherwise light dish. Sarah highly recommends this.
For this meal, I had the Char Siu Pork. After the disappointment of the lamb, this was a rousing success. These pork medallions were some of the most tender pork I’ve tasted in a long time. The char sui marinade really did the trick here, as these were flavorful without tasting like they were soaked in a vat of mystery sodium-sauce. This carnivorous-perfection was accompanied by some vegetables and rice, neither of which were particularly noteworthy, but were nice filler. I’d definitely recommend this.
Several friends also joined us for this meal as we celebrated our conquest of Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend with a grand circle tour of Disney restaurants. I’ll summarily cover their meals with photos and passing thoughts…
First up is the Skip’s Mac & Cheese, which a couple of people at our table ordered. I really wanted to get this, but as someone who constantly whines about Walt Disney World menus being too vanilla, I felt it would be hypocritical of me to opt for this. It seemed to be a hit among our group, with the sentiment being that the meat gave oomph to the dish.
The Dr. Falls’ Signature Grilled Steak was another dish that tempted me, but I ultimately refrained due to the price (although that does make it a great option for maximizing your value on the Disney Dining Plan). The presentation of this dish was excellent, and our friend who ordered it, and liked it.
Another of our friends had the Curried Vegetable Crew Stew, which he really seemed to like. He commented that the sweetness of the squash provided a nice counter-balance to the spices of the curry. This looked like a fairly large dish to me, and good value for its price point.
Someone else ordered the “A lot at Steak” Salad. I don’t recall them having a strong opinion on this one way or the other, but the steak on the salad looked nice.
During this meal, we overheard an adjacent table whose kids ordered something off the menu at Liberty Tree Tavern. I mention this in case the menu options at Skipper Canteen are too adventurous for your kids, now you know that might be an option. The kids menu seems pretty standard to me, but what do I know. Besides, introducing things outside of kids’ comfort zones at a young age builds character and teaches them that the world won’t cater to their every whim. (Just wait until I inflict my uninformed and impractical views about parenting on you all with “Tom’s Absurd Parenting Blog” 😉 )
Then there’s dessert. We tried one and some friends tried another (the Kungaloosh!, above and the Coconut Bar with Pineapple-Basil Compote and Vanilla Cream, below) and both were, in a word, small. They were good desserts (especially the coconut bar!), but were more “fine dining” style desserts.
Interesting, I think the same could be said about several of the plates at Skipper Canteen. The presentation and plating of some items suggests an almost Signature-caliber restaurant, but the ambiance says otherwise. I certainly wouldn’t peg it as fine dining, but its menu is on the upper end of standard table service.
I’ve heard many people comment on prices, but I wouldn’t say its particularly expensive by table service restaurants standards. This is especially true when you consider quality. At most, Skipper Canteen’s prices are a couple of dollars higher than comparable entrees elsewhere, but significantly higher in terms of quality.
Overall, Skipper Canteen is not a grand slam, but it’s an in-the-park home run. Of the Magic Kingdom table service restaurants I’ve done, this is the clear winner in terms of both ambiance and cuisine (Sarah puts it #2 behind Be Our Guest Restuarant’s dinner), and its interesting cuisine should be lauded, even if there are a couple of misfires. I love comfort foods, but this is definitely an improvement over most table service options in the Magic Kingdom.
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