The Jungle Cruise’s Skippers are normally tasked with providing comedic relief for the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland but now their story has a sequel and this time your belly will be in for more than just a few laughs. Realizing the incredible success of Dr. Albert Fall‘s Jungle Navigation Company‘s adventurous cruises and the amount of guests that come back hungry from their expeditions, Alberta Falls quite the entrepreneur in her own right decided to open the Jungle Navigation Company’s offices to hungry travelers as part of the newly opened Skipper Canteen. Not a moment too soon as it becomes just the seventh table-service restaurant at the Magic Kingdom whereas Epcot by comparison has more than double that number.
The Skipper Canteen brings a themed experience to the often underused space of the Adventureland Veranda. What was once just an often forgotten bit of shelter from the elements now becomes the waiting area for the restaurant. Outside a few subtle thematic details foretell of the experience inside but the best thing about Skipper Canteen is that even on day one it felt as if it always had been part of the theme park in which it resides. Guests of the Canteen will be happy to know Disney is implementing the same sort of text message notifications as they’ve used previously at locations such at Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, to let guests know when their table is ready, giving them the freedom to enjoy the rest of Adventureland while their “World Famous Jungle Cuisine” awaits. But enough waiting, let’s go inside the Skipper Canteen because that’s where the fun begins.
It’s still early days at the Skipper Canteen and cast members are still working on their routines and getting into character so that part of the experience is a mixed bag. The skipper who took our reservation was bright and welcoming but didn’t exactly share any witty Jungle Cruise lines, whereas when our hostess took us to our table, we were given an intro about how the Skipper Canteen came to be and the skipper even made sure to point out the highlights of the new place, “that one, that one, there.” The smile that immediately came to my face told me, just this simple touch of Jungle Cruise antics made this place feel at home and right within the Magic Kingdom. Our waitress too shared some witty lines casually throughout our meal and was delightful though again it was clear that some other skippers were already more outgoing in their skipper routines. This will be something to keep an eye on in the days ahead but for now even the more subtle jokes are enough to carry the moment and make our meal that much more delightful without ever getting in the way from the locale and of course the food to follow.
Inside, the crew’s Mess Hall for the Jungle Navigation Company is a bright and airy room with colored glass windows and theming elements in the surrounding areas. The very nature of the room makes it feel as if it is not as well themed as the smaller more intimate areas but upon closer inspection many will find there is still a lot going on. There are illuminated doors on a faux second floor showing the skippers are hard at work even as guests dine below and my favorite a small nod to Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room with a letter to Rosita emblazoned with a Return to Sender stamp tacked onto a bulletin board. On this first visit we dined within one of the two smaller rooms and I’d prefer both of these spaces to the larger hall in most regards. The Jungle Room has beautiful colors and materials including a bamboo-lined roof and beautiful stained glass parrot chandeliers. Details from the Jungle Cruise attraction can be seen carved into the columns and in the paintings throughout these two rooms. The S.E.A. Room is billed as Dr. Albert Fall’s secret meeting space and we enter it through, what else, a trap-door bookcase. This is the standout room with its wondrous artwork depicting Dr. Albert Falls’ discovery of the temple ruins featured on the Jungle Cruise attraction, the colorful butterfly display surrounding one of the round tables and the old-world ocean scape carved into the wood of the area nearby. It’s got the eye candy to keep one entertained whilst you await your meal. Our food was quick to arrive and that’s where we turn our attention to next.
From the surprisingly good bread service that comes out before we’ve placed our order to the desert that completes it, you’ll be happy to know our first experience of that “Jungle Cuisine” was a good one. We started off by trying both of the specialty drinks and let’s just get this right out-of-the-way, you are going to want this Skipper Canteen Moscow Mule mug. It comes with the Skipper Canteen Logo printed on the front and perhaps even better the classic Walt Disney World logo is printed on the back. I usually don’t partake in many of Disney’s collectibles but this item I’m sure to eventually have a set of from my future trips back. The mugs are washed out by cast members once you are finished with your drink but a welcome change would be for Disney to give an unopened boxed version much like we see at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. As for the drinks, the Punch Line Punch, and the Schweitzer Slush are both very good for what they are. That being said, since Be Our Guest has grown up the Magic Kingdom’s alcoholic beverages policy, we’d like to see it extended to most if not all Magic Kingdom table-service restaurants.
Our appetizers were probably my favorite part of the meal as I thought both the Falls Family Falafel and the House-Made Arepas were excellent. The latter is really an assortment of Caribbean and Latin American flavors with arepas, slow-cooked beef, black beans, tostones and queso fresco. It was a flavorful and relatively large appetizer by Disney standards and I just hope the portions remain the same as the restaurant continues its march forward.
Our entrées were no slouch. Skip’s Mac and Cheese wasn’t your typical mac and cheese since its got quite the hearty filling. The Trader Sam’s Head on Shrimp is not kidding around with its shrimp tossed in a chili-garlic sauce that makes for some delicious bites. As for dessert the Sugar-Crusted Congee Pudding packs a few new flavors for me but I appreciated that it wasn’t just your typical key lime pie desert offering. And that’s really the story for the entire menu so far, the welcome variety of dishes and flavors.
The Skipper Canteen attempts to go where so few Magic Kingdom restaurants have gone so far, mixing in quality, variety and a themed experience. It’s far too early to make final assertions about the restaurant but it’s off to a great start especially within a theme park so desperately lacking for quality dining options. Be Our Guest restaurant really set the new bar for restaurants at the Magic Kingdom and while I don’t believe Skipper Canteen reaches that high, it doesn’t have to. It can be a fun, lovable place to hang out, have a meal amongst friends and a skipper joke or two. We’ll have a full review of Skipper Canteen soon but for now I’m just truly happy for the Magic Kingdom as it receives a new restaurant that is sure to be a success for the park. With a name like Skipper Canteen you knew it’d always come out ahead.