Skipper Canteen: An Adventurous Review

Welcome to the Magic & Misadventures review of the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen restaurant at Magic Kingdom. I will, of course, endeavor to take things seriously and treat the subject with the sober gravitas it deserves.

Nah, that doesn’t sound like me at all. Nor would it be appropriate for this post. Also, fun fact: if you turn around your phone/laptop/desktop, you’ll be able to see the rare and wondrous backside of this blog!

On a recent visit to the Magic Kingdom, we made a reservation at the Skipper Canteen. Based within the same overarching story as the Jungle Cruise ride–one of our faves–the descriptions of the restaurant promised a similar type of humor and an environment that echoed the style of the attraction. We were intrigued. Plus, an adventurous menu (very different from what you’d expect from a theme park eatery) definitely piqued our interest. We had also just heard more about the Society of Adventurers and Explorers and Adventurer’s Club while at the Destination D convention–which was hosted by the famous Dr. Albert Falls–and learned about the Imagineers’ intentions to incorporate this more into the parks. So seeing that “in action” with this new restaurant was pretty cool. Though that coolness may have actually been the air conditioning.

skipper-canteen-entrance

The entryway leads to a small foyer where your adventure begins, by which I mean you sit and wait for a skipper to come escort you to your table. It’s also the exit-way, but it seems less productive to sit there when you’re on your way out.

There’s a lot to see as soon as you set foot in the restaurant. Decorations are everywhere, and each room is themed differently. Regardless of where you end up being seated, it’s worth getting up and taking a look all around at some point while you’re there. If you ask your skipper (what they call the servers in the Skipper Canteen) about the décor, they may even point out some of their favorite pieces. Once they’re done with that, they’ll also tell you about a few of them.

b-doors

One of my favorite details in the restaurant can be found up on a balcony as you walk into the first dining area. There are three doors, each one referencing an Imagineer who worked on the original Jungle Cruise attraction as well as their particular job: Marc Davis worked on designs for some of the animals, Harper Goff’s early concept art shaped the map of the ride, and Bill Evans was a landscape architect responsible for creating the jungle.

The stuff all over the walls is well and good, and we’ll get to that later in our three-hour tour, but of course the Skipper Canteen is a restaurant. So let’s talk about the food!

Our meal started with the complimentary bread service. At Skipper Canteen they serve Ambasha, an Ethiopian bread that’s infused with fenugreek and other spices. It’s very dense and a bit dry, but it is quite flavorful and has a savory quality to it. On the side was a cup of warm honey for dipping the bread, which really added to it. If you’re hoping for a light, fluffy bread like you’d normally get at an American restaurant you’d be disappointed. However, the Ambasha is quite tasty and different. A good way to start out an adventure! Also, it is now my opinion that warm dipping honey should be served with everything.

One of the things that the Skipper Canteen has become known for is a rather… unconventional menu. You won’t find pizza, burgers, or fries here–instead the offerings include dishes like Trader Sam’s head-on shrimp and whole fried fish. We knew going in that this was going to be a fairly unique experience (though it’s subject to change, you can check out the official menu here), but in fact it’s become a bit polarizing in the reviews. Some applaud what they consider to be much-needed variety, while others have found the dishes a bit too weird.

b-menu

While trying to decide what to eat, we had to stop and marvel at the backside of the menu. We also appreciated the nods to the attraction like this elephant sketch.

For our meals, I ordered Skip’s Beefy Baked Pasta: pasta, cheese, shredded spiced beef, and béchamel sauce piled up in a sort of lasagna-like configuration. My wife got the Curried Vegetable Crew Stew, a mix of veggies in a curry sauce served with coconut rice and naan bread.

I found the Beefy Baked Pasta to be a bit bland. It was very rich (thanks to the cheese and the béchamel) and it did have a good flavor, but I was actually hoping for even more seasoning in the beef. What I could taste was quite good, and I suppose they wouldn’t want to overdo it, but personally I think they’re erring on the side of underwhelming. Once mixed with the pasta and the sauce, the beef was lost. I got bursts of the interesting spicing when I found larger bits of meat, and just wanted that to stand out more. It wasn’t bad by any means, I just found myself wishing that the flavors were better balanced as the béchamel sauce dominated the dish. I guess you could say that the beef was… out of season?

My wife’s stew was a concoction of zucchini, squash, cauliflower, potatoes, green beans, and carrots in a red curry and garam masala sauce. It was very good, not spicy but full of flavor. My wife is a “spice wimp” and even a bit of heat can be too much for her, but she was able to eat and enjoy this. I found it very good as well, and picked off of her plate more than once. I didn’t try the coconut rice (I can’t stand coconut) but she said it was tasty, and really the only issue we had with her meal was that the naan was cold. It definitely seemed prepackaged and not freshly made, and they hadn’t even warmed it up. A minor complaint, but worth mentioning–I didn’t have many issues with the meal, but it’s not like I had naan at all. 

b-plaque

Found inside, near the entrance, this plaque references the Imagineers who helped create the Skipper Canteen.

It was just the two of us, so we didn’t have a larger variety of orders to try and therefore I’m basing my thoughts on just those two dishes. We also didn’t get too adventurous in our choices, so I can’t really speak to some of the more unusual offerings on the menu. My wife keeps kosher, so often orders vegetarian dishes when we go out to restaurants, and she found the offerings a bit limited for her needs (though no more or less than many other eateries in the parks). They do have a special allergy-friendly menu available upon request, so if you do have dietary concerns you may be able to find options there.

For dessert, we ordered Bertha’s “Banh Bong Lan” Cake with Mango-Lime Sorbet. It’s a vanilla chiffon cake soaked in lemongrass ginger syrup with sorbet as well as bits of chocolate and meringue. This was really good, sweet without being overwhelming, and the various flavors mingled well together. Our initial perception was that it was a little small, but honestly after our meals it was a fine size for the two of us to split. If you really want to satisfy a sweet tooth, maybe consider getting more than one dessert.

b-food

Our dessert. I’m pretty bad at remembering to take photos of food before I dig in, hence the fork mark in the ice cream (and the lack of any other food photos in this blog).

b-coaster

We asked our skipper, Paul, if we could have some of the coasters as souvenirs. He gave us a few clean ones to take home, and later we found that he had personalized one in the middle of the stack! Paul was great. Really did a great job. He didn’t just coast through.

So now that we were full of food, it was time to take a good look around the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen.

b-books

Be sure to check out the bookshelves. Some titles are just funny, but there are many references to attractions and Imagineers.

b-certificate

The Falls family plays heavily into the story of the restaurant, and of course Schweitzer Falls in the Jungle Cruise ride is named after Dr. Albert Falls. I’m not sure what, if anything, is on the backside of this certificate.

b-stuff-on-walls

The three dining rooms are themed differently, so it’s worth checking them all out. Just try not to be too creepy when you’re hovering over random patrons trying to take photos of the stuff on the walls. (I’m not sure if I succeeded in that endeavor).

So was our dining adventure a success? I would say yes. The food that we ordered was good, if not mind-blowing, and it was cool to get some options other than burgers or pizza (not that there’s anything wrong with those). If you want something different, and you’re feeling adventurous, the Skipper Canteen could be a good choice. Bear in mind that it is a bit on the pricey side–entrees generally cost over $20 each–so take that into account when planning your vacation budget. It does (currently) take some of the Disney Dining Plans. Also, advance reservations are recommended.

I don’t know that we’d eat at the Skipper Canteen every time we’re in the park, but I could see it being a fun treat now and again. It’s also someplace that I would take family and friends if I wanted to show them a unique Disney themed experience.

The food, the décor, and even the servers are all a part of the Jungle Navigation Co. story, making the Skipper Canteen an attraction as much as a meal. If that’s what you’re looking for, then it’ll be right up your alley. It’s similar in a way to the Be Our Guest restaurant in Fantasyland–unusual dishes in a themed environment–and it’s cool to see Disney trending towards these sorts of dining experiences.

Finally, I’d like to thank you for reading this blog. If you enjoyed it, my name is Aaron. If you didn’t, my name is Hubert Q. Cattington III.

 

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