REVIEW: The Skipper Canteen: A Knock Out for the Magic Kingdom
For months now, I have wanted to try Magic Kingdom’s newest restaurant, the Jungle Navigation Co. LTD. Skipper Canteen, or just the Skipper Canteen for short. It opened not too long ago, back in December and has since been of slight controversy among Guests in the parks and for good reason but not in a negative way! As everyone knows, Magic Kingdom is the most popular theme park in the world, that isn’t an exaggeration, it is fact. It is a family oriented destination and therefore caters to that audience in every way possible, including the food. Now, in no way, shape, or form does Magic Kingdom have bad table service restaurants by any means, but up until a few years ago when Be Our Guest opened in the Fantasyland expansion, all of the restaurants pretty much featured the similar, American type fare which is incredibly family friendly. Again, this doesn’t mean the food is bad, but at times, it could leave adult Guests wanting more than just baked chicken, steak, pasta or sandwiches. Well if you were one of those Guests, you can now rest easy, at least for now, because the Skipper Canteen has answered your prayers!
The Skipper Canteen is Disney’s first-ever restaurant to be based off and themed to an existing attraction, in this case The Jungle Cruise! The story goes that the skippers who guide you through the jungle on the boats don’t get paid very well by the Jungle Navigation Co. LTD and must work a second job as servers at the Skipper Canteen to earn more money. Therefore, expect your meal to be served with a side of puns!
What makes the Skipper Canteen such a great addition to the Magic Kingdom is its menu! Here, Guests can sample flavorful cuisine from Asia, South America, and Africa while dining in three heavily themed dining rooms: the crew’s colonial-era Mess Hall, the Jungle Room, and the S.E.A. Room, which used to be a hidden room behind a secret bookcase. The restaurant is intricately themed and incredibly fun to look at. We were lucky and got to dine in the S.E.A. Room for our lunch.
As you check into the restaurant for your reservation, you are greeted by a skipper and are welcome to wait in the courtyard or inside the waiting room. Inside, you will find Businessman and BusinessWOman of the year certificates for Dr. Albert and Dr. Alberta Falls, plus portraits and decorations of adventures with skippers from around the world! While we were waiting, I asked to get a photo of two of the skippers and a third excitedly joined in. They showed off the menu, and then in good Jungle Cruise fashion, showed off the Back Side of the menu.
As a side note, the Skipper Canteen is currently only taking walk-ins and Same-day reservations. There is no word as to if and when they will open the window for later reservations but I hope they do it soon. We’ll get into a possibility as to why this is the situation later.
The largest dining area is the Mess Hall. It is the initial room you walk into and filled to the brim with details. Most likely you will be overwhelmed by looking around at everything, trying to take it all in, but don’t make my mistake! It’s during this time when your seater will be telling you about the restaurant and its details. Here is when you will hear many of the jokes so keep your ears at the ready! The Mess Hall is a bit louder than the other two dining areas, so keep that in mind.
The second area to dine in is the Jungle Room. This was once the parlor to Dr. Albert Falls himself. The room is tucked away in the corner and is the dimmest of the three dining areas, but not as dark as the photos make it seem.
We dined in the S.E.A. Room – a once secret meeting place for the Society of Explorers and Adventurers! To enter it, you must walk through a secret entrance in the bookcase. Feel free to read the book titles in detail, but to touch one specifically, because that one is Mine! This room is decorated to adventures and rare items one might see in the jungle or on an adventure! Thankfully, all three rooms are great and there is no need to request only one specifically. Now, it’s finally time to talk about the food!
The Skipper Canteen has two specialty drinks and both are excellent, but cater to different tastes. The first is the Schweitzer Slush – a frozen apple juice and passion fruit drink topped with bursting green apple Boba Balls. Noted to be originally concocted by explorer and humanitarian, Dr. Albert Slush. It’s served with one of those cardboard straws, so beware if you hate those. The other drink is the Punch Line Punch – a tropical fruit juice and mango puree served with a spiced-rim and mango slice. The juice was excellent but I wasn’t a fan of the spiced rim. Both drinks are worth trying though.
The menu is very fun. Be sure to check out all sides of it as there are drawings and writings all over to see. See if yo can find Trader Sam himself!
For our appetizer, we ordered two plates of the House-made Arepas. The servings aren’t very large, so for the three of us, two orders was actually perfect. It comes with slow-cooked shredded beef, black beans, tostones, and queso fresco. Typically, you can prepare it like a slider and eat it that way. This dish was excellent and I wouldn’t hesitate to order it again! We were also given bread with a honey dipping sauce, very different from what you may have had in the past. Again, excellent.
Time for the entrees. I ordered the suggested Trader Sam’s Head-on Shrimp, the entree I had constantly heard good things about and it was fantastic. Served with either five-grain or white rice, the shrimp come tossed in a chili-garlic sauce with Chinese broccoli on the side. It has some zing but isn’t anything overly spicy. My fiance ordered an appetizer for her entree, the S.E.A. Shu Mai, which is a blend of pork, shrimp, mung beans, and spices wrapped in Gyoza skin then steamed. I sampled one and it had a lot of good flavor. She is a big fan of steamed dumplings and approved! Her mom ordered the “A lot at Steak” Salad which is a Thai-marinated flank steak tossed with salad and Asian dressing. Once again, we heard positive reviews. Just like the appetizer, the entrees all have perfect portions. We were able to finish our plates and not feel stuffed. Each dish was full of flavor and more than we could ask for. We were about to head out, but asked for a future recommendation for dessert. Once our server described the Kungaloosh, we knew we had to try it!
The Kungaloosh is an African-inspried condensed chocolate cake with caramelized bananas served with cashew-caramel ice cream topped with coffee dust. I am not a chocolate or coffee person, but this dessert was wonderful. Everything was well balanced. The cake was dense, like brownie and the coffee flavor wasn’t overbearing. Caramel added a nice cut to the chocolate as well. The Skipper Canteen also has three other desserts I would love to try. Bertha’s “Banh Bong Lan” Cake with Mango-Lime Sorbet – a vanilla chiffon cake soaked with lemon grass-ginger syrup, Sugar-crusted Congee Pudding – caramelized custard with millet, almonds, apricot, dates, and honey-almond tuile, and Coconut Bar with Pineapple-Basil Compote and Vanilla Cream. They all sound delicious and if everything else we sampled is any indication, I’m sure they are!
So, what’s the verdict of the Skipper Canteen? Well, if you were to look around the restaurant itself, you might not be able to tell if the restaurant is a success or not because of how many tables you may see empty or not, or how easy it may be to grab a walk-in reservation or table. But Disney and its chefs have 100% knocked this restaurant out of the park! The theme is genius. To have a restaurant designed around an existing and popular attraction is a perfect idea and really should be implemented more often at the other parks. Tower of Terror or Haunted Mansion anyone? The servers are incredibly fun and ready to hand out puns galore. And of course, what’s most important, the menu is outstanding. This restaurant is something the Magic Kingdom has desperately needed for many years. It is more different than anything the park has ever had and a welcome change! It is easily in my top 10 of favorite Disney restaurants and quite possibly the best restaurant at the Magic Kingdom now.
Here’s where it gets weird. Right now and since its opening, the Skipper Canteen only takes walk-ins and day-of reservations. They do pretty moderate business, but not Magic Kingdom level of business when comparing to the other restaurants. Guest reactions are mixed-positive. For some, the menu is a welcome change from the typical sandwiches and entrees one can find everywhere else. For others, the offerings are a bit too far ‘out there’ or the food takes too long to prepare, meaning Guests prefer to eat quick and move on to the next attraction. (If that’s you, I recommend quick-service.) As for the menu being ‘out there’, it really isn’t. The way the menu is worded, it sounds as though it is unique and obscure, but I promise it isn’t. There are no funky proteins or weird sides for flavors. Save that for Tiffins, which opens soon at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!
However, this hasn’t stopped the rumor mill. WDW News Today posted a RUMOR article last month stating the menu would be drastically changing to appease the average Magic Kingdom Guests. Keep in mind, this is a RUMOR and not fact. I did speak to one of the servers about this article, which has been buzzing around all of them since its publication, and she said IF anything were to change, more than likely, it would just be the children’s menu, which as of now is a mini version of the adult menu. So, maybe that’s it. Maybe they need to make the kids menu a bit more kid friendly with the typical fare. That way the adults can still have their amazing food and the kids can be satisfied as well! Again, this is all rumor and Disney hasn’t officially announced anything. Regardless, go to this restaurant. Support it! Show Disney that we want and need more like this! If the WDWNT rumor were to become fact, then it would be a damn shame because Disney will have watered down a 5 star menu to appease boring Guests. If you want burgers and hot dogs, go to Cosmic Rays. If you want shrimp, steak, unique drinks and desserts with an incredibly fun atmosphere, this should be your pick hands down and we can’t wait to return to try more on the menu!