The Jungle Cruise is a funny thing: you either love it or hate it. The same can be said for the Skipper Canteen, the Magic Kingdom’s newest table service offering. Themed after the Jungle Cruise, the restaurant, which is located in Adventureland across from the Swiss Family Treehouse, echoes the theming of the long lost Adventurers Club in the former Downtown Disney. If for that reason only, it’s bound to be a fan favorite among a small, niche group of Disney fans, but what about the menu? That’s the tricky part. Let’s take a look.
There are three dining rooms in the restaurant. After passing a small entranceway, you’ll enter the main dining room known as The Crew’s Mess Hall.
Your host will give you a brief tour of the restaurant and tell you its history as you walk to your table. The owner of the Canteen is Alberta Falls, the granddaughter of Dr. Albert Falls, the founder of the Jungle Navigation Company which she, after falling on hard times, changed from shipping cargo to schlepping tourists up and down the rivers of the jungle. Alberta’s business was such a success that she opened the Skipper Canteen to feed the hungry hordes who convened on her shores and the rest, as they say, well it’s this restaurant.
There are two smaller dining rooms as well. These are much cozier and better themed, so if you get a chance, ask to eat in one of these rooms, preferably the back room known as the Falls Family Parlor. It has a fireplace and charming Tiffany-style lamps shaped like birds.
The tables have comfy chairs that tempt you to stay longer than you normally might in a theme park restaurant.
Meals start with cinnamon-scented Ambasha bread with honey dip. I wanted to love it, but honestly, it’s a little heavy and the honey dip, which is essentially a thin honey base with some spices, is just uninspiring and not worth the calories. Maybe this is because when it came right down to it, I wanted some delicious Disney bread and butter, but this just didn’t work for any of us at the table.
Next came the appetizers. For some reason, Disney appetizers are often better, or at least more creative, than many entrees you’ll find in Disney restaurants. I think it’s because of the smaller volume and the need to please fewer people’s palates: You know you need a wide variety of accessible main dishes on your menu to please a variety of guests, but it’s probably okay to get a little bit adventurous with what is most likely the least important part of the meal (just don’t mess with dessert).
We started with the spicy pork and shrimp shu mai.
These were very good, moist, perfectly spiced, and plentiful and at $10, a bargain by Disney standards. If it weren’t for the Amazon Annie’s House Made Arapes, I would order them ever time. But the arapes? Oh my goodness.
An arapa is basically a thick, soft corn cake. These are served with black beans, spicy beef, and tomatoes and queso fresco. It also comes with crispy plantains that are fried twice–do not even think about sharing these! This entire plate was delicious and could easily serve as an entrée. It felt both homey and a little bit different.
If you’re like a lot of Disney guests, the kids’ menu is one of the first places you’ll look when choosing a dining location. Sadly, you may be a bit disappointed here, with nary a nugget or hotdog in sight. We dined with an 11-year old with an adventurous palate and even he disliked the choices.
Our young guest ordered the mac and cheese with spicy beef. It’s spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. Um, yeah. That’s what we thought too. It was terrible.
Since this was a first time trying Skipper Canteen and since I knew I would be reviewing this both here and on Mouse Chat, we tried everything on the menu except the steak. All five adults are what I would call adventurous eaters, so the menu, which by now you’ve probably heard is a bit different than what you’ll find elsewhere on Disney property, didn’t daunt us. It did, however, give us pause: Would we recommend this to our friends and, in my case, clients?
When I try a new place, I usually as my server what’s the most popular item on the menu. At the Skipper Canteen, it’s the Char Sui Pork, which is a grilled, spicy pork tenderloin. Sounds great, right? So great that two of the six people at our table ordered it. Sadly, it was pronounced awful by both of us. Basically it’s over-spiced pork on top of plain rice with a side of broccoli rabe. There’s no real point to this dish, which appears to borrow from no known cuisine in any favorable way, and it was completely overpowered by the turmeric and tamarind glaze. The best I can say is that the meat was not dry. That’s not much of a compliment.
Next up, the salad. This was probably one of the prettiest salads I’ve ever seen in a Disney theme park restaurant, so it gets points for presentation. It also gets point for taste, with lightly spiced meat and fresh ingredients. If you’re on the fence about the coriander vinaigrette, askthe server to have it served on the side. Overall, this is a safe bet.
We followed this with the noodle bowl, which you can get with tofu, chicken or beef. We had the chicken and it was spicy and filling, loaded with meat and fresh vegetables. Try this when it’s cold outside or when you want a big bowl that’s (slightly) lighter on calories.
The fish of the day was a huge hit. In fact, it’s easily the best thing on the menu (besides those amazing arapes). Perfectly cooked, well-seasoned, and placed on a bed of veggies, this felt almost like “spa food” except that it was also delicious and filling. Definitely a guilt-free meal that will make up, at least in part, for all the delicious treats you’ve had elsewhere on your visit.
Of course, we didn’t skip the dessert. We decided to try the Bertha’s Banh Bong Lan Cake with Mango-Lime Sorbet, which was citrus scented vanilla cake with sorbet on the side. It was light and refreshing, definitely the best dessert we tried that day.
Next up, we tried the Kungaloosh dessert, a chocolate cake and caramelized bananas. This was just . . . ordinary. Frankly, the cupcakes they sell all over property are better at half the price.
A word about the service: It was excellent. I generally find that servers in Disney restaurants are some of the best and Skipper Canteen is no exception. Our server took the time to tell us the story behind the restaurant and point out the “artifacts” in our dining room. He was also funny, with the same type of humor you’ll find on the Jungle Cruise.
Currently, you can make “same day” reservations at the Skipper Canteen. This will end on February 29 and we’re not sure what’s next–full out advanced dining reservations at 180-days or none at all. I’ll update here when there’s an announcement. One other bit of gossip regarding the Skipper Canteen: As of right now, there is no alcohol served, but we’re told that servers are being asked to tally the number of customers who ask so perhaps this option will be offered in the future.
I enjoyed my visit to Skipper Canteen and I will definitely go back. Having said that, I think you’ll see this restaurant add a couple of options to the menu that are less adventurous in the future because at the moment, there’s just not enough on the menu to please a wide range of guests. If you’ve been to Skipper Canteen, I’d love to hear what you think.
Right now, the Skipper Canteen does not accept Tables in Wonderland however it is available on the Disney Dining Plan.