REVIEW - Jungle Cruise Skipper Canteen at the Magic Kingdom

Dec 23, 2015 in "Jungle Cruise Skipper Canteen"

Jungle Cruise Skipper Canteen overview

The Magic Kingdom has a new table service restaurant, and it has big shoes to fill, drawing inspiration from the legendary Jungle Cruise attraction in Adventureland.

The Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen opened on December 16, and can be found just across from the Treehouse in the former Adventureland Veranda. Originally a fast food restaurant with a tropical theme from opening day Oct 1 1971, the Veranda closed as a restaurant in 1994, and has since been home to character meet and greets.

Spearheaded by Be Our Guest Restaurant in the New Fantasyland, dining at the Magic Kingdom has been on an upward trend in recent times after years of domination by chicken nuggets and burgers. The Skipper Canteen promises bold, flavorful tastes from Asia, South America and Africa, in a table service setting - something quite unique in a modern-day theme park.

Backstory

No Disney theme park experience is complete without a backstory, and the Skipper Canteen is no exception. The story goes that some enterprising skippers who guided your steamer along the rivers of the Jungle Cruise have opened the doors to their headquarters to feed fellow adventurers and weary travelers.

Looking just like their fellow Jungle Cruise skippers, servers wear the familiar Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. uniform, and sport a sense of humor to match. Disney has gone to lengths to extend the Jungle Cruise experience from the ride to the restaurant. The Skippers even perform an opening song each day to a familiar tune from the old Pleasure Island Adventurers Club.

Dining Rooms

Following a similar model to the Be Our Guest Restaurant, the Skipper Canteen is comprised of three distinct dining rooms.

The first is the Mess Hall, which is by far the largest of the three spaces. There are artifacts based on the Jungle Cruise throughout, and surprisingly for its size, it has a good ambiance, even when full. Comparisons can be made to the Ball Room at Be Our Guest, but the Skipper Canteen has a more pleasant atmosphere.

Behind a secret bookcase in the Mess Hall is the second dining room, which was once the meeting room of the mysterious Society of Explorers and Adventurers - S.E.A.

The space is small, and has a more luxurious appearance than the Mess Hall. This room is the equivalent of Be Our Guest’s West Wing, and will be high on the request list for seating preference.

Finally, there is the Jungle Parlor room, which was once used by the founder of the Jungle Navigation Co, Dr. Albert Falls. Similar in size to the S.E.A. room, it is also luxurious with a homely feel, complete with models of the Jungle Cruise steamers.

In total there is seating for 222 guests, with a variety of seating configurations, including booths.

Like Be Our Guest, you can request a room, but no guarantees are made, and of course your wait time may be longer if you wish to wait for your preference to become available.

The interior theming is perhaps not as extensive as many would expect with the Jungle Cruise as its theme. There are no special effects like we have seen at Trader Sams, nor are there the rich layers of detail like found at the recently opened Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar.

Unusually for Disney, the interior suffers to some extent from looking like a new interior, trying to look old. The furnishings and fixtures don’t appear to be aged, and everything looks new, almost plastic-like. Stepping into Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar feels authentic, the Skipper Canteen does not - it feels slightly pretend.

The Food

The Skipper Canteen menu is a real departure from typical theme park food and Disney should be applauded for taking a risk and offering a menu that isn’t comprised of chicken nuggets and burgers.

Following through with the adventurers spirit, the menu is adventurous, with cuisine inspired by the flavors of Africa, Asia and South America. You’ll find dishes like the Amazon-inspired house made areas appetizer, made with ground maiz, slow-cooked beef, black beans, fried plantain slices and queso fresco. Trader Sam’s Head-On Shrimp, features sustainable, local farm-raised shrimp tossed in a chili-garlic sweet sauce and served with Chinese broccoli and rice.

In total there are six appetizers, and twelve entrees. The restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner, with a single menu served throughout the day. View the full menu and pricing.

Appetizers

Each table gets a complimentary bread service, served with a honey dipping sauce.

For appetizers, we started with the House-made Arepas and the S.E.A. Shu Mai. Priced at $9.50, the Arepas are served with slow-cooked beef, black beans, tostones, and queso fresco. The flavor was good, as was the serving size. It makes a great sharing plate, and priced at under $10 is good value.



Anything named after the S.E.A. had to be tried, so for the second appetizer we tried the Shu Mai priced at $10. Served in a stainless steel pot, you get around 5 pieces of the steamed Gyoza Skin wrapped pork, shrimp, mung bean dumpling. Like the Arepas, we were impressed with the flavor, and it is an ideal sharing dish.

Entrees

After the great start on appetizers we were looking forward to the entrees, but sadly, things here were not so good.

“A Lot of Steak” Salad was our first dish, which promised Thai-marinated Flank Steak tossed with Hearts of Romaine, Carrots, Red Peppers, Cucumbers, Red Onions, and Cherry Tomatoes with Asian Dressing for $18.

Although the steak was well cooked, the dish was essentially 5 pieces of flank steak on romaine, with the tiniest serving of peppers and a single cherry tomato and dressing. We hunted around, but didn’t manage to find the cucumbers or red onions. Flank steak isn’t the most tender of meats, and the dish just became boring after a couple of bites. For $18 it was not good value for money, and wouldn’t be a dish that we would order again.

Our second entree was Skip’s Mac and Cheese, priced at $19. Described as typical Egyptian dish consisting of Spiced Ground Beef, Pasta, and Béchamel Sauce served with Broccoli. It was heavy on the pasta, and light on the beef, and even lighter on the broccoli. Had it not had any beef, it would seem more like a side dish, although it was certainly sized for an entree, and being so pasta heavy, was difficult to finish. As with the Steak Salad, this dish would not be one we would reorder.

Desserts

There are four desserts on offer, all sounding exotic and worthy of saving room for - we tried the Kungaloosh! and the Coconut Bar.

Priced at $8, the Kungaloosh! is described as an African-inspired Chocolate Cake with Caramelized Bananas served with Cashew-Caramel Ice Cream topped with Coffee Dust. It sounds great, but in reality it fell short. The base was an average chocolate cake, with a tiny portion of banana, and an even tinier portion of ice cream.

The Coconut Bar with Pineapple-Basil Compote and Vanilla Cream was the better of the two desserts, light and flavorful, but like the Kungaloosh, was just not worth $8. The serving size was small, amounting to not more than a couple of bites.

Drinks

Considering that Be Our Guest brought alcoholic drinks to the Magic Kingdom for the first time a couple of years ago, we expected the Skipper Canteen to follow suite. Surprisingly, Disney resisted the temptation, and chose to offer only non-alcoholic drinks. Besides the usual soft drinks, there are two specialty drinks "Punch Line Punch" and "Schweitzer Slush."

The Punch is similar to the tropical fruit drinks found at places like Boma and O'Hana. Very sweet -loaded with sugar. The Slush was incredibly sweet, more so than the punch - we could feel the enamel being stripped from the teeth with each sip. The punch was the best of the two, but neither would make our must-order list.

Kid’s Meal

A great advantage of eating at table service restaurants is you can sometimes get something half-decent for the little ones in your party. A real protein and some veggies in place of chicken nuggets or burgers. So just for the little ones, we tested out the $11.50 Tiki Tiki Fishy-gilled Sustainable Fish. Unfortunately the Mahi Mahi that was served was mostly inedible. It was cooked to the point of being more like a jerky. It was dry, flavorless, and tough to a point where it would be doubtful a child could chew it. The broccoli consisted of 2 small spears, nothing more than a bit of garnish.

Part of a Mickey Check meal, the $11.50 dish is rounded out with fresh seasonal fruit. Nicely presented in the shape of Mickey, it was mostly melon, with the more expensive ingredients like pineapple being very low in numbers.

If well prepared, the $11.50 would be reasonable. But on the day of our review, the dish wasn’t worth even half that.

Kid’s food is important, and it should be served with the same care and attention that is put into the adult dishes. Sadly this seems to rarely be the case.

Service

Being a new restaurant, the servers are extremely enthusiastic and are carrying the Jungle Cruise theme and story into the restaurant. There are corny jokes, tours of the artifacts, and lots of banter to keep the diners entertained.

Not the fault of the servers, but the food service was slow. The restaurant was not full, but food was taking a long time to come out of the kitchen. For many diners, the day at the Magic Kingdom is a busy one with lots to fit in, and the pace of service will need to be improved. This is perhaps due to the restaurant still being just a few days old, and will likely improve in the future.

Verdict

The Jungle Cruise Skipper Canteen opened with a lot of promise, but seems to have fell slightly short. Maybe our expectations were too high, or maybe it was a bad day in the kitchen.

Some of the food was good, some was average, and some was way below what should be served.

A similar thing can be said about the dining rooms. Everything is nice, but not amazing. It doesn’t wow in the same way that others do. Jock Lindsay’s at Disney Springs set the bar high for this type of interior space, and Skipper Canteen doesn’t measure up.

Something that the restaurant does do very well is take you away from the hustle and bustle of the Magic Kingdom. Once inside, the ambiance is calm, quiet, and relaxing. Even in the larger Mess Hall, it was a very pleasant place to be. Something that the Magic Kingdom has been lacking with its limited dining options.

So should you go? Despite some of our criticisms, the Skipper Canteen is a nice new option to have in the limited Magic Kingdom dining landscape. Be Our Guest is near impossible to secure a reservation at, and the remaining options are either character dining, or have a less than stellar reputation for food. If you are a fan of the Jungle Cruise, or like the look of the menu, you should definitely make a point to visit on your next trip. If the menu is not your thing, the restaurant itself is not enough to make the visit worthwhile, and there are better options available elsewhere.

Jungle Cruise Skipper Canteen is on the Disney Dining Plan, requiring one table service credit. There is not currently any discounts available and it is not yet on Tables in Wonderland.

The restaurant opened as a walk-up only, with no reservations yet being taken. Cast Members at the restaurant informed us that they are expecting to begin reservations early in the new year, but do not yet have any confirmed dates for when it will begin.

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Article Posted: Dec 23, 2015 / 9:54am EST