Do you love Jungle Cruise? Are you looking for a great meal at Magic Kingdom, something unusual and memorable? If you answered yes to either of these questions, one of the newest Table Service restaurants at Walt Disney World is worth your consideration. Read on to find out whether Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen is the right place for you.
For many years, one of the most accurate criticisms of Magic Kingdom was that it lacked high-quality dining options. Sure, comparisons to Epcot are a bit unfair since dining is an integral part of the World Showcase experience, but Magic Kingdom was still mainly a place to get a burger and fries for many years.
Disney has aggressively addressed that criticism in recent years. Be Our Guest is the most famous example, but a less heralded option is better, at least for foodies. That restaurant is Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen (Skipper Canteen for short), and you shouldn’t be scared off by some of the harsh early reviews about the food here. Nobody ever argued that the meals here are bad, just…unusual.
Skipper Canteen offers world cuisine, and it does so for good reason. Disney tries to theme everything in their parks, and the theme at this eatery is that it’s a kindred spirit to Jungle Cruise, the beloved Adventureland attraction that celebrates exploration. When you dine at Skipper Canteen, the conceit is that you’re an itinerant adventurer in need of local cuisine. You don’t want the same old thing that you’d have if you were back home. What’s the point of exploring the world if you don’t think, “When in Rome…”?
Jungle Cruise has operated since the opening day of Disneyland in 1955. Its rich history is the inspiration for much of Skipper Canteen ‘s décor. You’ll discover relics from foreign lands as you wander through the building. You’ll also see paintings that are reenactments (or at least embellishments) of the daring deeds of Dr. Falls and other members of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers.
The ambience is outstanding, especially if you’re a Jungle Cruise fanatic. Even if you’re not, take the opportunity to wander around the restaurant and admire the theming. It’s some of the best Disney has ever done at Magic Kingdom. Be Our Guest is its only equal right now in my opinion.
In terms of price, Skipper Canteen isn’t cheap. Some pricing aggregators indicate that it’s one of the most expensive Table Service meals at Walt Disney World. It costs an average of $36 per person according to WDW Prep School.
That’s a lot of money for a meal that a lot of people don’t enjoy. Conversely, it’s a great use of a Table Service credit if you do like the food. You’re maximizing the value of the Disney Dining Plan when you eat more expensive meals at places like Akershus, Chef Mickey’s, and Skipper Canteen, all of which cost only one Table Service credit. So, the value of Skipper Canteen depends on how you’ll pay and how adventurous your palate is.
Since Skipper Canteen is an extension of Jungle Cruise, it shares a key similarity. That’s to say your waiter will treat you to dinner and a show. Cast members perform in character as “Skipper Servers.” You will receive a script of outlandish puns and bizarre jokes, just as you would during a ride on the Jungle Cruise.
How does this work in practice? Well, it’s relentless. As you sit down, your Skipper Server may inform you that in the event of emergency, your chair cushion doubles as a flotation device. This presentation isn’t universally loved, and I include the cast members in that. During a recent visit, one of our servers made no attempt to get into the festivities. We learned afterward that Disney suggests that you ask for a spirited Skipper Server when you check in at the restaurant. I guess puns aren’t for everyone.
Here’s where the conversation takes a turn. The most divisive element of Skipper Canteen isn’t the script. It’s the cuisine. While the complaint about Magic Kingdom is the sameness of many of its dining options, this particular establishment is too extreme for some. The menu is stubbornly rebellious in its international slant. Not many places offer lunch selections like Shiriki Noodle Salad, S.E.A. Shu Mai, and Orinoco Ida’s Cachapas. You’re probably already googling for explanations, and those are just the appetizers!
Skipper Canteen’s menu is so eclectic that they actually name one dish, “Tastes like Chicken” – Because it is! I presume that they did this because of the idea of a basic chicken entrée seemed like a trap to some, especially after other options like Curried Vegetable Crew Stew and Baa Baa Berber Lamb Chops. Many people go their entire lives without eating lamb. It’s a basic lunch option here.
Thematically, the idea here is clear. Skipper Canteen is for the adventurous culinary crowd. It’s a little slice of heaven for foodies. For tired Magic Kingdom travelers seeking some protein replenishment, it’s a challenging menu. When you choose to eat here, you should make sure that you’re doing so to try some new and exciting stuff rather than to grab a bite somewhere near your Jungle Cruise FastPass.
I’ve eaten at Skipper Canteen three times thus far. On two of these occasions, I was in a party of five, and we were all on the Deluxe Dining Plan, the one that includes appetizers and desserts. For that reason, my party has sampled a little bit of everything at Skipper Canteen by now. Suffice to say that we’re fans.
In fact, let me offer a quick anecdote here. My brother once had an emergency appendectomy 10 days prior to our eating at Skipper Canteen. We begged him not to make the trip, but it takes more than a burst appendix to stop my family from visiting Walt Disney World!
What my brother hadn’t realized during the months leading up to his surgery was how sick he was. He stopped enjoying food. Skipper Canteen single-handedly reminded him of the joys of international cuisine. His satisfied sounds as he ate were almost cartoonish. They seemed exaggerated, but he was sincere. It was one of the best meals of his entire life. Anyone who ever says that food isn’t love would have reconsidered while watching him dine on that day.
What does our party enjoy so much? Well, one of the best items on the entire menu comes automatically and is free. The Ambasha bread is the tough sort of bread, but it melts into a sopping delicacy once you dip it in the accompanying honey-infused dip.
My family recommends the Char Siu Pork, Skip’s Beefy Baked Pasta, Tastes Like Chicken, and Nile Nellie’s Noodle Bowl with Duck. The group’s favorite appetizer (by far) is the S.E.A. Shu Mai, but Orinoco Ida’s Cachapas are good, too.
Finally and most importantly, the real star of a meal at Skipper Canteen is dessert. Independent of how the rest of your meal goes, you’re sure to find a winner at the end. Bertha’s Banh Bong Lan Cake with Mango-Lime Sorbet is a phenomenal chiffon cake. Quick Sand!!! is a rice pudding that packs a flavor punch in a small bite, although it’s a bit much for me.
If you’re only picking one dessert, however, your choice is clear. The Kungaloosh! Isn’t just the best dessert at Skipper Canteen. It’s one of the best anywhere at Walt Disney World. I’m salivating just thinking about the way the rich cake meshes with the caramelized bananas.
Are you still on the fence about this restaurant due to its mediocre buzz? I want to add that I have the palate of a four-year-old child. I’m the proverbial burger-and-fries guy. I go to Skipper Canteen more for the spiel and the happiness of my family than any foodie tendencies. Even so, I’ve discovered that Dr. Falls’ Signature Grilled Steak is a winning choice for less ambitious eaters. It does come with strange sides, plantains and Toasted Brazil Nut pesto, but they do allow substitutions. Also, I’m oddly a fan of pesto, so I enjoy it anyway.
In summation, the debate over Skipper Canteen is understandable. The menu is stubbornly unconventional. You’re risking a lot of money per person to eat food that you may not enjoy. In exchange for the risk, you’ll enjoy one of the most novel dining experiences at Walt Disney World. Even if the flavors prove too exotic for your taste buds, you should still enjoy the meal, particularly if you get a great Skipper Server. Meanwhile, fans of international flavors will love everything about this hidden gem at Magic Kingdom.