Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom has so much going for it — classic attractions, delightful ambience, and a sense of place within each land. It’s hard to say bad things about the place. For a long time, the exception was the food, which barely drifted away from fast food. There were sit-down restaurants like Tony’s Town Square and The Plaza Restaurant, but there was little diversity. Disney has worked to change that trend recently, particularly with Be Our Guest. That push continued with the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen. Opening in December 2015, this unique spot is a haven for fans of the Jungle Cruise and the now-defunct Adventurers Club. It also offers a nice selection of dishes, assuming you can afford them.
The Skipper Canteen stands in Adventureland adjacent to the Sunshine Tree Terrace. You could easily stroll right by it, and Disney has struggled to draw crowds there. There are still lunch reservations available for tomorrow for example, and that is surprising for a weekend. The nice part of this situation is that you don’t have to grab an ADR months in advance. There are two main factors to the lesser interest in the Skipper Canteen. Many Disney guests are looking for more standard fare, particularly with young kids. Disney has adjusted the menu a little to help parents; there’s now a standard macaroni and cheese option. The other issue is the price, which can add up quickly. Entrees are mostly in the $20-$30 range, with appetizers around $10. They aren’t insane by Disney standards but are a step up from counter-service fare.
We enjoyed lunch at the Skipper Canteen on our final day in the parks during our March trip. It was our second day at The Magic Kingdom, so the break from the crowds was nice. It was my first meal at the Skipper Canteen, which had been on my to-do list since it opened. Our ADR was at 1 p.m., and the timing was perfect. A torrential rainstorm hit Orlando around 12:45, so we quickly scampered to the restaurant.
The rain brought more crowds than usual, so it was a little tight in the waiting area. There’s more space there than many places in Disney World, and it was cool to spend a little time in the lobby. It includes a cool little porch along with the odd collection of random seats and decor. There’s even more space around the desk at the entrance, and that was helpful for guests escaping the rain.
The Skipper Canteen is split into three rooms: the large Mess Hall, the Jungle Room, and the S.E.A. Room (also known as the library). Only two rooms were open during our visit, and I requested the S.E.A. Room at our check-in. This may have increased our wait, but it was worth the extra time. The library is cozy and avoids the cramped feeling of many Disney restaurants. There are no windows or views of the entrance, so it feels quite separate from the Magic Kingdom. It’s like you’ve taken a short trip to another world away from the masses of guests.
I visited with my wife and two daughters, so we were able to check out several choices. There’s still a lot more to try, however. I ordered the Char Siu Pork, marinated and served with Chinese broccoli and jasmine rice. It’s a more standard option if you don’t want to be too adventurous. Even so, I really enjoyed it and felt that the $24 price wasn’t exorbitant. You receive a good portion of pork, and the sides complement it nicely. The sauce is sweet and includes honey and soy sauce from what I could gather.
My wife ordered the aptly titled “Tastes Like Chicken” Because It Is! entree, which comes with citrus and ginger-scented rice, chili glaze, and seasonal vegetables. This was another fairly safe choice, particularly since the chicken is fried and crispy. She was not a big fan of this dish, but it was still good quality. Her response came down to personal taste more than the meal itself. The seasonal vegetables were a mix that was dominated by carrots. I should also mention that alcoholic drinks are now available at the Skipper Canteen, but they’re pretty limited. The beer choices are only Stella Artois and Blue Moon, and that feels like a missed opportunity.
Like I mentioned earlier, one potential drawback of the Skipper Canteen is the kids’ menu. There are no chicken nuggets, hot dogs, or burgers on this menu. It worked out for us because my daughters were able to order the Junior Skip’s Mac & Cheese with a side of fries. The online menu lists broccoli, but you can definitely substitute if needed. This mac & cheese was a step up from the typical Disney version, so that was a nice bonus. Other kids’ options include the Sizzling Savanna Grilled Flank Steak and Tiki Tiki Fishy Fishy Grilled Sustainable Fish. I should mention that the quiet atmosphere could make some kids restless. It’s a relaxing break from the chaos of the park yet might be too calm for younger patrons.
Prices for the kids’ choices range between $10 and $13, but they do include a drink and dessert. The real gem of this set-up is The Volcano! dessert. Described on the menu as a “gooey chocolate cake with caramel lava and exploding chocolate rocks”, this is hardly the typical choice. It’s pretty and could work as a dessert for adults. I tried a few bites and can vouch for my daughter’s enthusiasm about it. It was easily the highlight of the meal for her.
The Skipper Canteen is a treasure trove of different artifacts that were brought back from various journeys, according to the story. It’s impossible to digest them all in a single visit. Even the bathrooms include clever touches like a newspaper story about lost shipments (again!) by the Jungle Navigation Co. It’s the type of place that locals and annual passholders will want to visit regularly to check out everything. This fact means that the menu needs to stay eclectic or risk losing repeat visitors. It may scare away casual tourists but should gain dedicated fans.
I was a huge fan of the Adventurers Club and was sad to see it close in 2008. Some décor from that beloved spot has found its way into the Skipper Canteen. Beyond those specific pieces, the offbeat tone of this place mirrors the Adventurers Club. I’m still a little amazed that it exists because it doesn’t fit the middle road. I hope that Disney keeps this place weird and doesn’t limit the menu to draw more guests. Its popularity should grow as more people experience it.
The Skipper Canteen is not for everyone, and that’s okay. It’s actually a little high-end for my tastes, but not to a ridiculous degree. The servers tell a lot of corny jokes, so that keeps the atmosphere down to earth. They’re more low-key than the characters at the Adventurers Club but retain some of that goofy vibe. I also enjoy anything that connects to the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A.), which has untapped potential in the parks. Creating a fun back story without a direct connection to IP is so refreshing. Disney should look for more ways to create original places that go beyond the lowest common denominator, and the Skipper Canteen is a great example. I’ll close by including more photos from our recent visit.