The Walt Disney World culineers have opened a new full-service restaurant within the gates of the Magic Kingdom, which previously had only a few table service restaurants, including Liberty Tree Tavern, the Plaza, Tony’s Town Square and Cinderella’s Royal Table. Be Our Guest opened three years ago with waiter service only at dinner.
Now comes Jungle Skipper Canteen, or as it’s known by its full name, the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen.
It occupies a space that had opened with the theme park as Adventureland Veranda. That restaurant closed years ago, and the space has been used for mainly for administrative offices.
Although its name refers to the Jungle River Cruise ride, known for the punacious pilots who keep eyes rolling on the river, the Canteen isn’t next to the ride, so, no water view of the boats gliding by a la San Angel at the Mexico pavilion at Epcot.
But the servers at the restaurant will make you feel as though you’re on the river ride — their patter is packed with puns, so whatever you decide to order, expect it to come with a heaping side of corn.
The menu is influenced by the cuisines of the four rivers, but don’t confuse that with the locally legendary barbecue chain. The four rivers here are the Mekong, Congo, Nile and Amazon. (Be careful if you order something from the Amazon — there may be a shipping fee (barump-bump).
The menu is under the direction of chef Al Youngman, who previously had been at Le Cellier in Epcot. I was invited to sample a number of items as part of a media dinner to introduce the new restaurant.
The wisecracking servers brought out an array of starter courses, which turned out to be the highlights. The sustainable fish collar was delicious. As the name suggests, the cut is from the fish’s clavicle, behind the gills. Not a pretty cut, and one has to work with the bone to get the meat off. But there was plenty of flesh to enjoy, and all of it broiled to perfection. This is the sort of thing you’d expect to be a hard sell to tourists. Despite their presence in a place called Adventureland, most are not adventurous eaters. Glad to see something like this on the menu.
I was glad for the house-made Arepas, too. Dollar pancake-sized tostones were piled high with shredded barbecue beef, black beans and queso fresco.
And the Shu Mai, bursting with a blend of pork, shrimp and soybeans, were big and tasty. (Just be careful with the soy dipping sauce; a heavy dose of sodium.)
Only the Falls Family Falafel disappointed. The little fritter balls looked right, but the texture was too dry.
For our entrees, we each made one selection from the all-day menu. I chose the Rice Noodle Bowl with duck (chicken or tofu are also available). It was a beautiful presentation, and I liked the duck meat very much. But the pho-like broth was a bit under seasoned. Some sriracha would have helped.
Others enjoyed such items as Grilled Lamb Chops, Dr. Falls’ Signature Grilled Steak, and Trader Sam’s Head-on Shrimp (another kudos-worthy offer for the adventuresome).
Desserts included Coconut Bar with Pineapple-basil Compote and Vanilla Cream, and Kungaloosh!, an “African-inspired chocolate cake” with caramelized bananas.
We were in an area suitable for private parties in which there was a hutch filled with dish ware, inevitably referred to by the staff as the great wall of china. (According to one of the cast members, the hutch also holds a piece of ribbon from the original ribbon cutting ceremony from the Magic Kingdom’s opening. So if you’re into Disney artifacts, you’ll want to seek that out.
The main dining room is a large open space with a voluminous ceiling. You’ll wonder why it hasn’t been utilized as a revenue producing venue for so long.
And speaking of revenue, entrees range from $17 for a vegetarian stew to $34 for that grilled steak. My duck soup would have cost me $23 if I had been paying.
And despite the precedence established by Be Our Guest when it opened in 2013, no alcoholic beverages are available with your dinner. “We’re still working on it,” one cast member whispered to me.
There’s got to be a pun on the word still.
Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen is in the Adventureland section of Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. Only same-day reservations are accepted, so if you’re visiting the park and wish to dine there, head over and get on the list.