by Beth Keating
May 13, 2023
One of our family’s favorite Magic Kingdom restaurants at Disney World is the “Jungle Navigation Co. LTD Skipper Canteen,” a mouthful of a name that most guests just call the “Skipper Canteen.” If you haven’t had a chance to visit this eatery, it is a fun premise, based on the punny jokes and off-beat humor of the Jungle Cruise. Your servers are the Jungle Cruise Skippers, and if you get a particularly engaged cast member, you will be laughing your way through your meal.
On this recent evening, our Skipper was naturally charming and humorous, and the Skipper at the next table had a different joke or riddle for the family sitting next to us each time she returned to the table. Of course, we eavesdropped! She was a veritable fount of cornball “Dad” jokes.
On top of being a unique combination of waiter and stand-up comedian, the Skipper Canteen cast member/skippers still manage to take your order, balance the food trays, and get you fed and out the door in a timely manner. These folks are on their toes! The restaurant’s kitschy décor transports you back to the Jungle Cruise’s colonial-era outpost, with a plethora of visual puns and Easter eggs everywhere you look. It’s worth a few minutes of your time to take a spin around the restaurant to seek out these gems, especially the book titles on the library shelves, Dr. Albert Falls’ family parlor, the S.E.A. (Society of Explorers and Adventurers) room, and the crew’s “mess hall.
For the past few years, we’ve generally ordered the same things every time we’ve sojourned to the Skipper Canteen. Usually, we split an order of the spicy chili-garlic shrimp over pork fried rice ($15.00), or occasionally opt for the delicious “secret menu” Brazilian Cheese Bread that won’t show up on your menu, but is available by asking your Skipper about it. Our entrée choices typically lean toward the “Tastes Like Chicken” ($28.00), a safe, and crunchy option at this somewhat adventurous watering hole, or the slightly spicier Skipper Dan’s Dan Dan Noodles (also $28.00).
This time, we kicked off our meal with something a little different at the suggestion of our Skipper. We tried the Orinoco Ida's Cachapas ($13.00). I suspect that we’d stayed away from this dish for so long because none of us really knew what cachapas were, and in case you don’t either, they are a delicious corn pancake. The Orinoco Ida version is a trio of small house-made corn pancakes, topped with beer-braised pork, roasted corn, Fresno pepper salsa, and avocado cream. (Orinoco Idais the name of one of the Jungle Cruise riverboats, if you didn’t recognize the name. It’s the one with the missing skipper, whose previous tour returned to the dock without him. Just ask Albert Awol.)
These pancakes were very fragrant, with a strong underscore of corn flavor to the pancakes, yet the corn flavor was not overpowering to the rest of the appetizer. In fact, there were several different flavors and textures working together here, so that at each bite, you were experiencing something just a little different on your tongue. The cakes had a bit of a kick, which was cooled nicely by the avocado crema. In addition to the braised pork and the snap of the corn kernels, there was a delicious herbiness from the green sauce as well.
Next it was on to the main courses. We were always a little skeptical of venturing out of our comfort zone to try the seafood dish at Skipper Canteen – anything labelled “Not Piranha” leaves a whole lot of wiggle room for swapping out ingredients. It’s the equivalent of adding “…and other ingredients” to a food label. But on this evening, we threw caution to the wind and branched out at our Skipper’s enthusiastic recommendation. We opted for the Sustainable Fish ($32.00), billed as “Not Piranha,” and served over bok choy, with lotus root, bell peppers, and shiitake mushrooms in a light ginger-lemon grass broth.
Our Skipper was right, on most of the information. (She did say that we could expect our entrées to arrive in 3-5 business days… fortunately, they arrived much faster than that!) Our “Not Piranha” turned out to be a really enjoyable Red Drum, a white fish. Fun fact: the Red Drum fish, native to Florida waters, gets its name from the drumming sound it makes from its swim bladder.
The fish was perfectly done – tender, flaky and on the sweet side. The searing was ideal – a nice combination of seasoning and crispness. Also, for those who may have seen pictures in other places of Disney serving up a whole fish, scales, bones and all, this was not one of those dishes. The Red Drum was a filet, carefully trimmed and plated and looking lovely.
Why, we asked ourselves, hadn’t we ordered this delicious fish dish before? We had been missing out. We made sure to tell the other seafood-loving members of the family that they should definitely order this the next time they sailed on into Skipper Canteen.
For the first time, we also enjoyed the “Hardy Har Char” Siu Pork ($28.00), a Char Siu-marinated Pork served with seasonal vegetables and Jasmine rice, and we were sad that we’d been missing out on this yummy dish for so long as well. A sauce similar to a chili glaze gave this uber-tender pork loin a touch of heat, but not so much that the spice-adverse among us had trouble with it. It left just a little bit of a tingle on your tongue. The pork was already sliced for you, before being coated with the glaze, which was akin to a barbecue sauce, but not quite as sweet or as smoky as a traditional barbeque sauce. It had a similar vibe, but with that mild kick. A side of charred Bok choy accompanied a tangy combination of zucchini, carrot strips and onion slices. The scoop of rice it was served with was a rounded hill that was soft in the middle, but a touch crunchy on the outside.
For dessert, we debated between our usual “Kungaloosh!” and the coconut bar, but in the end we felt like we were betraying the traditional Adventurers’ Club motto by going with the coconut bar. Kungaloosh! ($9.00) is a chocolate cake with caramelized bananas, while the coconut bar ($8.50) is a vanilla chiffon cake covered in a white chocolate ganache and served with a creamy pineapple-basil sauce. The diner choosing the coconut bar enjoyed the mix of sweetness, coconut and pineapple flavors, along with a slight denseness to the cake (again, in a good way).
Skipper Canteen also has a full range of wines and beers, along with a few specialty cocktails dreamed up by former Skippers. Tonight, we decided to stay in-theme, and tried out the Jungle Navigation Co. Shandy ($10.50), never having tried a Shandy before. This version started with Blue Moon Belgian White Ale, married to a nicely chilled lemonade. It was a wonderful discovery as a summer delight – and of course, it's always summer in Florida!
The African, Asian and Latin inspired menu at Skipper Canteen can be a little daunting for some diners, but don’t let that scare you off. Trust your Skipper’s recommendations, and venture outside your comfort zone… you’ll be glad you did!
Beth Keating is a theme parks, restaurant and entertainment reporter for DisneyBizJournal.
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