Skipper Canteen opened back in December in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom to the left of what used to be Aloha Isle and is now Sunshine Tree Terrace. That puts us across from the entrance to Swiss Family Treehouse or just across the Adventureland Bridge from the Hub. It marks Magic Kingdom’s first table service addition since the incredibly popular Be Our Guest Restaurant opened all the way back in December of 2012.
In a rather surprising move, Skipper Canteen does not currently offer or accept reservations, instead relying entirely on walk-ups. It’s true that Magic Kingdom suffers from a dearth of walk-up table service availability – Cinderella’s Royal Table and Be Our Guest Restaurant are infamous for being difficult or impossible to book.
But in a lot of ways, a Walt Disney World vacation has become a hyper-structured, plan-in-advance-or-suffer-the-consequences slog. You’ve got dining reservations that open up 180 days in advance of a given date, but then resort guests can also book up to ten days in advance of that. FastPass+ reservations open 60 days in advance for resort guests, but you’ve got another length-of-stay technicality on top of that. Off-site guests are stuck with a 30-day booking window and even then, many complain because attractions like Mine Train, Anna/Elsa, Toy Story Mania, and more will already have limited or no availability a month out. This wouldn’t be America if we didn’t complain that booking FastPass+ 30 days in advance is both needlessly far in advance and also not nearly enough time.
So on one hand, Disney expects you to be able to tell them not only which theme park, but specifically which restaurant you plan to be at 180+ days in advance. They expect you to be able to select three specific attractions each day with an exact 1-hour return window 60+ days in advance. But on the other hand, if you do decide that you want to eat at Skipper Canteen, you’re instead at the mercy of not knowing when or if you’ll be seated on the day of. On top of that, Disney charges a $10 per person no-show policy should you make a backup reservation somewhere else. So you might really want to eat at Skipper Canteen, but not wanting to be shut out of a relaxing, air-conditioned lunch somewhere on your one Magic Kingdom day, you make a reservation at Plaza Restaurant at the time you’d like to eat. If it turns out that there is plenty of availability at Canteen on the day of your visit and you choose to skip the Plaza reservation, you’d have to stop at Guest Services to see if they would waive the no-show charge, which would be $40 for a party of four.
I bring this up partially because Skipper Canteen is surprisingly unpopular. In my opinion, there are a number of reasons for this, the first of which is described above. The second is that the location isn’t appealing to walk-ups. The facade is sunk back about ten feet away from the main drag and the sign doesn’t really say what it is. And it’s not along a walkway where people are really peering around taking in their surroundings. Most are headed to the Hub for a show or fireworks or into Adventureland or Frontierland for a ride like Splash Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean. And even if you are more cognizant than most of your surroundings, the ebb and flow of traffic along what is a narrow corridor makes it likely that you’d walk right by the restaurant without noticing that it’s there anyway. And finally, those that typically make reservations 180+ days in advance are the ones aware that these sorts of additions exist and a lot of them are still trying to get reservations for Be Our Guest. And once you get a reservation for that, you may not be looking at another spendy meal.
Otherwise, the restaurant opens daily at 11am and serves late into the evening based on Park hours. It’s unlikely that you’ll have much of a wait at lunch, though you can guarantee that by checking in closer to 11am on busier days or waiting until around 3pm. Waits for dinner are usually somewhere between two and fifteen minutes, if that. In talking with cast members, the 220-seat restaurant is typically half to three-quarters full from 11am-6pm. Dinner is typically more brisk, but not so much that you’ll be quoted a 30+ minute wait.
Of course, the more-often quoted “problem” is the menu:
Here’s Disney’s online version, which may be easier to read.
Your skipper will describe the menu as “adventurous.” And some of these items are a little “out there” if you don’t make it much further than McDonalds in your everyday life. I think the bark is potentially worse than the bite. The salad is……a salad. The Shu Mai are similar to pot stickers. Hot-And-Sour Soup is a staple of every Asian restaurant in America. Arepas are tacos. Fish is fish. Falafel is falafel.
Otherwise, like Harambe Market, Disney brings two of Club Cool’s sodas over here with unlimited refills and there are two non-alcoholic specialty beverages.
Entree-wise, you’ve got some relatively unique takes on the usual:
Most of Disney’s standbys are here – it’s the same NY steak that they sell everywhere on property for $33-$35. There’s chicken, mahi, lamb, and pork. And you’ve also got rice noodle bowls, head-on shrimp, a vegetarian curried stew, and mac and cheese, in addition to a steak salad.
But the menu does seem to turn a lot of people around, which seems like a shame. I’m not real sure why so many people are so unwilling to give something a try. And you can certainly make some modifications if you’re a little unsure on chimichurri or something – just order it on the side. Don’t like jalapenos? Order the soup without them. What’s hoisin sauce or ambasha bread? Ask! They will be able to figure something out. It’s not like Disney takes a daily delivery of food from Mars stamped “FOR SKIPPER CANTEEN USE ONLY.” The underpinnings are the same as most any other regular table service restaurant on property.
The kids’ menu is potentially a little rougher on the youngsters. Growing up, I was a “picky eater” myself, which is a phrase I don’t really like. When you’re under the age of ten, you’re not picky. You’re extremely limited in what you think you enjoy because your tastes are not yet fully developed. A “picky” adult is not someone that sticks their nose up at the steak because it comes with a side of avocado instead of being cooked well done with a side of french fries. A “picky” adult sticks their nose up at the steak because it’s not seared A5 Japanese wagyu served with the paperwork to prove it.
But you do have to pick your battles, and Skipper Canteen is perhaps not the best place to fight with a child over whether or not they’re willing to take a bite of whatever JBen Cheese Gratinee is. It seems like a shame that there does not seem to be a lot of middle ground when it comes to kids’ meals at the various Disney restaurants. It’s either Uncrustables and Chicken Nuggets or Broccoli Mush and Candied Chocolate-Sunflower Seeds. I mean realistically, how many kids are into yuca planks and bechamel sauce?
So in this childless Disney blogger’s opinion, I think Disney does need to do a better job of mixing in some reasonable standbys alongside some more interesting items. The kitchen, which is shared with Liberty Tree Tavern anyway, could easily offer up the Egyptian Mac and Cheese with a note under it that says, “Served Plain – $9.50.” It wouldn’t kill them to add a kid’s turkey sandwich or a hamburger slider, again potentially served up with something unique, but also an easy option to order it “plain” as so desired.
Word is that kids do have the option to order off the Liberty Tree Tavern Kids’ menu:
I’d suggest asking at check-in to confirm.
I’ve also seen some complaints that Skipper Canteen is “expensive.” Here’s the breakdown on Magic Kingdom dining:
How “expensive” Canteen is compared to the other options depends somewhat on how you want to frame the argument. Overall, the price of a 3-course meal is slightly above average when you’ve got Cinderella’s Royal Table pulling the average up and Plaza pulling it down. When you consider just the restaurants able to serve a 3-course sit-down meal:
Canteen comes in about $2 less than Be Our Guest and about $6 more than Liberty Tree and Tony’s Town Square.
So while you could probably make a good case that $40/meal is “expensive,” it’s not much more expensive than your other options and would likely be less expensive than a similar meal at Be Our Guest. And considering you can order a steak salad entree for $3 more than Pecos Bill’s Steak Fajitas, you can certainly get out of there for not a whole lot more money than quick service.
Okay that is sort of a strange introduction to a restaurant review.
Canteen has comfortable indoor and outdoor waiting areas should you wish to hang out while you wait what is likely to be just a couple of minutes for your table to be ready. When we visited right at noon on Thursday January 21st, the wait was less than three minutes. If it’s longer, they’ll ask for your phone number and send you a text when your table is ready.
If they quote something like 15 to 20 minutes, you might head across the way and take a walk through the Treehouse, which takes about 12 minutes.
Like Be Our Guest, Skipper Canteen is broken down into three dining rooms. The Crew Mess Hall, pictured above, is the largest and brightest.
Fortunately, you get a lot less of the cafeteria vibe here than you do over in the Ballroom at Be Our Guest. The tables are spaced out better and the shape and angles of the room make it “feel” cozier and more intimate. There are a lot fewer opportunities to stick your spoon in your neighbor’ soup without them noticing though I still went three for five.
There are two more, darker, smaller rooms located off the Mess Hall.
This is the “S.E.A. Room—a once-secret meeting place for the Society of Explorers and Adventurers.” Or the old Tinker Bell Meet and Greet. One or the other.
The lavish theming in here is really neat, though some of the intimacy is wasted on tables that are again basically right on top of each other.
As a party of two, if we were seated in here, we’d be less than a foot away from the adjacent table and would actually share part of their bench seating. If you were a party of six, the other table and chair can be moved over to form a table of that size.
The third room is the “former family parlor of Dr. Albert Falls,” proprietor of the Jungle Navigation Company and the reason why we’re all here.
The “feel” in here is similar to the S.E.A. room only with the various artifacts replaced by china and tea sets. The parrot light fixtures are particularly noteworthy. You may want to request which room you’d like to dine in at check-in. They will assuredly give you the, “We can’t guarantee blah blah blah” before escorting you to your requested room.
I invited Mark out to lunch; you may remember him from past reviews at Liberty Tree Tavern and Tony’s Town Square. He runs a site called RideMax, which produces software that optimizes your touring plan at Disney World and Disneyland. Basically, you tell it what you want to do with your day and it places each attraction in the optimal order to save you up to several hours a day in line. You might find some value in a subscription if your plans deviate from the website’s established plans. He also has a nice Animal Kingdom update from earlier in the week that includes a second opinion on Harambe Market and specifically the recently added Chicken Tikka Masala as well as the Zootopia addition out at Rafiki’s Planet Watch.
Meals begin with complimentary Ethiopian celebration bread, which has a slightly sweet, slightly spicy flavor to it thanks to the ground cardamom, which kind of tastes like ginger and cinnamon. It’s served alongside a thin honey spread infused with fenugreek, which has kind of an earthy, aromatic quality to it. I’m not sure the flavor overall is as pronounced as you might expect given this description, but it’s certainly more interesting than your typical rolls and butter.
We started with the $9.50 House-made Arepas – A trip down the Amazon with Slow-cooked Beef, Black Beans, Tostones, and Queso Fresco.
These are served deconstructed, so it was up to us to create sort of an awkward Colombian pizza with the beef and beans topped with cheese and tomatoes. These are served as part of the Kids’ menu and I think an adult looking for a smaller dish could make a decent entree out of it with the variety of flavors and textures. A lot of appetizers tend to be “one note” with just a big pile of one thing. There’s a lot going on here and it’s all flavorful and high quality. Very good and easily shareable if you want to go in that direction. A good value.
Skipper Canteen really ups the presentation game across the board. This is the $10 S.E.A. Shu Mai – A legendary blend of Pork, Shrimp, Mung Beans, and Spices wrapped in Gyoza Skin then steamed – the six of which are served piping hot in a steel pot with a side of soy.
Also easily shareable, these have a slightly chewy exterior that breaks away into a surprisingly complex mixture of spices. I don’t think there’s a better appetizer served in Magic Kingdom and I would rank them very slightly below what’s served at Morimoto, which is high praise. Also a very good value.
I ordered the $23 Rice Noodle Bowl with Duck – Pho Broth served with Jalapeños with and a mix of fresh Herbs. It’s also available with tofu for $20 and chicken for $22.
The flavor here fell flat for me. Pho is predicated on a rich, flavorful broth and you don’t get any of that here, perhaps because the base is entirely vegetarian and omits a lot of the ingredients that you would expect from a more authentic Vietnamese soup. The herbs, and the cilantro in particular, dominated the flavor profile along with the onions and peppers. Part of the fun of pho is being able to build and concoct your own soup with a variety of optional accompaniments and while you’re free to omit what you don’t want, there aren’t a lot of customizable options here. If you are headed in this direction and find the soup to be unpleasantly herbal, ask about adding some sriracha or salt. The soup also wasn’t served particularly hot. I wouldn’t order it again.
Being bloggers, I don’t think they would have let us leave if we didn’t order a bowl of Skip’s Mac & Cheese – A typical Egyptian dish consisting of Spiced Ground Beef, Pasta, and Béchamel Sauce served with Broccoli, which comes in at $19.
I’m actually in the recording studio right now laying down the vocal track for my debut single, “All about that tilt.”
This is more of a mild, creamy mac and cheese than your typical atomic-orange Disney version, but it doesn’t lose any of the richness. The beef is mildly spiced in between two generous layers of pasta, producing an incredibly heavy, filling dish. Along with an appetizer or two, most adults could easily split this one I think. The kai-lan served on the side is a little more bitter than your typical broccoli, but is a also more flavorful leafy green.
While they do call this “Mac & Cheese,” it certainly is a serious departure away from what you’d receive just about anywhere else. We enjoyed it.
On the beverage front, I gave the $5.49 Schweitzer Slush – Frozen Apple Juice and Passion Fruit topped with Bursting Green Apple Boba Balls a shot. This drink is kind of fun – I’m sure frozen blended drinks topped with boba exist, but it isn’t a combination I had tried before so it was kind of fun to try to slurp up the little balls (no jokes please) along with the very cold, refreshing slush. It is extremely sweet, but it also maintained that perfect slushy consistency throughout the meal, so it was nice to be able to cool off a little bit from time to time with a burst of sugar. You might want to start with one to share. They’ll always bring another.
We ended the meal by splitting the $8 Pander! I mean Kungaloosh! – An African-inspired Chocolate Cake with Caramelized Bananas served with Cashew-Caramel Ice Cream topped with Coffee Dust.
A lot of people would tell you that it’s on the small side, but I think a lot of that is due to the length and size of the platter that it’s served on, which is kind of silly. As a table of two, the good news is that the length made it really easy to cut in half and turn sideways and we basically both had half right in front of us. I really enjoyed the dessert; it was rich and creamy with a nice variety of textures and different flavors of varying sweetness.
On the service front, ours was attentive, friendly, and knowledgeable about the menu and the meal was nicely paced. I am not really a Jungle Cruise person, personally. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s more a function of Disney refusing to pay the skippers the entertainment wage, so you get cast with little training and very few opportunities to ad lib and put their own spin on the ride. Skipper Canteen is intended to be an extension of the attraction and you do get a few jokes here and there, but I was happy that we weren’t bombarded with mildly-amusing-at-best puns that we were expected to constantly react to and laugh at. But it’s definitely a more fun, tongue-in-cheek vibe than you get at any of the other Magic Kingdom restaurants.
Overall, I enjoyed and recommend Skipper Canteen, particularly if you’re looking for something new and different. It’s not any more expensive than the other restaurant in Magic Kingdom and if you want to get out of there for less money, there are several entrees under $20 and something like the Arepas would easily serve as a suitable, smaller entree. The atmosphere is fun and varied. They did a great job with the details and theming.
It’s on the top of my list of restaurants that I’d like to visit again.
Skipper Canteen is on the Disney Dining Plan where each meal requires one table service credit. It does not currently participate in Tables in Wonderland.