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Disney World: Secrets of the Skipper Canteen

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 8/09/2016 Arthur Levine
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The Jungle Cruise is among the most popular and beloved Disney park attractions. Now, visitors at Disney World's Magic Kingdom can augment their whimsical river journeys by grabbing a table at the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen restaurant.

Like the "world famous" ride (as the quipping skippers often refer to the Jungle Cruise), the eatery on which it is based includes both a heavy dose of storytelling and an emphasis on light humour. The food itself, which draws on the attraction's African, Asian, and South American locales, is surprisingly adventurous – or perhaps the diverse menu is apropos given that the Skipper Canteen is located across from the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland.

The backstory is that the tour operator's owner, Alberta Falls, has repurposed her company's headquarters into a restaurant to generate additional revenue. In doing so, she allows customers to go behind the scenes of the wacky business and interact with the skippers. Alberta, it seems, is the third-generation owner of the company started by her grandfather, Dr. Albert Falls (Jungle Cruise passengers may recognize that name.)

It wouldn't be the Jungle Cruise without a showing from the backside of water, one of the highlights of the ride. © James Riley It wouldn't be the Jungle Cruise without a showing from the backside of water, one of the highlights of the ride.

The restaurant includes three dining rooms. The Mess Hall is the largest one and includes wall hangings of photos, documents, native musical instruments, and other expedition mementos. Memorabilia culled from the Falls family archives adorn a more intimate room. Patrons that score seats in the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A.) room can ogle artifacts from the mysterious organisation.

As with their Jungle Cruise counterparts, the skippers that double as servers at the Canteen have a rat-a-tat patter that is tongue-in-cheek – and occasionally cheeky. They share silly puns and groaners that are so bad, they're good. As an example, after distributing menus to a table, a waiter said, "I'd like to point out some of the highlights of the restaurant." He then motioned up to the overhead fixtures. "There's a light. There's another one. That one is pretty high." Groan.

In a typewritten letter affixed to the menu, Alberta briefly explains the history of the Jungle Navigation Company and the restaurant. She concludes it by writing, "We enjoy having you and we hope you enjoy being had. Please relax, enjoy your meal, then get out." Her postscript adds: "I'm sorry that was rude... Please get out."

Skipper Canteen © USA Today Video grab Skipper Canteen

Appetizers include S.E.A. Shu Mai, dim sum-style steamed dumplings filled with pork, shrimp, and mung beans. The eclectic menu offers entrees such as Dr. Falls' Signature Grilled Steak, which is served with yucca, avocado, and chimichurri, as well as Rice Noodle Bowl with Duck, which adds some jalapenos to fire up the pho broth. Among the desserts is a Coconut Bar with Pineapple-Basil Compote and Vanilla Cream. Signature beverages include Schweitzer Slush, a concoction that mixes frozen apple juice and passion fruit topped with apple boba balls. The menu states that "the noted explorer and humanitarian, Dr. Albert Slush" devised the drink. Groan.

Get a taste for other dishes at the Skipper Canteen:

The Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen is the latest Disney restaurant to include a fanciful theme. Also at the Magic Kingdom, guests can hobnob with princesses at Cinderella's Royal Table, located inside the park's towering castle. More recently, Disney World began inviting visitors to dine with the Beast (of Beauty and the Beast fame) in his ornate New Fantasyland castle at the Be Our Guest restaurant. Other Jungle Cruise-inspired eateries include Trader Sam's at both the Disneyland Hotel and Disney's Polynesian Village Resort in Disney World.

The Jungle Cruise debuted on opening day at both the original Disneyland Park in California and Florida's Magic Kingdom at Disney World. At first, the attraction used Disney's True Life Adventures movies as its basis and had a more serious tone. Over time, however, it evolved into the jokey attraction that guests adore.

Among the famous alumni who performed the coveted role of Jungle Cruise skipper are actor Kevin Costner and Pixar producer John Lasseter. Interestingly, Lasseter now also serves as the principal creative advisor of Walt Disney Imagineering. Despite rumours, Queen Britney was not a skipper. But you can see her spears in the Jungle Cruise. Groan.

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