You knew it was coming, so here it is: I totally dig Skipper Canteen. And why wouldn’t I?
The table service restaurant opened back in December across from Swiss Family Robinson, but I didn’t get in there until April. I’ll be honest, without Dan as my guide (he’d been there by himself right after it opened), I probably would have walked right past it. But I’m glad I didn’t because the space is richly-detailed with lots of in-jokes and it’s clear that the Imagineers had a lot of fun creating it—the joy radiates. (Check out Dan’s blog post for lots of fun shots.)
The menu isn’t exactly what you’d expect from a Magic Kingdom sit-down spot, with a variety of “internationally” inspired dishes that appealed to me almost as much as some of my favorite World Showcase spots. And as someone who doesn’t eat McDonalds or Hamburger Helper for every meal, the variety is a welcome addition to the flagship Orlando theme park.
When we visited, we had a full day planned with lots of other food on our to-do list that day, so we didn’t order much food, and we decided to skip dessert … which was really a poor move on my part and definitely something I plan to rectify when we return.
Like all meals at the Canteen, ours started with Celebration bread, a warm, earthy take on traditional table rolls, and honey (which makes me so happy). I also ordered S.E.A. Shu Mai (pot stickers!) to split with our dining companion, and I was really impressed with them. They had a nice gingery flavor, and the textures were varied and interesting.
For my entrée, I ordered Skip’s Mac & Cheese, which isn’t your typical Disney World offering. It actually reminded me a lot of the Pastitso (Greek lasagna) on Cat Cora’s old Kouzzina menu—a blend of warmly-spiced ground beef and pasta topped with a really nice creamy béchamel sauce. It’s one of my favorite dishes in the real world, and I was really happy to see it in the Parks again. (And I know that bowl looks small, but trust me! It’s a plenty big serving for one—or even two!—people. It is rich and filling.)
For Dan’s part, he ordered the Falls Family Falafel, which came out frozen the first time! Fortunately, everyone at the restaurant—from our server right on up to the floor manager—were wonderful about quickly replacing the undercooked meal with a perfectly prepared plate of falafel. He loved them.
The service team, actually, deserves a big bravo in general. They did a great job of bringing the fun vibe of the Jungle Cruise to our table without being too terribly groan-inducing. We had a great time playing along with our server, but he wasn’t overbearing and he knew just when to back off. It could have been a disaster, but the patter was really well balanced.
Let’s talk for a second about this place: It’s amazing (you should definitely check out At Disney Again for more photos and tons of detail shots). But it’s not exactly bumping. The dining room was far from the packed experience I expect from table service spots in the Magic Kingdom. Personally, I think this is for two reasons: First, the place is new. People don’t know about it. It’s set so far back from the main walkway through Adventureland (and in a spot where there’s typically a lot of traffic moving), and the signage doesn’t make it totally clear that this is a sit-down eatery. Like I said earlier, I almost walked right past it … and I was looking for it.
Second, they’re only taking day-of reservations. And while I love the idea of spontaneity on a Disney trip, that’s simply not the norm anymore. For the past … well, I don’t know … but at least the past 8 years, Disney has been training us to call in or log on 180 days in advance to make reservations. We know that if we want to eat somewhere, we get an ADR. And we plan our days around those meal plans. It’s virtually impossible to get a walk up reservation at most times during the year. You can’t tell us to do one thing for years and then act surprised when we don’t want to / don’t think to do it differently without any kind of prodding or time to adjust. That’s not how people work—especially not Disney people, who—let’s be honest here—come back time and time again because they like the safe and recognizable.
But the rumor in the Parks and on the Internet is that the food is to blame. And, yea, like I mentioned earlier, this isn’t your standard Disney dining fare. But neither is the lunch menu at Be Our Guest, if we’re being honest. Potato Leek Soup? Coq a vin? Tuna nicoise? These aren’t things middle America is eating on a daily basis. That hasn’t hurt the Fantasyland restaurant’s popularity. But the rumor persists, even among my Cast Member friends, that the menu is shortly due for an overhaul because the food options turn people off and scare off unadventurous eaters and diners with kids.
I think that’s a real shame.
Is Skipper Canteen on your “must-do” list? Let us know in the comments!