From Adventureland Veranda To Skipper Canteenby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
When guests cross over the bridge into Magic Kingdom's Adventureland, on the right hand side is a large building with many different facades. It was meant to suggest the incursion of Western civilization on the edges of the jungle.
In 1971, this area was the home to shops like Tropic Toppers (Hats & Bags), Oriental Imports Ltd., The Magic Carpet, Tiki Tropic Shop and Traders of Timbuktu.
However the very first business that guests encountered on the right hand side was the Adventureland Veranda Restaurant.
It opened on October 1, 1971 as a counter service dining restaurant. It served mainly chicken and hot sandwiches. In 1976, the park's guide book described the location as offering "Polynesian entrees, hot sandwiches and soft drinks in a South Seas setting."
In 1977 the restaurant received sponsorship from Kikkoman known for its Japanese soy sauce and the menu changed to include Teriyaki hamburgers topped with a slice of pineapple, stir fry beef, and sweet and sour hot dogs.
The menu evolved over the years to include shrimp fried rice and egg roll, sweet and sour chicken, Lo Mein salad (Lo mein noodles with garden vegetables and pineapple in an Oriental dressing) and a "South Seas" fruit salad.
The tropical earth-colored tile patterns, hardwood latticework, dark wooden paneling, high ceiling with ornate rafters, French-colonial flowery brass lighting fixtures, and lazily turning fans made the restaurant a popular dining location.
In addition, inside there was an hour-long background music loop of Hawaiian and Asian Pacific instrumental music (sometimes with the distinctive steel guitar sound) put together by Jack Wagner, who also arranged the other background music for the park, that was both soothing and romantic. Unlike other Magic Kingdom restaurants, there was an entirely different one-hour music loop for guests who dined outside.
The restaurant had the hint of offering somewhat exotic entrees without straying too far from traditional American food tastes in what guests perceived as a relaxing and authentic tropical setting.
Imagineer Dorothea Redmond, who was responsible for some of the design of other Magic Kingdom buildings like the Columbia Harbor House as well as designing the Cinderella tile mural in the castle breezeway, tried to capture with the building the influence of British and French colonization that touched their holdings in the Caribbean, Polynesia, India, Africa and the Far East. Redmond's initial designs directly referenced the architecture shown in photographs in the following two books: The West Indies by Life World Library (1967) and Shadows From India by Roderick Cameron (1958).
The Preview Edition Guide for Walt Disney World describes the Adventureland Veranda as an "old Caribbean village setting" while a 1971 mention in the Orlando Sentinel newspaper describes it as "South Seas food in a Tahitian setting".
Studying the architecture closely it seems most to represent a South Pacific French Colonial plantation house from the Victorian era that helps ease the transition from the Victorian architecture found on Main Street USA. It seems to be very similar in style to a house that was once in Port-au-Prince.
The restaurant went into a reduced operating schedule in 1993 before being closed in 1994. One of the restaurant's enclosed verandas is currently the home of The Aloha Isle and its famous Dole Whip. It occasionally reopened as a restaurant when it needed to provide an option while other restaurants were going through remodeling or handle increased attendance in the park but when it did briefly re-open it did not offer its previous menu but just a generic offering of hamburgers and French fries and the like.
For years, the location mainly served as a character meet-and-greet location or a venue for internal meetings or special events like children's birthday parties or convention groups.
Over the decades, sections of the original layout have been truncated, altered, and removed over time.
Originally to the east of the restaurant was an outdoor dining area that was largely built up on piers that adjoined the canal offering a pleasant view of the waterway.
To the west of the restaurant was another open-air circular dining area in the alcoves opposite the Swiss Family Treehouse called the South Seas Terrace. That area disappeared in late 2010 with the expansion of the restroom area.
In addition, there was another patio, a high, glass-ceilinged decagonal space with a brick floor. Much of this became the Mess Hall area of the Skipper Canteen.
However, for the majority of WDW guests it was a closed, abandoned location taking up a large piece of exterior real estate for nearly 20 years.
Over the years, there were rumors that the Adventureland Veranda was going to become Tortuga, a restaurant that was to be the pirate equivalent of the Royal Table complete with Audio-Animatronics pirates. This rehab would have been just part of a total planned transformation of much of Adventureland to theme in with a Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise with the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse becoming the Black Pearl pirate ship for guests to explore and the Enchanted Tiki Room having a pirate themed show.
In addition, a roller coaster attraction, that tied in with the fourth movie in the franchise, was being developed. Like many such proposals cost and changes in leadership or shifts in brand focus resulted in it never advancing beyond the general concept.
The restaurant was finally reformatted into the Skipper Canteen that opened in December 2015. The choice was made to be able to utilize the already existing restaurant infrastructure as well as offering a dining opportunity. The new restaurant was named the Jungle Navigation Company Ltd. Skipper Canteen. The area was being used from 2011 to 2014 as a Pixie Hollow meet-and-greet area for Tinker Bell and her fairy friend characters.
When the characters moved out, Imagineers considered several options for a themed Adventureland eatery including using Tarzan, Aladdin or pirates as possible themes.
Ever since the Jungle Cruise attraction debuted in Adventureland at Disneyland in July 1955, it was one of the most popular rides at the park and developed a special mystique and encouraged the creation of legends.
One of the oldest gags in the Jungle Cruise attraction at Disneyland for decades (besides the infamous "back side of water") was guides pointing out that the name of the dramatic waterfall that the boat narrowly misses is called Schweitzer Falls named after Dr. Albert… Falls rather than the expected Dr. Albert Schweitzer, noted for his humanitarian work in Africa.
Skipper Canteen is operated by Alberta Falls, the granddaughter of the fictitious Dr. Albert Falls. This 222-seat restaurant is home to "World Famous Jungle Cuisine". It opened December 16, 2015.
According to the Imagineering back story, the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. which operates the Jungle Cruise boats was started by Dr. Falls on April 8, 1911. His granddaughter Alberta, who is the third generation owner, has repurposed the company's tropical headquarters into a restaurant in order to generate additional revenue from the hungry cruise passengers.
Dr. Falls had a son who married a woman from India and they had a daughter who they named Alberta in honor of her grandfather. When she was 8 years old, she was sent to live with him and learn the business.
The company was originally a tropical river cargo shipping venture ("and logistics services") but as business declined Alberta opened up sight-seeing cruises for passengers. A banner states that the inaugural cruise was October 1, 1931. That date is to reference the opening of the Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971.
The restaurant includes three dining rooms. The Crew's Mess Hall (which servers point out is not actually messy at all) is the largest one and includes wall hangings of photos, documents, native musical instruments, and other expedition mementos gathered by the skippers on their travels.
The Jungle Room which was the family parlor is a more intimate location and features memorabilia culled from the Falls' family archives. It includes wood carvings of attraction scenes made from wood once used on the attraction's docks, stained glass chandeliers in the form of the Enchanted Tiki Room's birds, and one of the miniature boats from the Shrunken Ned's Junior Jungle Boats game that was once located next to the Jungle Cruise on display in a glass case.
The third dining area is behind a secret bookcase and was actually the private meeting place for the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A.) an organization for which Falls was a founding member and features artifacts from the mysterious organization. Several S.E.A. club fezzes are on display in a glass case. In the room are large maps of mythological creatures discovered by the members referencing the films 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with the Nautilus and a giant squid and The Island at the Top of the World with the Hyperion Airship as well as the Epcot World of Motion attraction that featured a sea serpent now described as Horribus Sea Serpent and a mention of Kimballum referring to Imagineer Ward Kimball who worked on the attraction. The room also has a display wall of butterfly specimens that once belonged to Walt Disney's wife Lillian, and a painting of Doctor Albert Falls discovering the Cambodian Temple seen in the Jungle Cruise attraction.
The menu features cuisine inspired by the rivers of the world locales on the attraction including Asia, South America and Africa.
Alberta has even enlisted the skippers to interact with the guests when they are not on a cruise. The servers are encouraged to share the same corny humor, quips and "groaners" that guests loved on the attraction.
A waiter will say, "I'd like to point out some of the highlights of the restaurant." He then points up to the overhead fixtures. "There's a light. There's another one. That one is pretty high." Another waiter might add, "I don't want to mention the elephant in the room" and then point at an elephant statue on a shelf.
In a typewritten letter affixed to the menu, Alberta briefly explains the history of the Jungle Navigation Company and the restaurant.
"Welcome to the Jungle Skipper Canteen!
"My name is Alberta and I'll be your owner, manager, bookkeeper, interior decorator, and sous chef for the next 3 courses (or as far as you get). My grandfather, Dr. Albert Falls, established the Jungle Navigation Company in 1911.
"His goal was to improve the way in which cargo moved up and down the jungle rivers for his fellow explorers and adventures. When I was eight years old my parents sent me here to live with my grandfather and the jungle boat skippers. I call the jungle my home and the crew members are my family.
"That's why I turned to them when business began to decline soon after I inherited the company. Fewer and fewer full-fledged expeditions were seen in the jungle and Adventureland became more of a destination for greenhorn globetrotters. Simply put, our cargo shipping business was dry docked. Then one of the skippers came to me with an idea. He suggested we use our vessels to offer guided tours to the visitors.
"The rest is history! We have been offering Jungle Cruises for several years now and business has never been better. We've been so successful that I decided to open up our home offices to hungry travelers. The crew's mess hall, our old family room and even my grandfather's old meeting room are now open to our diners!
"We enjoy having you and we hope you enjoy being had. Please relax and enjoy your meal, then get out.
"P.S. I'm sorry, that was rude…Please get out."
As a tribute to some of the Imagineers responsible for the original Jungle Cruise, there are three offices on the upper floor balcony for Skipper Marc (Davis), Skipper Harper (Goff) and Skipper Bill (Evans). Davis was responsible for the visual gags. Goff designed the waterway and the boats. Evans did the landscaping.
At the Skipper Canteen, the shelves are filled with books that reference Disney parks (The Eyes of Mara by Jones, obviously a reference to Indiana Jones and the Disneyland attraction), Imagineers (Crooning Flowers by Sherman and Sherman referring to the Disney composers the Sherman Brothers and their songs for the Enchanted Tiki Room), as well as some books that are just silly wordplay (Spotted Tigers by G. Rowl or Boat Evacuation Procedures by Cap Size) or punny amusement (Fleas Navidad and Other Winter Insects) Some books have neither title nor author.
The secret meeting room of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A.) is behind the bookcase and is accessed by pulling on a volume of The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling.
Here are a handful of the many delightful titles:
- In Search of the Yeti by Harrison Hightower III. Hightower is not only a member of S.E.A. but was based on Imagineer Joe Rohde who was responsible for DAK's Expedition Everest and Aulani, Disney's Hawaiian resort hotel. Hightower has several different books on the shelves including Treasures of the Animal Kingdom.
- A Manor of Fact by Mystic is a reference to Henry Mystic and Mystic Manor in Hong Kong Disneyland. He is also represented by other books including Treasures from the Manor and Primates as Shipmates referring to his pet mischievous monkey Albert who causes trouble in the attraction.
- Captain Mary Oceaneer wrote Parrots as Pets referring to her diving companion parrot Salty. She also wrote Charting Course since she is an ocean traveler.
- Leaders Throughout History by Professor G. Kalogridis is George Kalogridis, the President of WDW when the restaurant opened.
- Songs of the Tiki Bird by Professor Boag honors performer Wally Boag who helped write the show and voiced the parrot Jose in The Enchanted Tiki Room.
- Universus Arboribus by B.M. Evans is tribute to Imagineer Morgan "Bill" Evans, who loved putting Latin names on the Disney park horticulture.
- A Journey to the Stars by Kimball references Imagineer Ward Kimball who wrote and directed the three Disneyland television Tomorrowland episodes about outer space.
- Hamlet: A Lion's Tale by Shakes Speare acknowledges that the Disney's animated feature film The Lion King was inspired by the Shakespeare classic play.
- Native Orange Birds of the Southeastern United States by Dr. Sidd Truss (pronounced "Citrus") is a nod to the Florida Orange Bird of the Florida Citrus Commission that was prominent for the first decade of Walt Disney World in Adventureland.
- Banjos and Baboons by Goff is a reference to Imagineer Harper Goff who was a banjo player but also the designer of the Jungle Cruise attraction.
- Primates of the Caribbean by Coats is Imagineer Claude Coats, who did set design for the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.
- Mission to the Stars by Tom Morrow (the audio-animatronics operations director in the Flight to the Moon attraction who is still referenced by name in the audio track of the PeopleMover).
- A Small Village With A Large Heart and Rockefeller, Hippo, Pet, Family by Doctor Albert Falls
- Married Into the Jungle is written by Dr. Falls's wife Victoria Marie Falls, Born Into the Jungle is written by Albert Falls Jr., and Married to Someone Born in the Jungle is written by Sneh Falls, the wife of Falls Jr. and mother of Alberta.
- Another New Year and Global Night Celebrations by Merriweather Adam Pleasure the founder of the Adventurers Club on Pleasure Island where New Year's Eve was celebrated every night.
- Illustrated Guide to Radio Broadcasting by Albert Awol who broadcasts in the Jungle Cruise queue.
- Friends for Dinner, Top Hats and Umbrellas, and The Missing Mask by Trader Sam. In the original WDW Jungle Cruise Trader Sam was a cannibal called Chief Nah-Mee and wore a top hat and carried an umbrella. At one point the Trader Sam figure wore a witch doctor mask but it was removed.
- Temple Tours, a series by Paco from the Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull attraction.
- The Harambe Chronicles by Wilson is a reference to a fictional character no longer on DAK's Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction. He was reserve warden Wilson Matua, who warned guests about the problems with poaching and flew over the reserve in Harambe to try to stop that illegal activity.
- Birds of Song by Tiki Kiki Serbano, a character from Disneyland's Adventure Trading Company event.
- The Polar Voyage by Captain Nemo referencing the moment in the 20,000 Leagues attraction when Nemo's submarine navigated under the North Pole.
- A Flight Through Dreams and If You Had Wings You Could Fly by B.L. references Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin and the two previous attractions in that location, DreamFlight and If You Had Wings.
- Keel Boat of the Mississippi by Fink. Refers to the King of the River, Mike Fink whose keel boat attraction was once in Frontierland.
- The Mystery Castle by Cindy Ella is a reference to Cinderella and the Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour that was once at Tokyo Disneyland.
- The Wildest Ride by J. T. Toad is a reference to the character J. Thaddeus Toad and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride attraction that was once in Fantasyland.
- A View from Above by S.W. Buckets refers the Skyway Buckets that once journeyed from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland.
- Tiki, Tiki, Tikis of the South Pacific by B. Baker refers to Disney composer Buddy Baker who supplied the waiting area music for the Enchanted Tiki Room that was filled with Rolly Crump's clever Tiki statues.
- Creatures From Space by Clench refers to Chairman Clench of X.S. Tech whose teleportation technology brought an alien creature into the Alien Encounter attraction.
- Keeping Time by Williams refers to Robin Williams who was the Timekeeper in the Tomorrowland attraction of the same name.
- A New Way to Manage Birds from I & Z Management Publications is Iago and Zazu and their Under New Management approach to the Enchanted Tiki Room.
- The Grace of a Swan by Plaza refers to the Plaza Swan Boats that once journeyed into Adventureland.
- Great Characters of World Literature by J. Lasseter refers to John Lasseter, a former Jungle Cruise skipper as well as former chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar and Disneytoon Studios as well as the Principal Creative Advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering.
- Meeting Royalty by Sklar refers to Imagineering legend Marty Sklar.
- True Life Adventures by W.E.D. refers to the True Life Adventures documentary series and W.E.D. are Walt Disney's intials as well as the former name for Imagineering.
- A Small World of Traditional Wardrobe by A. Davis refers to Imagineer Alice Davis, the wife of Marc, who costumed the figures in It's A Small World.
- Profiles of Legendary Pirates of the Caribbean by Gibson refers to Imagineer Blaine Gibson who sculpted the pirates in the attraction.
- Treehouse Construction by Mills refers to John Mills who played the role of the father in the 1960 Disney film Swiss Family Robinson who built a treehouse for his family.
- The Stars Above Us by Quill refers to the character of the space traveler Peter Quill in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.
The Skipper Canteen is an imaginative and entertaining addition to the many legends of the Jungle Cruise with many "hidden" details yet to be discovered by enterprising explorers including studying the "Lost and Unfound" section with some items from the Adventurers Club on Pleasure Island.