Walt Disney World Chronicles: The Origins of Skipper Canteen

by Jim Korkis
Disney Historian

Feature Article

This article appeared in the July 10, 2018 Issue #981 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.


Skipper Canteen

Ever since the Jungle Cruise attraction debuted in Adventureland at Disneyland in July 1955, it has been one of the most popular rides at the park. In fact, it has developed a special mystique and encouraged the creation of legends.

In 1971, Florida's version of the Jungle Cruise opened as an E-ticket attraction with a different geographic order than its Disneyland counterpart and the addition of a finale to the ride inside a dark and foreboding flooded Cambodian temple. The ride lasted a minute longer than the adventure in Disneyland and there were two additional boats.

The original description to the press about the WDW version included phrases such as: "around the last bend, painted warriors continue the ritual of their ceremonial dances near burning skulls..." and "... as the boat passes through the center of a huge elephant pool, passengers will be entertained by the 'shower singing' of an Indian elephant as he sits and soaks in the waterfalls of his jungle spa." One press release even noted that: "in an exotic rain forest, guests will be treated to the croaking antics of giant frogs, as big as Boston bulldogs."

No burning skulls or singing elephant were in the final attraction, but these items reveal how Walt Disney Imagineers wanted the Walt Disney World ride to be significantly different from Disneyland's. Actually, the frogs did appear briefly for the first few months (until sometime at the very beginning of 1972), but were removed by WDW leader Dick Nunis who declared them "hokey."

Imagineer Marc Davis was completely in charge of the Florida version of the ride, unlike his role in the Anaheim attraction, where he had merely added significant elements to an already existing template, like the safari on a pole trapped by a rhino.

In Florida, most of the classic elements from the Disneyland attraction remained, but a number of Florida-exclusive (at that time) items were included -- Inspiration Falls, giant butterflies, pygmy war canoes, gorillas ransacking a safari camp, a huge python, a Bengal tiger, cobras guarding ancient treasure and a family of prankster monkeys fooling around with it to the delight of guests.

One of the oldest gags in the Jungle Cruise attraction at Disneyland (besides the infamous "back side of water") was guides pointing out that the name of the dramatic waterfall that the boat narrowly misses is Schweitzer Falls named after... wait for it... Dr. Albert Falls. Of course, the anticipated name is that of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, noted for his humanitarian work in Africa.

One of the newest Magic Kingdom restaurants has direct ties to Dr. Falls and is named the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen. The site of the new dining spot was being used as a Pixie Hollow meet-and-greet for the fairy characters at one time. When the characters moved out, Imagineers considered several options for a themed Adventureland eatery, including using Tarzan, Aladdin or pirates. The concept settled on was Skipper Canteen, which the back story says is operated by Alberta Falls, the granddaughter of the fictitious Dr. Albert Falls. Alberta has repurposed the company's tropical headquarters into a restaurant to generate additional revenue from the hungry cruise passengers. This 222-seat restaurant is located in the former Adventureland Veranda area across from the Swiss Family Treehouse and is home to "World Famous Jungle Cuisine." It opened December 16, 2015.

As the story goes, the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. that operates the Jungle Cruise boats was started by Dr. Falls on April 8, 1911. Dr. Falls' son 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, Alberta was sent to live with Dr. Falls to 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.

Skipper Canteen

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. Its walls are adorned with 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. The third dining area is behind a bookcase and was actually the secret meeting place for the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A.), an organization of which Falls was a founding member. The room features artifacts from the mysterious organization.

The restaurant's 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 love on the attraction. A server will say, "I'd like to point out some of the highlights of the restaurant." He or she then points up to the overhead fixtures. "There's a light. There's another one. That one is pretty high." Another server 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 three 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 8 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.

Yours truly,
Alberta Falls

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 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, many with sly references to:

-- 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 Sherman Brothers and the songs they composed for the Enchanted Tiki Room)
-- inside jokes (Friends for Dinner by T. Sam, a reference to Trader Sam the cannibal from the Jungle Cruise attraction)

Skipper Canteen

And there are some books that are just silly wordplay (Spotted Tigers by G. Rowl) or punny amusement (Fleas Navidad and Other Winter Insects). Here are a handful of the many delightful titles, along with their relevance to the Skipper Canteen and/or Disney in general.

-- In Search of the Yeti by Harrison Hightower III. Hightower is a member of the fictional S.E.A. based on Imagineer Joe Rohde, who was one of the driving forces behind Disney's Animal Kingdom and Expedition Everest. 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. Mystic, also a member of S.E.A., is also represented by other books including Treasures from the Manor and Primates as Shipmates, referring to his mischievous pet monkey Albert, who causes trouble in the Mystic Manor attraction.

-- Captain Mary Oceaneer is the author of Parrots as Pets, referring to her diving companion parrot, Salty. Oceaneer also is the author of Charting Course.

-- Leaders Throughout History by Professor G. Kalogridis is a reference to George Kalogridis, the president of Walt Disney World.

-- Songs of the Tiki Bird by Professor Boag honors performer Wally Boag, who helped write for The Enchanted Tiki Room and voiced the parrot Jose.

-- Universus Arboribus by B.M. Evans is a tribute to Imagineer Morgan "Bill" Evans, who loved putting Latin names on the Disney park horticulture.

-- A Journey to the Stars by Kimball alludes to Imagineer Ward Kimball, who wrote and directed three episodes about outer space for Disneyland's Tomorrowland.

-- Hamlet: A Lion's Tale by Shakes Speare acknowledges that 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.

-- Banjos and Baboons by Goff is a reference to Imagineer Harper Goff, who was a banjo player and also the designer of the Jungle Cruise attraction.

-- Primates of the Caribbean by Coats is for Imagineer Claude Coats, who did set design for the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.

-- A View from Above by S. W. Buckets refers to the Skyway attraction.

-- Mission to the Red Planet by Tom Morrow is a reference to the old Mission to Mars attraction.

There are so many little details in this restaurant if you have the time to seek them out. In fact, the secret meeting room of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers is behind the bookcase. It is accessed by pulling on a volume of The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling.

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.

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RELATED LINKS
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Jungle Cruise page

The Society of Explorers and Adventurers

Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd., Skipper Canteen at Walt Disney World

VIDEO: Review of the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd., Skipper Canteen

Other features from the Walt Disney World Chronicles series by Jim Korkis can be found in the AllEars® Archives.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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Jim Korkis

Disney Historian and regular AllEars® Columnist Jim Korkis has written hundreds of articles about all things Disney for more than three decades. As a former Walt Disney World cast member, Korkis has used his skills and historical knowledge with Disney Entertainment, Imagineering, Disney Design Group, Yellow Shoes Marketing, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Feature Animation Florida, Disney Institute, WDW Travel Company, Disney Vacation Club and many other departments.

He is the author of several books, including his newest, Secret Stories of Disneyland, available in both paperback and Kindle versions.


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.