Costa Magica Dining
Costa Magica's two main dining rooms, Costa Smerelda and Portofino, operate on a traditional set schedule for dinner and an open seating for both breakfast and lunch. Dining hours are later than North Americans expect: 7 p.m. for the early seating and 9:15 p.m. for the second. Costa Smerelda, located at the aft, is bigger and more attractive in that it's surrounded by windows on three sides, including the entire aft end overlooking the stern wake. Both dining rooms are listed as Deck 3, but both are two stories with second-floor seating around the rim of the main floor. Assignments are generally based on cabin placement: Forward cabins get assigned to Portofino, cabins further aft to Costa Smerelda.
The maitre d's do attempt to place non-Italian-speaking guests at tables that are language-appropriate; English with English, German with German, Spanish with Spanish. Furtheremore, the wait staff for that section is well-versed in that language, so there are no barriers to ordering. (I was traveling alone and was accidentally placed at a table of Russians. No one spoke to me at all; it was as though I weren't there. The waiter informed the maitre d' who rushed over to apologize; he had meant for me to be assigned to the adjacent table, which had two American couples, a teenager, a single gentleman, and then ... me).
The food at supper is ample and attractively served by attentive waiters who go out of their way to please. The pasta and rice dishes were absolutely spectacular on my cruise, some of the main courses (the osso buco, listed as "braised veal" in the English menu, and most of the beef dishes) were excellent, and the rest were merely OK, filling but not fantastic. The appetizers are good, sometimes unusual; we were curious about a smoked duck with tuna sauce (tuna sauce??), so one brave soul at our table ordered it ... and then quickly ordered something else. Desserts and salads are largely uninspiring.
Note: The waiters in the American and Canadian sections ask their guests if they want salad served with the main course; otherwise, it's served at the end of the meal.
A wine-and-water package is offered, with six bottles of Italian wine (three reds and three whites -- some very good) and six bottles of either still or "gas" (sparkling) water, at a cost of 99 Euros, which everyone said was an excellent buy. "Free" water will not be served at mealtimes; your only option is bottled.
Costa Magica's dining rooms offer seagoing traditions with a decidedly Italian twist: One night, waiters stopped mid-serve to waltz with guests, and on another, what we would call the Parade of Baked Alaska was carried out with light sticks and sparklers and had everyone cheering.
The Bellagio Buffet on the Lido Deck aft is surprising for several reasons. For one thing, it's big and expansive -- fitting for a ship this large, but unusual for a Europe-based cruise -- and for another, the food is really good, with several stations around the restaurant (and outside, both front and back) offering Italian specialties, international fare, grilled items and pizza. And finally, most surprising of all is the 24-hour coffee set up, with a robust brew available all day and night, practically unheard-of in Europe, plus tea bags, hot chocolate packs and milk (hot milk available in the morning). There's also an ice-cream station which has three flavors of self-serve ice cream available most of the day.
Trivia tidbit: The coffee and ice-cream stations use Carnival's cheerful green, blue and yellow plastic mugs and bowls. It was fun to watch people as they got their coffee; Americans and Canadians filled the 12-ounce mugs nearly to the top; the French and Italians only put about an inch in the bottom of the mug (except at breakfast) because they are accustomed to using tiny cups with small amounts of very strong coffee.
The room is big enough to accommodate most everyone quite comfortably, plus there's a second floor gallery and outdoor sections both forward and aft of the restaurant with tables and chairs. Problems arise, however, due to the limited number of hours that the buffet is open ... and when the pizza line and tea-time starts at 4 p.m. (after the buffet has been closed for two hours, and people have returned hungry from shore excursions and have only until 5 p.m. to grab a bite), there's a stampede that strains the resources of the facility and causes flaring tempers.
Bellagio becomes a "pizza trattoria" late in the evening, from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m., and there is usually a midnight snack of some sort, either in the Bellagio, in the galley, or canapes served in the bars and clubs along the Deck 5 promenade.
High up on Deck 11 is Costa's alternative restaurant. Taking a page from the trend on U.S. based ships, Costa Magica has adapted its Vincenza Tavernetta Club into a quiet, 88-guest elegant space with cooked-to-order steaks and chops and personalized service. There is a 23 Euro surcharge to dine here.
Room service breakfast is an expanded continental offering, with a choice of rolls, croissants, Danish pastries, cereals, juice, yogurt, and coffee, tea or hot chocolate. It's served by white-gloved attendants; coffee arrives in heavy porcelain pots, not plastic thermoses. While there is no charge for this (tipping is recommended at delivery), the rest of the room service menu consists of exactly three sandwiches (tuna, egg, and ham and cheese) for which your shipboard account will be charged 2 Euros.