MSC Splendida Dining
While Splendida offers a variety of options for eating, most passengers tended to crowd the lido cafeteria, Bora Bora, at breakfast and lunch, while the main dining rooms had plenty of empty tables. At dinner, the five specialty restaurant options were not busy, sometimes empty in the early evenings, while the two main dining rooms were packed with passengers at early seating (starting at 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. depending on the ship's itinerary) and late seating (starting at 8:45 to 9:30 p.m.).
Of the two handsome main dining rooms, La Reggia and Villa Verde, the two-level La Reggia seems far more crowded with tightly packed tables, while Villa Verde, with panoramic views of the sea from big picture windows, has a more open feel. Both dining rooms have a grand look when set for dinner.
I was assigned a round table of nine at early seating in La Reggia, and I shared an "intimate" table with four women from Scotland and two couples from England. The backs of our chairs rubbed against the backs of chairs belonging to our neighbors when any of us moved in or out of our places. Our table was surrounded by large families, with children who often were noisy though not ill-behaved. When I peeked into the dining room later on in the evening, the second seating at La Reggia was quieter than the first seating.
Meals in the main dining rooms are included in the cruise fare. Passengers may choose from as many as six courses -- salad, soup, appetizers, pasta, entree and dessert. Each night, the menu includes specialties, as well as a pasta and risotto, from a different region of Italy. I recommend trying them all. An evening menu might include entree choices of stewed fish, smoked ham, escalope of turkey and eggplant Parmesan. Always available were spaghetti, chicken breast, escalope of beef and salmon.
Table service at dinner was friendly and efficient. Waiters did a good job of keeping track of the different wine package selections at my table, and they were helpful when I requested Champagne glasses so that I could share with the table a bottle that had been sent to my cabin. At the beginning of the cruise, passengers may buy a wine package that includes five to seven bottles. The wine is delivered to your table in the main dining rooms (though for some reason not to the alternative restaurants). The wine packages cost 129 Euros.
My experience during open seating at breakfast and lunch in the Villa Verde dining room was quite different from the crowded conditions at dinner. Both restaurants serve a full breakfast, but I preferred Villa Verde, on the stern on Deck 6 (reachable only by the back stairs from Deck 7), because the venue is more airy and spacious. It also offers great views of the ocean. The service was good and the food substantially better, with more choices than in the cafeteria upstairs, which in peak hours has all the ambiance of a crowded shopping mall food court.
Eating in the cafeteria was a quandary. The ship has two buffet style restaurants -- Bora Bora and Pago Pago -- that blend into each other and seem like one during breakfast and lunch. At night, Bora Bora becomes a pizzeria and kebab restaurant, which charges a few Euros for each item of food. Pago Pago was closed at night.
The breakfast and lunch buffets at Bora Bora and Pago Pago offer different food choices, which can be confusing. At breakfast, for instance, Pago Pago did not serve hot food, offering choices such as fruit and bakery goods for a Continental breakfast. Hot dishes were available in Bora Bora. The result was that the tables in Bora Bora were packed full of people, while the tables in Pago Pago were nearly empty. When I ate buffet-style, I chose my meal in Bora Bora, and then zipped across the South Pacific, so to speak, to consume my food in Pago Pago, which has a nice picture window view off the stern, as well as a bar with draft beers.
I was disappointed in the buffets -- cafeteria-quality food mostly for breakfast and lunch (which I am told is more typical for MSC ships in Europe than in North America, where the buffets offer a higher quality and more variety). Breakfast, for instance, was the same pans of fully scrambled eggs, lightly cooked bacon and bland link sausages every morning. At lunch, the most tender meat was in the hamburger, which came with fries.
But here is where I made a mistake in the early days of my one-week cruise out of Genoa. I was choosing my food like an American in Chicago, with high expectations for such items as roast beef, which I would never order in Europe unless I was in the fanciest of restaurants. When I changed my eating habits -- focusing on Mediterranean favorites like pastas, risottos, hams, veal, cheeses, breads, soups, eggplant, fish, calamari and basil Pesto sauce -- my lunches and dinners went from ordinary to excellent. The daily pasta special in the lunch buffet line at Bora Bora was worth the walk from Pago Pago.
Beyond the nightly pizza and kebabs in Bora Bora, Splendida houses four other alternatives, which, in European style, are priced a la carte. Passengers are charged per item, though the total seldom would amount to more than the $20-$35 fees typically charged in alternative restaurants on many North American ships.
L'Olivio, typically open four days each week, serves lunch (noon to 2:30 p.m.) and dinner (6:30 to 11 p.m.). It is fine dining with Italian and Mediterranean food served in an intimate space with white walls and arched doorways. Meals include such regional fare as swordfish carpaccio with capers, scallops cooked au gratin and codfish with vegetables in olive oil. My three-course meal, charged a la carte, with a glass of red wine, came to 28 Euros.
L'Enoteca is an excellent wine and tapas bar, perfect for early evening sipping and snacking while listening to piano music, or making a light dinner of wines by the glass or bottle and a selection of meat, vegetable and cheese tapas. It's open on select afternoons (noon to 3 p.m.) and every evening (5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.). I ordered a cheese plate for 8 Euros and a glass of Italian white for 5 Euros.
The Sports Bar (with a miniature two-lane bowling alley) is open noon to 2 a.m. It's a nice stop for a lunch of chicken wings and a beer, a total of about 6.5 Euros. Sante Fe, billed as Tex-Mex, is open occasionally at lunch (noon to 2:30 p.m.) and always for dinner (6:30 to 11 p.m.). My dinner of Caesar salad, fajitas and a beer was good but pricey at about 20 Euros.
Two gelato stations, one in the impressive interior courtyard called Piazzetta, the other by the pool, serve a variety of flavors for about 2 Euros. The poolside gelateria is in a smoking area, so be warned if you're bothered by second-hand smoke.
North Americans should be prepared to pay extra for food and beverages outside of the dining room, and for water anytime, except for the tap water available in the cafeteria. MSC adds bottled water to the cruise package for North Americans, so passengers get a bottle of water daily in the dining room, which they can take back to their cabins. Europeans typically drink mineral water and are accustomed to paying for it.
On cruises in Europe, room service carries a charge. Items from the simple menu, available 24 hours a day, are about 3 Euros each and are more for snacking than for meals. Options include sandwiches, salads, and a cheese and fruit tray.