Dinner times reflect Southern European culture: 7:30 p.m. for the early sitting and 9:30 p.m. for the late.
There are two main dining rooms, Vesta at the centre of the ship and Ceres at the aft, allocated according to the location of your cabin. Each spans two decks. I preferred Ceres (at the aft end of the ship) as it has lovely views of the ship's wake. The menu in each is the same, typically, three appetisers, two pastas, two soups, three main courses and a couple of salads.
Food was average with a dash of surprisingly good; the pastas, risottos and soups were excellent (particularly a stunning cheese risotto and a rich tomato soup), but salads indifferent and surprisingly small, and mains inconsistent. Veal is a big favourite of Italians and featured regularly. Fish tended to come with cream or wine-based sauces. My companion ate lamb or beef most nights, but struggled to find anything memorable.
Both restaurants are also open for breakfast and lunch, with waiter service and open seating.
The lido restaurant, Prometheus, is enormous, leading onto the central, bright yellow pool area and spanning two decks at the top of the ship. There's a big buffet breakfast in here with plenty of variety, including a lot of breads, cheeses and cold cuts, although the scrambled egg was watery and the orange juice, which comes out of a machine, is essentially orange squash. There was surprisingly little choice on the lunch buffet in Prometheus, especially if you're used to Royal Caribbean or Carnival ships. Most days there was a basic salad bar, a seafood area, a choice of pizzas and three kinds of pasta, which were suitably al dente. In Katakolon there was a Greek theme, which the chefs had clearly enjoyed preparing -- superb stuffed vine leaves and a light, crispy spinach pie. In the evenings, the area becomes a pizzeria until 9 p.m., with linen tablecloths and faux candles.
There's a grill on deck, but I avoided it -- the burgers were pre-cooked and heated up, as was the chicken.
Costa Serena also has a "healthy" restaurant, Samsara, for the guests staying in the 99 spa cabins (see Cabins section), although you can pay a supplement to dine in here, which I recommend if you like quieter surroundings. It's oddly placed on Deck 3, next to the Vesta, so not physically connected to the spa cabins in any way. And it was half empty most nights, which begs the question, where were the spa cabin people eating, given that the ship was full? They missed out. The service was superb; really attentive and the waiters quickly learned our names.
The menu in Samsara is lighter -- more salads, more fish and more veal -- and you can also dine from the main restaurant menu. House wine in here cost from 18 euros, although we found a very good Californian Chardonnay for 24 euros. Water isn't served anywhere; you have to pay. A package for 99 euros buys six Italian wines and six bottles of water, so represents good value.
The piece de resistance of Costa Serena's dining is Club Bacco, the ship's for-fee gourmet restaurant, masterminded by Ettore Bocchia, a famed Italian chef known for his "molecular cuisine," a scientific approach to cooking to preserve depth of flavour.
Everything in Club Bacco, located above the Prometheus buffet, is priced individually. For two of us, the food came to around 50 euros, still cheaper than you would pay in a similar restaurant ashore, but quite an investment if you want to eat there regularly. Wines start at 21 euro. I kicked things off with a pink goat cheese and grilled vegetable salad, followed by vegetable crepes, which were delicious, and swordfish. My companion had lamb, but complained that it was grey and that the sauce it came with had a strange, slimy texture.
We were given a demonstration of the famous molecular cuisine, which was quite a performance. Peach pulp, sugar syrup and champagne were combined in a container, then flash-frozen with great panache using liquid nitrogen. After a lot of frantic stirring, the concoction was poured into Martini glasses. It was a strange, although not unpleasant sensation; not an ice cream and not a sorbet, but something very smooth with an intense flavour.
Room service isn't a big feature of Costa Serena. The Continental breakfast was extremely basic ("breakfast pastries" means one white roll), and there is a sandwich selection for other times of day, with a service charge of 2 euros.
At the centre of the ship, there's a very tempting chocolate shop, displaying cakes and pastries and a chocolate fountain which is served with cubes of fruit (at .90 euros per cube). An espresso costs 1.30 euros and a cake 2 euros. The presence of an espresso machine means that this is a popular gathering place for Italians after dinner.