Two main dining rooms and two buffet restaurants are the pulse points of the free dining scene on MSC Splendida. At breakfast, lunch and dinner, there's a Heinz 57 varieties' choice of cuisine. All free dining spaces can get a pretty busy, but waiters are efficient, friendly, and organised.
La Reggia (Deck 5 and 6): The largest of the two main dining rooms, La Reggia is spread over two decks and can be accessed on both levels in addition to having an internal staircase. It seats 626 on the lower level on Deck 5 and 529 on Deck 6. Despite what many passengers seem to think, both of the main dining rooms serve exactly the same food, albeit in a different ambiance. Passengers will be allocated to one or other restaurant at the beginning of the cruise. There are a few tables for two, but the majority are larger tables for up to nine. Passengers will be allocated a dinner table for the whole cruise, where they will be seated as far as possible, with people who speak the same language. At breakfast and lunch waiters fill up tables as passengers arrive, so you will probably end up with a table of different nationalities.
La Reggia is open for breakfast from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. (times can vary slightly depending on the time of arrival in port) and lunch from noon to 2 p.m. In the evening it operates a traditional cruise ship dinner set up with two sittings at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. For passengers who have booked the Aurea Package, which includes open dining, they can eat at any time between 7 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. A children's menu is available at every meal.
Looks-wise, it is a handsome gold coloured room, set off by the glittering staircase in the middle, but tables are fairly tightly packed. During the two dinner sittings it is busy (more so at the first), but the friendly waiters do a sterling job of getting food orders out quickly and will always accommodate anyone who might want, for example, a couple of starters or an additional dessert. It is much quieter during breakfast and lunch.
Breakfast features a buffet, with a wide selection of hot and cold dishes, fruit, yoghurt and pastries, plus an a la carte menu with items such as eggs Benedict, omelettes, pancakes and French toast served at the table. Tea and coffee is also served at the table and waiters walk around with trays of pastries. Freshly squeezed orange juice is available at an additional charge of 3.90 euros.
Lunch follows a similar format, with a salad bar and range of hot and cold items available from the buffet, including soup and a daily carvery item. A la carte items served to the table might include vegetable curry, chicken thighs in a devilled sauce or a Cuban sandwich.
In the evening passengers can expect some themed menus, such as a Mediterranean night featuring a variety of cuisine from Italy and beyond. This could include Spanish tapas, Greek spinach and feta cheese pie or bouillabaisse fish soup to start, followed by moussaka, paella, or Moroccan-style couscous. To follow there will be items such as Turkish baklava or chocolate profiteroles. On other nights appetisers might include beef consomme, asparagus soup or tomato, mozzarella and aubergine rolls, followed by mushroom risotto, squid ink pasta or beef with green peppercorn sauce. Typical desserts are dark chocolate mousse, lemon sponge cake plus a no added sugar option such as poached pear in honey cinnamon syrup. At every dinner there is always fresh fruit and a cheese plate. At dinner, there are also two main courses available for a fee, which are T-bone steak with a glass of red wine for 18 euros or Canadian lobster tails with a glass of Prosecco for 21 euros.
It's worth a mention that the bread served with all meals is freshly baked onboard and absolutely delicious.
Villa Verde (Deck 6): Decorated in an opulent blue and green colour scheme, the ship's second main dining room seats 766 and is situated aft, accessed by stairs from Deck 7 (which can be confusing at the start of the cruise). It occupies a better location than La Reggia, with panoramic views of the sea from large picture windows, which gives it a more open feel.
It is not open for breakfast and operates the same lunch and dinner times as La Reggia, and serves the same menu.
La Piazetta (Deck 6): Open for pastries, sandwiches, ice cream and other light bites from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Sports Bar (Deck 7): Hamburgers and hot dogs are available from 4 p.m. to midnight.
Bora Bora (Deck 14): The main buffet, offering casual dining, is open 24/7 for self-service coffee, tea, water and ice, and moves from breakfast through lunch and dinner -- with other items in between -- without a break. Breakfast is served from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., lunch from 11:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. and dinner from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The pizzeria is open from noon to midnight and fruit and salad is available from noon to 10 p.m.
The buffet is conveniently located next to the Aqua Park, making it easy for passengers to pop in and out whenever they're feeling peckish. Seating is mainly at tables, although there are also a number of counters with bar-style stools. It's a huge space -- taking up around a third of Deck 14 -- and the size, and choice of food, can seem overwhelming the first time you visit, particularly on busy embarkation day and at the peak breakfast period when there can be queues out of the door and you may have trouble finding a table. It is also fairly noisy and hectic at busy times. Many people unwittingly end up sitting in the neighbouring Pago Pago buffet as the two areas blend into each other and seem like one vast area, particularly during breakfast and lunch.
The breakfast buffet includes the usual favourites, with all manner of eggs, along with sausages, bacon, cereals, fruit, yoghurt and cold cuts. At lunch and dinner every food station is geared to a particular type of food or cuisine, such as fresh fruit, salads, cooked items, Mediterranean cuisine, burgers, a children's corner and so forth. The choice is huge. One area is devoted to healthy foods linked to the new Wellness Package, although of course anyone can have them. A standout feature from lunchtime onwards is the pizzeria, where chefs continually cook a range of thin-crust pizzas in a traditional pizza oven. There are meat and veggie options, along with a daily wholemeal pizza. Also showcasing the line's Italian heritage is the excellent pasta station.
Although they have to rush around when Bora Bora is packed during the main mealtimes, members of the buffet staff are very friendly and efficient and do a great job of keeping on top of drinks orders and clearing and cleaning tables.
Pago Pago (Deck 14): Running on from Bora Bora, the smaller Pago Pago buffet occupies a position at the aft of the ship and is the place to go to try and avoid the crowds. Open at the same times as Bora Bora, it also offers complimentary 24-hour tea, coffee water and ice along with a smaller selection of hot and cold food than the neighbouring space. There is really a free-flow of movement between the two eateries as passengers wander around looking for what takes their fancy, and many diners sit in Pago Pago if they can't find anywhere to sit in Bora Bora. Heed the advice of the waiters and head right to the back of the ship and you will invariably find empty tables.
L'Olivio (Deck 15): This beautiful a la carte restaurant occupies a prime position overlooking the Playa Del Sol swimming pool and aft of the ship. It is reserved solely for Yacht Club passengers, and included in the price of their fare. Opening times can vary depending on shore excursions, but are generally 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. for breakfast, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch and 7 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. for dinner.
The elegant room has the feel of a pavilion, with green and gold chairs, arched trellises beside the windows and draped curtains. There are plenty of tables for two, or diners can choose to sit together at larger tables. All the meals are waiter served and there is no buffet. Breakfast consists of freshly squeezed juice, healthy options such as yoghurt, cereals and fruit, cold cuts, and a range of hot items including grilled herrings, waffles, eggs Benedict, omelettes and all the main constituents of a full English breakfast. There is also an express breakfast, for passengers who might be heading out on a shore excursion, where fried eggs, grilled sausages, grilled ham, mushrooms and hash browns, fruit juice and toast are brought to the table together.
For lunch, typical starters include salmon tartare, mozzarella and tomato salad or mussel and potato soup, followed by wholemeal pasta with fresh tuna, grilled sea bass, pork fillet in a mustard crust, and a vegetarian dish. Always available items include Caesar salad, pasta with tomato sauce or a burger. Desserts might be carrot cake or almond cream and blueberry tart, and there is always a cheese plate, fresh fruit, and ice cream.
At dinner passengers are served a glass of Prosecco while they peruse the menu. The food is exceptional -- beautifully presented with very attentive service -- and will include starters such as smoked goose breast or tomato tartare, followed by risotto with monkfish and seafood, braised lamb shank in herb sauce or a vegan legume casserole. Typical desserts include apple crumble, and there is always a cheese plate and ice cream. A choice of quality wines by the glass is included with lunch and dinner, or wine lovers can choose to buy a bottle from the wine menu.
Top Sail Lounge (Deck 15): Overlooking the front of the ship, this area is also reserved for Yacht Club passengers and situated in the same area as the cabins. It is open 24 hours for sweet and savoury snacks, set on a small, central buffet table. At breakfast time a range of cold dishes are available, such as cereals, fruit, yoghurt, pastries, smoked salmon and rollmops. Sandwiches are added to the lunchtime selection, along with hors d'oeuvres in the evening. The highlight of the day is full afternoon tea, served by the butlers at 4 p.m., when tables are spread with white clothes and cakes stands of delicate cucumber sandwiches, scones and sweet treats are brought to the tables. To complete the daily institution, passengers can choose from a selection of loose leaf teas which are freshly brewed for each table.
Fee dining is limited on MSC Splendida and amounts to one quirky Mexican eatery and a couple of ice cream and sweet snack bars.
Santa Fe Tex Mex (Deck 7); a la carte: The ship's only speciality restaurant is the bright and colourful Mexican restaurant. Decorated with giant cacti, a horse-drawn cart, retro Mexican photos and tables, resting on giant horseshoes, it's a fun lunch and dinner venue for all ages rather than somewhere for a romantic meal. Staff are very cheerful and efficient, and happy to make recommendations to guide you through the menu (as well as helping the uninitiated fold the perfect burrito). Tasty appetisers, all priced at 5 euros, include tacos, nachos, quesadillas, and burritos, with mains such as fajitas, chili con carne, or a larger plate of assorted starters costing 8 euros. Steaks include rib-eye for 18 euros or tenderloin for 22 euros. Desserts, all 4 euros, are mango cream, orange flan or chocolate tart.
Not surprisingly, the restaurant serves the best margaritas on the ship, with eight options ranging from a classic margarita to mango, strawberry or coconut flavoured ones. They all cost 6.75 euros, and the drinks menu also includes other Mexican favourites such as tequila sunrise, for 6.70 euros, plus Sol and Dos Equis beers for 4.70 euros. There are also other international beers and wines starting from 22 euros a bottle. The restaurant is open from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to midnight.
Bar del Riccio (Deck 14); a la carte: Situated at the side of the Aqua Park, this gelateria is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and serves delicious Italian ice cream, home-made onboard, and priced from €2.
Nutella bar and HappyPuppy stand (Deck 14); a la carte: Also in the Aqua Park is a Nutella crepe bar and adjacent slushy iced drinks stand. Crepes cost 3.30 euros and a drink with a souvenir cup is 4.50 euros, 2.80 euros for refills.
Room Service: Continental breakfast from room service is delivered free to cabins on request and is available from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Snacks are available 24 hours a day and there is a charge of 3 euros for one dish and 5 euros for two, plus an additional fee of 4.90 euros for a fruit basket. The menu includes soup, salads, wraps, sandwiches, a cheese plate and desserts. In-cabin pizza delivery is also available at the times set out in the daily programme, which is usually 8 p.m. to midnight. They cost from 5 euros for a pizza marinara to 9 euros for the MSC classic pizza topped with mozzarella cheese, ham, rocket and parmesan. Drinks are available from the mini-bar in every cabin, including still and sparkling water for 1.55 euros, fruit juice and fizzy drinks at 2.80 euros, beer for 4.70 euros and miniature bottles of spirits for 5.70 euros. The mini-bar is also stocked with snacks including peanuts and mixed nuts, priced at 2.70 euros each. Larger bottles of water are also available in the cabin for 2.50 euros.