Two main dining rooms and expansive buffet restaurants form the hub of the free dining scene on MSC Magnifica. At breakfast, lunch and dinner there's a huge choice of cuisine, with the recent addition of familiar British favourites such as all the components to make up a full English breakfast, scones with cream and jam, Marmite, HP Sauce and Colman's Mustard. On sea days (when the ship is full) the dining venues can get pretty busy, particularly at peak times, but waiters are efficient, friendly and very well organised, and do a great job clearing and cleaning tables.
Passengers on fixed timed dining (either 6 p.m. or 8:30 p.m.) will be allocated a dinner table for the whole cruise. They will be seated, as far as possible, with people who speak the same language. At breakfast and lunch in L'Edera there is free seating and waiters are always on hand to help find tables if need be. Quattro Venti is only open for dinner and also has an area for Aurea Experience and myChoice Dining passengers (who can go in to eat without pre-booking at any time between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.). Both restaurants serve exactly the same evening menu but in a slightly different ambiance. Vegetarian and vegan options are always available and other dietary requirements can be catered for.
Le Gocce Bar (Deck 5): Croissants and pastries are available from 6 a.m. to noon.
L'Edera (Deck 5): The two main dining rooms are roughly the same size, with L'Edera accommodating 780.
This restaurant 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 the excursion schedule) and lunch from noon to 2 p.m. A children's menu is available at every meal.
Looks-wise, it is an attractive green coloured room with rich wooden and brass features and inlaid flooring at the entrance, which gives it an Art Deco-style atmosphere. Tables are available for two, four, six, eight and 10 diners, with one that can seat 12. They are fairly tightly packed and it is busy during the two dinner sittings, but the 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 and juices. Freshly squeezed orange juice is available at an additional charge of 3.90 euros. Yorkshire Tea, the chosen brand for Magnifica following a public vote, is served in teapots.
At lunchtime the a la carte three course menu features starters such as seafood cocktail, Caprese salad and a soup (cannellini bean or cream of chickpea with olive oil and rosemary, for example). The mains always feature fresh pasta made onboard (such as ravioli with spinach and ricotta filling), a fish dish that might be pan-seared fillet of red mullet with aubergine rice pilaf or salmon fillet with asparagus and potatoes, sliced grilled beef sirloin, a vegetarian dish such as vegetable fritters with onion chutney, a burger with cheddar, bacon and chips, or a sandwich served with fries.
Some of the dinners we experienced were hit and miss, with dishes that were rather bland and unimaginative. It would also be good to see pepper grinders on tables rather than old-fashioned pepper pots. Conversely, many were very tasty, and traditional Italian dishes such as risotto were cooked to perfection. 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. Gala night menus, created in partnership with Michelin-starred Italian chefs, move things up a notch and feature a wider choice of starters, mains and desserts. Appetisers might include octopus carpaccio and lobster bisque with brandy, followed by pumpkin shrimp risotto, roast fillet of beef in marsala wine sauce, or vegetarian strudel, with desserts including poached pear in honey-cinnamon syrup and the perennial cruise ship institution of baked Alaska. At every dinner there is fresh fruit and a cheese plate, plus the always available items of steamed fish or chicken breast served with vegetables. 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 22 euros.
If the food sometimes falls flat, wine-lovers certainly won't be disappointed. The list is extensive and ranges from good value wines by the glass from 4.50 euros and bottles (such as a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc) for 19 euros, to fine Italian wines such as a 2016 Vintage Tunina IGT Jermann for 72 euros. Any bottles unfinished will be labelled with the cabin number and served the next day. There is also a notable Sommelier's Selection, which includes a Toscana IGT Avignonesi-Capannelle red produced from Sangiovese and Merlot grapes and priced at 99 euros.
It's worth mentioning that the bread served with all meals -- such as oregano focaccia and tomato grissini -- is freshly baked onboard and absolutely irresistible.
Quattro Venti (Deck 6): Decorated in an opulent plum colour scheme, the ship's second main dining room is the more handsome of the two, with plush high-backed seats and banquettes. It can seat 740. A seating area in the centre of the room is slightly raised and up a small step, which can catch people out even though it is clearly marked with warning signs.
This dining room is not open for breakfast or lunch. It operates the same dinner times as L'Edera and serves the same menu. It also has a section of tables allocated for myChoice Dining passengers, who can come in whenever they want between the opening times, thus avoiding the rush of passengers at the two dinner sittings. Again, the waiting staff are incredibly helpful, attentive and accommodating, and, even at busy times, will chat to passengers and make a fuss of any young diners.
L'Olimpiade Sporting Bar (Deck 7): Open for pastries from 6 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., sandwiches and desserts from noon to 3 p.m., and cakes and snacks from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Sahara and L'Oasi (Deck 13): Although billed as two restaurants on the ship map, the Sahara and L'Oasi effectively run into each other and offer virtually round-the-clock dining that takes up nearly half of Deck 13 at the back of the ship. This duo of dining rooms are a moveable food feast in every sense, and seamlessly shift from breakfast through lunch and dinner -- with other items in between -- without a break. A light early bird breakfast is served from 6 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., followed by the real deal from 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Lunch is from 11:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., sandwiches and afternoon snacks from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., and dinner from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., followed by midnight snacks from 12:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The pizzeria is open from noon to midnight, the grill from noon to 5 p.m., and fruit and salad are offered from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. In addition, self-service coffee, tea, water and ice are available 24/7.
The vast choice of food can seem overwhelming the first time you visit, particularly on busy embarkation day. However, at the entrances MSC sets out large buffet maps -- for breakfast, lunch and dinner -- which is a really great idea and helps passengers to navigate their way around and find the food they want without circling endlessly. The different stations are also very clearly signed and can be seen from a distance.
Magnifica's breakfast buffet now includes all the components of a full English, with eggs, English-style bacon, black pudding, baked beans and the rather charmingly labelled "English Bangers sausage", along with HP Sauce and Heinz Tomato Ketchup. There are cereals, fruit, yoghurt and cold cuts too.
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 and hot dogs, a children's corner and so forth. The choice is huge and we defy anyone not to find something they like. One area is also devoted to healthy foods. 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.
The kids' corner is novel as youngsters are made to feel extra special as they walk through an archway with heights marked down the side and a sign that reads "3 to 11-year-olds only" -- although of course anyone can help themselves to food from the buffet. It is good to see plenty of healthy food in this section and not just the ubiquitous nuggets, chips and the like.
At tea time the new British tweaks also come to the fore with a daily selection of mouth-watering cakes plus seriously good freshly-baked scones served with clotted cream or whipped cream and jam.
Although they are very busy when the buffet is packed during the main mealtimes, members of staff are very friendly and efficient, and do a great job of keeping on top of drinks orders and clearing and cleaning tables. One useful feature is that tables have a call button for when passengers want to place a drinks order.
While L'Oasi is listed as a separate restaurant, it is really part and parcel of the Sahara and occupies the aft of the ship. It is the place to go to avoid the crowds, as often that's where you will find empty tables.
Fee dining on MSC Magnifica amounts to just one speciality restaurant.
Oriental Plaza (Deck 7); a la carte pricing: The ship might only have one alternative for-fee restaurant but it's an absolute knock out. Discreetly situated midship, many passengers probably pass by without knowing that this intimate 64 cover, 16 table restaurant is there, unless they spot the novel ship-shaped display cabinet showcasing some of the Asian-fusion food on offer. This is a shame as they are missing out on an exceptional and incredibly reasonably priced dining experience in lovely red, black and gilded surroundings overlooked by enigmatic smiling Buddhas.
The restaurant serves an a la carte menu of dishes from China, India, Thailand, Indonesia and Japan. Diners can opt for a set menu Asian dining experience priced at 28 euros, or select sushi, nigari, sashimi, dim sum and other items individually from the menu with prices starting from just 3 euros. If it all seems a bit confusing, the friendly and knowledgeable waiters are very happy to make recommendations to guide you through the menu (as well as letting the uninitiated into the secret of mixing a pinch of ultra-hot wasabi into the dish of soy sauce to produce a less eye-watering condiment). Chopsticks are set out on the tables but are not obligatory as cutlery is also provided.
To complement the menu the wine list includes sake, Japanese wines and oriental teas (including the wonderfully named Special Gunpowder green tea). There are also other international beers and wines starting from 4.50 euros for a glass and 19 euros for a bottle. The Italian Gewurztraminer at 30 euros a bottle goes particularly well with the food. The restaurant is open noon to 3 p.m., then 6 p.m. to midnight.
La Barchetta Bar (Deck 13); a la carte pricing: Situated at the side of La Grotto Azzurra indoor pool, La Barchetta Bar is open from 7 a.m. to midnight. It includes a gelateria serving delicious Italian ice cream, which is home-made onboard and priced from 2.50 euros. Also in this bar area is a Nutella crepe bar and adjacent HappyPuppy 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). Candy floss, popcorn, crisps and other snacks are also available.
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 salads, 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 9 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. Items to celebrate special occasions, such as chocolate covered strawberries, can also be ordered. Drinks are available from the mini-bar in every cabin, including still and sparkling water for 1.70 euros, fruit juice and fizzy drinks at 2.90 euros, beer for 4.90 euros, and miniature bottles of spirits for 5.70 euros. The mini-bar is also stocked with snacks including peanuts and mixed nuts, from 2.70 euros each. Larger bottles of water are also available in the cabin for 2.50 euros.