Magnifica is an Italian cruise ship, sailed mainly by Italians. It has a partnership with Eataly, a well-respected and well-known Italian restaurant chain. The ship hosts guest Italian chefs who perform cooking demos onboard, and it goes out of its way to cater to those with special dietary needs. Given all this, you would expect food quality to be exceptional -- or at least good.
If you did, you'd be wrong.
There's no excuse for poor quality Italian food anywhere, let alone on an Italian cruise ship. But given that the galley is staffed mainly by Indians and Indonesians and not Italians, the curries are magnificent, while the rest of the cuisine ranges from average to extremely poor.
You are also somewhat locked into mass catering, as there is just one specialty restaurant.
Speaking of the buffet, Sahara takes up about half of Deck 13 at the aft of the ship and is accessed via the indoor pool area. It's open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. Serving stations are set up on either side, offering a vast variety of food, most of which is average. The low points are the processed burgers, hot dogs and plastic pizzas; it's microwave-style food that wouldn't be out of place in a gas station. By contrast, as mentioned above, the curries (located in the "Specials" area at the end of the buffet) are outstanding: sag aloo, lamb biryani, cauliflower and chicken dishes, which change every day. In between, you'll find a salad bar, a carvery, Mediterranean options, a grill and various fresh breads and sweets. There is also a dedicated section for children, with small chairs and kid-friendly food. The entire buffet gets extremely crowded at meal times, and space is it a premium, both at the serving stations and at the dining tables.
There are two main dining rooms: the 720-seat L'Edera on Deck 5 and the 714-seat Quattro Venti on Deck 6. Both serve the same cuisine and both have two set seatings: 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. The menu changes every night in both, and it's themed depending where the ship is sailing (Italian, Mediterranean, British, etc.). On Italian night, expect dishes from the featured region, such as fried calamari to start, followed by a traditional insalata tricolore, Amalfi-style pasta with seafood, and mains consisting of a mixed fish grill or sliced, grilled sirloin.
The menu will always include a vegetarian option and a "healthy" option, usually fish or chicken. Pasta, a salad, salmon (steamed or grilled), beef or chicken breast are always available. The menu offers six courses: appetizers, a salad, a soup, pasta or risotto, a main and a dessert.
To say the dining experience is average would be an exaggeration. The food here is really hard going: solid croquettes, lumpy risotto, limp salads and soggy, tasteless fish. The only bright spot is the tiramisu. The wines are, as you'd expect, mainly Italian and start at about 5 euros for a glass of prosecco, with a bottle of white setting you back €24, which is steep for a house wine. You'll find the waiters pushing you to have a digestif of limoncello in a souvenir MSC glass.
Despite the lackluster food, the service throughout was extremely attentive and friendly.
Oriental Plaza, the alternative restaurant, does stand out, and for the right reasons. The 54-seat eatery is open for lunch (noon to 3 p.m.) and dinner (6 p.m. to11 p.m.). It offers an a la carte menu of dishes from China, India, Thailand, Indonesia and Japan, which includes dim sum, nasi goreng, spring rolls, sushi, glazed duck breast, satay, spicy shrimp, and various curries and noodle dishes. Prices start at about €6.40 for the starters and go up to about €26 for a sharing platter. The food is mainly delicious, particularly the sushi. For dessert, you must try the specialty of the house -- chocolate banana fritters. The only downside is atmosphere; on our sailing we were literally the only people dining.
MSC offers six different beverage packages: A €67 cocktail package, which entitles you to 12 drinks throughout the course of the cruise; €62 for 14 draft beers; €34 for 14 soft drinks; €26 for 14 waters; €23 for 21 espressos and €28 for 10 milkshakes or ice creams.
In-cabin pizza delivery is available until late at night (varies depending on destination, see daily program) for a reasonable €7, which includes a soft drink. There is also 24/7 room service, which includes all the usual fare you would expect: soup of the day, an Italian antipasto platter, salads and various sandwiches. (Prices are €3 per dish; €5 for two dishes.)