MSC and dining quality have not had a great relationship, however, the line has clearly taken onboard the criticism and has rethought its approach to cuisine, drafting in a name chef -- Carlo Cracco, the Gordon Ramsay of the Italian cooking scene (apparently) -- to oversee things. Cracco also does the weekly Gala Dinner. As a result, food-wise, things have definitely picked up, both in terms of quality and presentation. It also helps that pasta, pastries, bread, cakes and mozzarella are all baked or made fresh onboard daily.
There is not a single main dining room, but four, which represent different types of dining experience -- classic, flexi or fixed which you have to choose at time of booking (though note flexi is temporarily suspended). Details below. The food and menus are exactly the same in each.
Despite its size, there aren't the number of specialty dining options on Meraviglia compared, say, to Norwegian Breakaway or Oasis of the Seas, where you are looking at upward of 10. There are just five (six if you count the Cirque dinner), but what the ship does have, it does well. Moving away from its comfort zone of Italian fare (and perhaps with an eye on Meraviglia's move to Miami in 2019) its two new-to-the-line offerings -- a Teppanyaki restaurant and an American Steak House -- are outstanding. All specialty restaurants are a la carte.
MSC caters well for dietary needs and allergies, with a separate galley where specific requests are catered for. It's worth advising at time of booking, but also before each meal.
Waves (Deck 5): This restaurant is for "classic" dining -- i.e. fixed time dining. It is also the only one which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is hidden behind reception on Deck 5 and though at the aft of the ship it doesn't have windows at the back, just porthole windows at the side, so it's quite dark with deep red decor and low ceilings. Tables are closely packed and vary in size from two- to eight-person.
Open 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.; noon to 2 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
L'Olive Doree & L'Olivo D'Oro (Deck 6): These have different names but are in effect the same restaurant, divided by a central walkway which includes a stunning wine display in the center and Enomatic wine-dispensing machines. These are for Flexi and MyTime Dining -- in other words, you choose when you want to eat. They look and feel upmarket; steel gray and deep green are the dominant colors. Tables are ranged quite tightly round the room in different sizes, and there is a "path" which wends its way through to the back. Open 6:45 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Panorama (Deck 6): This restaurant, right at the back of the ship, is the one with the most ambiance, with large windows looking out over the wake, offering gorgeous views. Panorama is also for Flexi and MyTime Dining. You reach the restaurant via the corridor which cuts through L'Olive and L'Olivo, so passing the wine cellar. It also has a higher ceiling and more of an open feel than Waves. Burnt oranges and browns are the dominant color scheme. If you have the choice, request this over the others, as it has much more of a "special" feel to it. Open 6:15 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Breakfast: Breakfast is only available in Waves. It is served buffet style, but with an a la carte menu for omelets and Eggs Benedict, for example. Hot food includes buttermilk pancakes, Belgian waffles and cinnamon raisin French toast, as well as fresh-baked pastries. There is a "MSC Express" meal which consists of eggs, bacon, sausages and hash browns; or you can order your choice of eggs and omelet. There are also cereals, yoghurts, toast and tea and coffee available.
Lunch: Lunch changes daily and is a three-course meal which consists of a choice of starters, a choice of mains which will always include a meat, fish and veg dish and dessert.
Dinner: Dinner is a four-course affair (if you include cheese), but you can always order a soup and a starter, making it five.
Starters might include smoked salmon, Caesar salad or shrimp cocktail. Soups include cream of asparagus and beef consomme, the latter of which -- with delicate parcels of beef-filled tortellini -- was delicious.
Mains always include a pasta dish, a meat dish (beef or lamb) and a fish dish. The quality is surprisingly high: dishes come warm and not overcooked; pastas and breads are all freshly made, and you can tell; service is consistently good -- warm, friendly and helpful.
The only duff note was an inedible Baked Alaska, but there are always alternatives such a fresh fruit or a French vanilla cream.
There is always a vegetarian option and often a vegan option on the menu, denoted by symbols.
There is no obvious "always available" menu, but you can ask for off-menu items such as poached salmon and grilled chicken breast.
There is always a kids' menu available in all restaurants, which will include favorites such as burgers, hot dogs, penne pasta and grilled chicken.
Marketplace Buffet (Deck 15): Meraviglia's buffet is huge, taking up a large chunk of the back of the ship on Deck 15. As a result, it rarely feels crowded. This is largely to do with design: as well as a central food area (the "marketplace"), there are also food areas either side, plus an enormous number of seats, which include an area at the very back, as well as two wings which get progressively less crowded the nearer towards the open pool area you go.
There are also numerous handwashing stations as you enter, but they were rarely policed.
The food is good, not outstanding, but definitely better than your average cruise ship buffet, with a bit of flair and fun. There are plenty of open kitchens where you can watch the chefs prepare the fresh food. These include pasta, pizza, focaccia, an open grill and a rotisserie. There is also plenty of ethnic cuisine including Chinese, Indian, Mediterranean etc. Other features include a mozzarella production area where you can watch it being made and a "fruit and veg market" where you can pick up fresh food.
It's open all day and serves afternoon snacks and offers late-night dining.
Open: 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Yacht Club Restaurant (Deck 18): Only available to YC guests, and serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. There's a different menu every day, reflecting the region in which the ship is sailing through. No fixed times, just turn up when you want to.
Yacht Club Solarium Grill (Deck 19): Again, only open to YC guests, this lovely spot at the top of the ship serves a buffet breakfast from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and a delicious light lunch from noon to 2 p.m., which often includes specials such as grilled shrimp, turbot or fresh pasta. There is also a carvery, a delicious selection of salads and fresh vegetables.
Jean-Philippe Chocolate & Cafe (Deck 6, midship); a la carte: The French master chocolatier gets some prime real estate on the Galleria Meraviglia -- the main promenade -- with this showcase to his and his sous-chefs' talents. The cafe is part open kitchen, part display, part cafe and part chocolate shop, with a few seats by the porthole windows to relax over a cup. The emphasis is really on the extraordinary creations that the chocolate team make onboard (turtles, octopuses, reefs), which are displayed in glass cases, like expensive watches or jewelry, in front of the open kitchen. You can't buy these, but you can buy an exquisite chocolate shoe for a reasonable 29 euros (for one, not a pair), and which are apparently the best-selling chocolate item for sale onboard. The coffee's not too bad, either. Open 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Jean-Philippe Crepes & Gelato; a la carte (Deck 6, midship): Not so much a restaurant, but a spot along the main promenade serving crepes, ice cream and various ice cream sundaes from five euros fifty cents. Open 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Eataly (Deck 6, midship); a la carte pricing or 25 euros for the Dining Experience: The well-established Eataly Italian marketplace chain is a regular on MSC ships, and makes its appearance on Meraviglia on the main promenade in a smallish room, with a sit down bar which overlooks the fresh produce on offer and high tables dotted around the room. Produce lines the back wall.
It offers a lovely selection of predominantly cold food such as simple, fresh salads and cold meats and smoked salmon, as well as dishes such as fried shrimp and whitebait. With dishes ranging from six to nine euros each it adds up quickly, or you can opt for the fixed price Dining Experience. This is rarely full and doesn't require a reservation. Open noon to 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Eataly Ristorante Italiano (Deck 6, midship); a la carte pricing or 29 euros for the "Dining Experience": This is the only specialty restaurant onboard where food vs price just does not stack up -- to walk away with a 129 euro bill for two for what can only be described as fairly average fare is a bit of a blow. The restaurant is set off the main promenade and is separate to the Eataly marketplace. There are three rooms -- one at the front which looks out onto the promenade, a second at the back which is darker but has views from the huge porthole windows, and then a separate cordoned off area for the Chef's Table. The theme is simple, almost minimalist, with stone-effect floors and wooden tables: not at all a warm, colorful pizza and pasta home-style kitchen you might find on other ships.
The theme is exclusively Italian, with starters such as chargrilled octopus (tasty), sliced Parma ham with melon and one of the best pea soups (with mussels) we've ever tasted on sea -- or land. However, the mains are a let down -- the branzino (sea bass) was tasteless and a tiny portion (less than one fillet) for 18 euros; the swordfish (16 euros) was tough. We shared a dessert for six euros and had two glasses of reasonably-priced wine (five euros fifty cents) each, yet the bill still hit 129 euros.
Chef's Table (Deck 6, midship); 100 euros per person: For your money you get: seven dishes and seven wines as well as your own chef and your own sommelier to talk you through it! The tailored menu made by the chef consists of two starters, two pasta or rice dishes, two main courses and one dessert. The dishes are accompanied with a different kind of wine, and the sommelier attends your table to tell you all about the wines that will be served. There is a maximum of eight people on this experience.
Kaito Teppanyaki & Sushi Bar (Deck 7, midship); a la carte pricing: Although the Teppanyaki restaurant is new to MSC (and will appear on all forthcoming ships) anyone familiar with the Teppanyaki concept either on sea or land, will know exactly what to expect -- right down to the knife juggling, egg throwing and even cheesy jokes. But it's a lot of fun -- and more importantly, the food is delicious.
There are three menu choices -- Geisha (18 euros), Samurai (24 euros) and Emperor (45 euros). The price differential reflects the meat and seafood choices -- halibut and chicken; shrimp, salmon and steak or tuna lobster, scallop and wagyu, respectively.
The Teppanyaki restaurant, which is on the upper deck of the Galleria, has seating for 32 people -- two cooking areas, with eight people sat on stools either side.
All meals start with miso soup and a small plate of sushi and tempura, before going into the main event. You specify how you'd like your meat done and the chef prepares it in front of you -- keeping up a non-stop stream of jokes and juggling. The whole experience lasts around two hours or so. Reservations essential in the evening; walk-in during the day.
Outside the restaurant is the sushi bar, which is not new to Meraviglia (MSC Divina also has one). You can sit at the bar or at tables overlooking the promenade. Open Noon to 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Butcher's Cut (Deck 7, midship); a la carte pricing: This American steakhouse restaurant is new to MSC, and will appear on all subsequent new builds. It's situated on the upper floor of the Galleria, with a main restaurant and open kitchen, as well as numerous tables outside overlooking the promenade. One wall is given over to a glass wine cabinet and there are windows inside looking out to the ocean. Decor is all rawhide and ersatz old photos and posters.
The food is, as you might expect, no-nonsense: big cuts of various different meats, steak in the main, but also lamb and even bison. The one nod to non-carnivores can be found in the salad starters and prawn cocktail, which is served beautifully on ice, with the dipping sauces on the side, rather than in one big mush.
The steaks are delicious: thick, juicy and tender and cooked and served with real skill and precision. Steak can be tricky to get just right, but they've succeeded here. If you have any space left, there is also a delicious selection of desserts including New York cheesecake and a signature lava cake (made in the chocolate shop just below). Open: Noon to 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Room Service: Available 24/7 and with dishes costing three euros for one dish and five euros for two; with pizza starting at five euros for a marinara. Other dishes include soups, salads and sandwiches. Breakfast is free and includes cold items such as cereals and yoghurts, as well as juices, tea and coffee.
Cirque du Soleil (Deck 7); 35 euros for dinner and show; 15 euros for cocktail and show: The food is way below par. A set menu starts with three small dishes: chewy scallops, tasteless duck and a Champagne-based sorbet-like dish in which you squirt a dark liquid. The mains are a choice of beef, cod drowning in a thick bechamel-type sauce, with so much salt it should be illegal; and a passable tortellini stuffed with pumpkin, again with a wildly-over-salted tomato sauce. Desserts include a white chocolate sphere on which you pour a raspberry coulis: by far the best dish of the evening. Wine is not included and starts at 29 euros a bottle. Our advice: Opt for the cocktail and show, though let's be honest: you're not paying for the meal -- this is for the show, and even at 35 euros it's worth it.