MSC Cruises has always struggled with the dining quality in its free venues; food is at best variable, at worst poor. Sadly, this ship is no exception. While the specialty dining venues are as good as any at sea, the main dining room fails to impress. Variable portions, often lukewarm and at times bearing little relation to the description in the menu, turn up time and again, often delivered with indifference.
Breakfast, lunch, afternoon snacks, dinner and late-night pizza are served in one of the two main dining rooms. Like its sister ship, MSC Seaside, Seaview has two buffets (one on Deck 8, another on 16), which helps enormously with overcrowding at peak times. And also like Seaside, all the specialty restaurants, bar one, are clustered on Deck 16. Outside of the buffets, there are no other all-day dining venues except the two extra-fee Venchi venues.
Most of the specialty restaurants shine, and Seaview has most of the popular cuisine styles covered with French, seafood, steak and Asian fusion/sushi (no need for a pizza place as that's on offer in both MDRs).
* May require additional fees
In terms of special dietary needs, you'll be best served by telling your waiter at the start of your meal. (We were not asked if we had any special needs at the start of our meals.) A number of vegetarian and gluten-free options are available.
Golden Sand and Silver Dolphin (Decks 5 and 6): There are two Main Dining Rooms -- Golden Sand and Silver Dolphin -- both at the aft of the ship on separate decks. The former offers breakfast, lunch and dinner; the latter just dinner. Both offer three set dinner times (5:45, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.), with Golden Sand offering myChoice dining, as well (i.e., just turn up when you want between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m.).
You enter Golden Sand via a wine cellar tunnel, with brightly back lit bottles stacked high on either side: It's impressive. The restaurant, as the name suggests, has a golden hue with rust-red chairs and carpets. There are plenty of different table sizes. Silver Dolphin is designed in more silvery hues, again stylish and understated. Both offer the same menus. Typical starters might include soup and salad, and a few slightly more out there options such as pork loin in tuna sauce and seafood and vegetable pot stickers. There will typically be one vegetarian option of the four appetizer choices. Mains lean toward Italian specials -- fresh pasta (made onboard), risotto and saltimbocca, at least one of which will be vegetarian. You'll also get a fish and a meat dish option.
The most charitable thing we can say is that both food and service are variable. For example, the oven-roasted prime rib of beef we had was superb (slightly on the cold side and just one slice, but very tasty and perfectly cooked nonetheless). However, the saltimbocca Roman-style with potato puree and cannellini bean casserole was not: The beans looked like baked beans, the escalope looked like English bacon and the potato puree was an ice cream scoop-sized lump of cold potato, the net result of which was it looked like an English breakfast (but not as tasty). Desserts are also hit and miss -- a vanilla diplomat cream had the color and consistency of baby food; by contrast the warm apple strudel was light and tasty (the pastry seemed fresh-made).
Quality-wise the standard does go up on Elegant Night (of which there are two on seven-night cruises), where you can expect items such as an octopus carpaccio and lobster bisque to start and sirloin steak as a main.
The menu indicates healthy options with carbs, protein and calorie details; and also two always available options -- salmon and chicken (Note: There is no always available veggie option). There is no obvious allergy information anywhere -- best to check with your waiter beforehand (we were not asked pro-actively, as is now customary on most ships).
The wine list is extensive and varied with glasses starting at a reasonable 4.50 euros.
Service-wise, we found our waiters warmed up as the meal progressed, but there was little smiling or banter and most dishes were plonked perfunctorily on the table.
Marketplace Restaurant & Buffet (Deck 8): One of two buffets onboard, which certainly helps with overcrowding at busy times, the Marketplace buffet's appeal is its outdoor seating (weather permitting), with chairs and tables on the promenade. There are multiple serving stations, including a carvery, as well as fresh-made options including a pizzeria where you can build your own pie. You can also grab a panini, wrap, burger and hot dogs. Lighter fare comes in the form of a salad bar and a fruit and veg "market," which is rather lovely. All bread is freshly made onboard, as is pasta. There are plenty of tables and lots of light, as well as a small bar on one side of the entrance. Open from 6.30 a.m. till 2 a.m., with brief breaks in the late morning and straight after lunch. You can also get afternoon snacks and late-night pizzas here.
Ocean Point Restaurant & Buffet (Deck 16): Ocean Point is the other buffet, eight decks higher, smaller, slightly more intimate and offering cuisine theme nights at dinner like Mexican or Asian, so it's a nicer option than Marketplace if you're out for dinner. It also, very considerately, has kid-size counters serving favorite kids' dishes. Apart from these minor tweaks, it serves the same fare as you'll find downstairs. Open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., with brief breaks after breakfast and lunch.
MSC Yacht Club Restaurant (Deck 18): This restaurant is complimentary but only open to passengers staying in the MSC Yacht Club. It's a lovely spot overlooking the Yacht Club's Top Sail Lounge on Deck 16 (there is no Deck 17 on MSC ships as it's an unlucky number for Italians). Gray and burgundy decor prevails, and there are plenty of seating options, including large round tables that accommodate between six and 10 passengers as well as tables for two. The food here is a cut above, with different menus every night. Typically, there are five starters, including an impressive three vegetarian options, such as a salad and a soup. Other starters might include Parma ham or a fish carpaccio. Service is attentive, knowledgeable and friendly, particularly when it comes to the wine pairings. There are usually four mains, but five if you count the Chef's Special, which on the night we dined there was pistachio-crusted rack of lamb. This was superb: tasty, with a real depth, and cooked just the right side of medium-rare (not too rare). Other mains will likely be pasta-based and fish dishes. The shrimp and calamari skewer was not successful; both were soldered together in a panko-like batter. But that was one miss in an otherwise spot-on meal. Desserts were superb: The tarte Tatin was light and tasty with a scoop of melting vanilla ice cream.
Room Service: Room service is available 24/7 but only breakfast is free. It's available for order via forms that need to be hung outside the cabin door by 2 a.m. Items include yogurt, cereal, pastries, toast, jam and coffee, hot chocolate, tea and juice. At all other times of day there is a 3 euro charge for delivery of one item, 5 euros for two, and so on upward as you order more items. Extra-fee menu items include pizza, burgers, sandwiches and salads.
Venchi 1878 Chocolate Bar (Deck 6); a la carte pricing: Seaview's signature cafe/chocolate hub is in the center of the ship, on the main shopping thoroughfare. It has a large bar where you can grab a coffee to go or stay and watch the master chocolatiers creating everything from Hiccup in "How to Train Your Dragon" to Groot from "Guardians of the Galaxy." It also sells gelato, milk shakes and even chocolate-based cocktails. There is also plenty of chocolate -- boxes and pick 'n' mix -- for sale (careful -- it adds up fast). You can also sit down with your goodies in the nearby Shine Bar, where there are tables, chairs and a stage for live music. Open 8 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Venchi 1878 Gelato & Creperie (Deck 7); a la carte pricing: An outdoor venue at the aft of the ship selling scoops of gelato, crepes, coffees and milkshakes. Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Bistrot L'Atelier (Deck 8); 23 euro prix fixe menu or a la carte pricing: This suffers from the fact that it's not a venue, but rather a series of tables arranged around one deck of the main atrium, so there is passing traffic as well as the noise from the atrium entertainers and bands. Though the red-leather seating and wrought-iron tables are reminiscent of a French bistro, the atmosphere is not. We did not have a chance to eat here, so cannot comment on the cuisine, but expect classic starters such as French onion soup, omelet, croquet monsieur and quiche, and entrees such as steak frites, moules frites and sole meuniere. Desserts include tarte Tatin and profiteroles. Reservations not necessary. Open for dinner.
Asian Market Kitchen by Roy Yamaguchi (Deck 16); a la carte pricing: Asian Market Kitchen comprises three Asian dining options -- Kaito Teppanyaki; a sushi bar; and Fusion, a restaurant serving Hawaiian-influenced pan-Asian cuisine. The restaurant and sushi bar comprise one space, with the Teppanyaki next door. The menu at Fusion is a combo of classic sushi and sashimi and rolls as well as Hawaiian-inspired poke dishes. Hot dishes include crab cakes, pork ribs, calamari and steamed clams; as well as soups and salads. There are also some delicious noodle-based dishes, including spicy tan tan ramen and pan-fried noodles. The Teppanyaki features cooking stations with seats arranged around an open top cooking space -- with chefs chopping, flipping food in the air, singing and entertaining the diners. The food is outstanding, delicious cuts of beef, chicken or seafood all served on soy-soaked beds of egg fried rice. Fusion is open for lunch and dinner. Reservations are recommended for the evening. Teppanyaki is only open in the evening. Reservations are essential.
Ocean Cay (Deck 16); 49 euro prix fixe menu or a la carte pricing: This is a lovely space with bleach-blond wood furniture and playful sculptures, expertly evoking a beachside restaurant. The same however cannot be said of the food. Two-star Michelin-starred Spanish chef Ramon Freixa lends his name to this venue, which first made an appearance (without his name attached) on sister ship Seaside. We're not sure his association helps: What's meant to be playful and inventive becomes tortured and unpalatable; simple dishes turn into over-complicated creations and exquisite flavors are buried in a mass of competing tastes. Take two of the most intrinsically delicious food items -- scallops and jamon iberico, which need little or no adornment to shine. So why cover them in thick bechamel sauce, creating a grayish, gloopy mess where flavors get buried? Fish and chips -- one of the simplest and most delicious seafood offerings when done well -- arrives in two fried slabs -- one deep-fried monkfish slathered in thick mayonnaise, the other deep-fried potato. We can't even. Red mullet was presented in tiny, individual portions atop green pods and asparagus. Nothing fresh about this, which was presented cold and tasteless. The best thing about the meal? -- the freshly baked, piping hot mini French baguettes -- simple and sublimely tasty. If only that principle could be applied to the rest of the dishes. A deep disappointment. It's only open for dinner and reservations are recommended.
Butcher's Cut (Deck 16); 39 euro prix fixe dinner menu or a la carte pricing: First appearing on MSC Meraviglia, Butcher's Cut is a classic American steakhouse serving prime cut steak and chops as well as a few non-red meat dishes. The venue is bright and airy with lots of natural light, tables for two, four or more, with faux-leather burgundy-colored chairs and some that looked like they are covered in cow hide. One thing is for sure: you will not go back to your cabin hungry. Huge portions of steak (various cuts including New York strip, filet mignon and rib eye), whole roast chicken, rack of lamb -- even a 16 oz. slab of American bison -- are served up here, with a large array of sides and sauces. We opted for a classic shrimp cocktail, which consisted of three huge shrimp on a bed of ice with a delicious cocktail sauce; a New York strip steak, which was hands down one of the best (if not the best) New York strip we have had at sea -- perfectly cooked, tender, juicy and packed full of flavor. It comes with a selection of sauces -- bearnaise, pepper, chimichurri and mushroom. The restaurant even had a French Dijon mustard available, which is rare at sea (normally the only mustard available is hot dog mustard).
The brunch option on sea days includes omelets, homemade carnitas, sandwiches and pancakes and is a la carte. You can also add king crab or Maine lobster for a surf and turf option. Desserts include New York cheesecake, lava cake and a peanut butter and milk chocolate cookie. There is a wide and reasonably priced selection of predominantly New World wines. When we visited during the day, it was completely empty; it fills up in the evenings so reservations are recommended. Open for brunch (on sea days), lunch and dinner.
Pizza (Delivery); 3 euros per pie: Pizza is freshly made and comes in varieties such as cheese, pepperoni and veggie.