A ghost pianist and color-changing cocktails: Inside Princess Cruises' hidden magic club

The pianist at a lounge on Princess Cruises’ new ship played the theme song from “Titanic” while guests sipped their cocktails.

It may seem like dark humor, but the musician is a ghost, after all. As the story goes, Isabella lives inside the space entertaining guests (she even takes requests).

In actuality, the instrument – which appeared to play itself – is part of Spellbound by Magic Castle, a new venue on the Sun Princess that combines dinner, drinks and magic. The speakeasy-like space was created in partnership with the Magic Castle, a legendary private club in Los Angeles.

Denise Saviss, the cruise line’s vice president for entertainment experience, said during a recent sailing that the Magic Castle has been a “well-protected secret.”

“As a members-only club, you can only attend by invitation, but they are keen to expand, and a partnership with us was a really great way to do that where we have a ton of international guests who may not ever get over to Hollywood and therefore it's not in reach,” Saviss said.

USA TODAY got a preview of Spellbound during a cruise ahead of its opening next month. Here’s what guests can expect.

Spellbound is a new venue on Sun Princess.
Spellbound is a new venue on Sun Princess.

What is Spellbound like?

Guests will start the evening with dinner in the Horizons Dining Room, choosing from a menu not found elsewhere on board (our preview did not include the dinner portion). They will then be escorted through an inconspicuous black door off the ship’s Piazza into Spellbound’s small foyer. There, a voice on a speaker tells the story of the Larsen family, who opened the Magic Castle in 1963, for a few minutes.

We were prompted to say the magic words (“Open sesame”), and the fireplace in front of us moved aside to reveal a music room and the Parlor Bar, lined with art and artifacts curated with help from the Magic Castle. A pair of handcuffs used by famed escape artist Harry Houdini even hung on one wall.

Isabella and her companion, a white bird named The Professor, can be seen in a portrait in the music room. She is the cousin of another ghost, Irma, who lives at the Magic Castle in California.

“Irma never loved to travel, but Isabella did,” said Kerry Lovegrove, Princess’ director of entertainment experience. “She traveled probably one too many times across the Atlantic, and then all of a sudden she was lost at sea. So she suddenly found the Sun Princess being built in Monfalcone and thought she’d attach herself onto that ship.”

Isabella disappears from view when she’s ready to play. The Professor, meanwhile, moves over to a nearby birdcage to enjoy the music (I saw him swaying to “My Heart Will Go On” at one point).

Behind the bar, a library holds its own not-so-hidden treasures. I picked up a gold rotary phone and heard someone ask “How can I help?” before changing their mind and hanging up. Guests might also see books float and fall, according to Lovegrove.

The Magician cocktail at Spellbound.
The Magician cocktail at Spellbound.

Even the drinks appear enchanted. One cocktail I ordered, The Magician, featured butterfly pea tequila that turned from blue to purple as the server poured it into the glass (also containing mezcal, lime, grapefruit, serrano peppers and agave).

Spellbound hosts magic in the bar as well as its 30-seat theater. Before theater seating opened, Mark Gibson kept us glued to his card deck, at one point finding the card a fellow guest chose by cutting the deck with the assistance of a tiny plunger. Woody Aragon also used cards in the theater, including asking an audience member to call someone who wasn’t in the room to pick one. (Spoiler: he named their chosen card correctly.)

The Parlor Bar magician will stay on the ship for a couple of months at a time, and the magician performing in the theater will change every cruise or two, but all are vetted by the Magic Castle team.

When will Spellbound by Magic Castle open?

Spellbound will open April 8 and is now available to book. Guests must be at least 13 to enter and just like at the venue’s Hollywood namesake, there is a mandatory dress code (my invitation called for cocktail attire).

The cruise line also will host its second Magic Castle Conjurer’s Cruise themed sailing on Sun Princess in November.

How much does Spellbound cost?

The experience costs $149 per person, including dinner, entertainment and unlimited drinks.

Spellbound will offer three theater shows a night and can accommodate a total of 90 guests (30 each night). Once they’re in the space, they can stay as long as they like (until it closes for the night). There are dinner seatings at 5, 7 and 9 p.m., and Spellbound is expected to close around midnight, though there is no hard closing time.

The library at Spellbound.
The library at Spellbound.

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Lovegrove said the venue serves as a new home base for magic, which already proved popular with Princess guests in other spaces on its ships. “If you love magicians, this is the spot for you.”

The reporter on this story received access to this sailing from Princess Cruises. USA TODAY maintains editorial control of content.

Nathan Diller is a consumer travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville. You can reach him at ndiller@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: This new cruise ship has a hidden magic club on board