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'Spellbound' brings Magic Castle twist to Sun Princess

From top left, clockwise, Magic Castle magician Mark Gibson, Woody Aragón amazes journalist Gene 'Pepe' Sloan, welcome cocktails, close-up magic at the bar with Gibson, Artemis the owl, the library in 'Spellbound'
That mysterious black door on Sun Princess opened for the first time Wednesday night to reveal the immersive world of 'Spellbound by Magic Castle.'

A few reporters stepped into a small lobby with a fireplace and paneled walls covered in photos and memorabilia as a taped message told about The Magic Castle, that iconic Hollywood venue that's been a private club for professional magicians since 1963 and is open to outsiders only by invitation.

Then, with the magic words uttered by one guest, a door swung open to reveal a warren of Victorian rooms that closely resemble the Hollywood original. It's a surprise and delight moment.

'This the only place you can experience The Magic Castle without going to The Magic Castle,' said Richard Parker, director of newbuild guest experience and product development for Princess Cruises.


Plenty of Victorian curiosities catch the eye. At right, the music room is the lair of Isabella, Spellbound's resident spirit

'It's hidden away from all the other venues. People don't even realize it's here.' And it's off The Piazza, a modern space, 'so when you come through the door it's like whoa!' Parker said.

Guests are served welcome drinks — a tall glass of Champagne with a cloud of cotton-candy-like fluff on top that they push into the bubbly, introducing a hint of St‑Germain. 

Plenty of Victorian curiosities catch the eye. A case with a straitjacket, for example, explains that these have been used by magicians since the late 1700s. And there are lots of Easter eggs (Princess President John Padgett's head floats over a tray in one optical illusion picture).

In future, visitors will get introduced to Isabella, Spellbound's resident spirit, in the music room. She's the cousin of Irma, Magic Castle's spirit who plays piano requests.


Mark Gibson delights patrons at the bar

Close-up magic

Mark Gibson, a magician who made his Magic Castle debut at just 13 as one of the youngest performers ever brought in as a headliner, has been appearing there for 17 years. And now he's opening Spellbound on Sun Princess with his close-up magic. He pulled out a deck of cards and delighted those at the bar with a series of head-scratching illusions.

Magical potions

Speaking of the bar, there are more than a dozen specialty cocktails — and they are special, with names like 'The Conjurer' (bourbon, Luxardo maraschino, lemon and black charcoal) and the 'Escape from Houdini's Chest' (cinnamon and strawberry-infused vodka, elderflower liqueur and lime) that emerges from a smoking locked box.


'Escape from Houdini's Chest' is presented in a box that also contains handcuffs and emits smoke

People sipped, mingled and perused before being called into the intimate, 30-seat theater where Woody Aragón, a witty trickster from Spain, presented a mind-bending half-hour show.

Three groups of 30 per night

Just 90 people a night will get to experience 'Spellbound,' in groups of 30 with three dinner seatings.

The concept was created in close cooperation with Erika Larsen, whose parents and uncle founded The Magic Castle in 1963.

Immersive and authentic

'We wanted it to be immersive and authentic,' Richard Parker said. 'We wanted to take the essence of The Magic Castle, a very special place, and put it on a ship. They'd never done it before because they're so protective. You can't just go to Los Angeles and walk in. You have to be an invited guest.'


The Magic Castle in Hollywood

Larsen helped curate 'Spellbound' and select the magicians.

'We all knew each other already,' Parker said. 'Princess Cruises and Magic Castle grew up in Los Angeles, and it's been the perfect match. It's been a pleasure to deal with them.'

'Spellbound' will be 'an opportunity to introduce Magic Castle to a lot of people who will be new to it,' he continued, 'although it's amazing how many people do know about it. It's an iconic world.'

Shows begin April 8

Sun Princess will start taking passenger reservations for this, its second 'Extraordinary Experience' (following '360'), on March 19 for shows to begin April 8. 

It costs $149. The evening begins with a themed dinner menu in a corner of the Horizon Dining Room. Then participants are escorted to the black door off The Piazza (near Crooner's) in groups of 10.

Once inside the lobby, a password is needed to go further — just like at Hollywood's Magic Castle.