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April 18, 2011

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It's the wedding of the year!

DIANE Morton will soon be flying from Florida, where she lives, to London, to be in the city when the royal wedding takes place on April 29.

She hasn't researched the procession route, and she may or may not try to stake out a spot to catch a glimpse of the carriage carrying Prince William and his bride Kate Middleton. But she just wants to be in London when it happens.

"Even if we don't see anything, it's OK just to be there, and be part of the hoopla," said Morton, 67, of Parkland, Florida, who will be traveling with her partner, Donald Ammons. "We enjoy London. It's a fun place to be, and maybe we'll get a glimpse of Kate in the carriage afterward."

Morton is one of 600,000 additional people who are expected to be in the capital on the day of the royal wedding takes place, according to London + Partners, the city's official tourism body.

Those determined to wake early and stand for hours along the procession route in hopes of seeing the royals in person may get their wish, but tourism experts say there are many other ways to experience the event, from street parties, to watching it on giant screens and toasting the happy couple in a pub.

"The atmosphere in the city is going to be a lot of fun," said Dinah Hatch, author of "Frommer's The Royal Wedding."

"There will be a lot of pubbing and drinking, and even if you don't catch sight of Kate and Will, it'll be fun. Let's just hope it doesn't rain."

Officials have confirmed that giant screens at Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square will show live TV coverage of the event.

Visit Britain expects screens will be put up at other locations as well where people can watch it with a crowd, enjoy the atmosphere and experience the procession.

The route for the procession between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, where the couple will wed, runs through St James's Park along The Mall; along Horse Guards Avenue past the Horse Guards Parade; and along Whitehall to Parliament Square.

Those determined to stake out a spot should be prepared for hours of waiting.

"The key is to actually get there early; everyone knows these spots quite well," Hatch said. "There's a very specific route, past lots of major landmarks ... There are places where you can get very close to their car or carriage."

But exactly what time you should arrive is anybody's guess - 3am might be too early, but 6am might be too late. Bad weather might cut down crowds and wait time, but add to the misery.

Crowds are also sure to be filling the streets and sidewalks beyond the palace grounds in expectation of an appearance by the happy couple after the ceremony.

Tradition calls for the royals to emerge from Buckingham Palace onto a balcony after major events to greet the public.

Despite the expected crowds, London had ample hotel capacity as of early April, with several new hotels just opened, including the W, St Pancras Renaissance and the Corinthia.

Those for whom the W's US$440 nightly rates are too steep will find plenty of alternatives, with prices falling the farther from the center of the city you go.

Early April data from found that average rates for hotel rooms in London this time of year were 21 percent higher than the same period from last year, at US$185 a night.

Locales such as Windsor, Brighton or Cambridge offer cheaper lodging, though you'll have to commute by train an hour or more to reach London. At the other end of the spectrum, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park hotel is offering a US$30,146 five-night package for two that includes views of the procession and private tours by "associates of the royal family."

A two-hour, US$25 walking tour from Celebrity Planet will show you the history of Kate and William's courtship, with stops at Jigsaw, the clothing chain where she was working in 2007 when William broke off their relationship; Mahiki, a nightclub where the prince racked up a bar bill of 11,000 pounds (US$17,900) in a week after the breakup; and St James's Palace, the official residence of William and his brother Harry.

Elsewhere in Britain at the end of April, the birthday of William Shakespeare is being marked on April 26 in his hometown of Stratford; the Cheltenham Jazz Festival starts April 27; and Scotland's Speyside Whisky Festival runs from April 28 to May 2.


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