USA TODAY US Edition
It’s time for Jubilee fun and Games
That royal wedding was a jolly good ‘prelude’ to Queen’s Jubilee, Games
London readies for ‘exceptional summer,’
LONDON — In the pillared Queen’s Gallery of Buckingham Palace, royal staffers unveil plans for Queen Elizabeth II’S Diamond Jubilee — ranging from celebratory $78 porcelain teacups and saucers in the palace gift shop to a jaw-dropping 1,000-boat, 15-mile flotilla June 3 on the Thames.
The queen is expected to dispense her side-to-side hand wave from a specially built barge with 180 oarsmen during that tribute to her 60-year reign. The event will be “the greatest the river has ever witnessed,” flotilla pageant master Adrian Evans tells a small group of journalists from a half-dozen countries, who have been ushered in. He’s a prominent festival organizer enlisted for the Jubilee.
The Jubilee, also to include a televised royal family appearance on the palace balcony, is a warmup for a blockbuster summer event: the Olympics. London is awash in preparations for its moments in the spotlight. Last year’s royal wedding “was a prelude. This will be an exceptional summer, once in a lifetime,” says Emma Thomas of Visitengland.
On former industrial land in East London, workers are putting finishing touches on the Olympic Park, home to sporting venues including a new aquatic center and 80,000seat stadium. The Games open there July 27 and play out through Aug. 12 at about two dozen venues in and outside London. Then come the Paralympic Games, Aug. 29 through Sept. 9.
Locals and tourists have been flocking to a hill overlooking the stadium to watch progress via a “View Tube” showing live video of workers inside the stadium.
Revamping and renovating
From tourist-packed Picadilly to once un-chic streets in Shoreditch and Hackney that now host trendy bars, eateries and hotels, London is spiffing up.
Tube stations are revamping to handle jams on the Underground, which runs to and from the stadium in Stratford. Hotels have renovated or opened.
The flood of tourists can line Jubilee procession routes or view its big June 4 concert (with Elton John, Annie Lennox and Paul Mccartney) on giant screens in Hyde Park and elsewhere. Screens showing Olympic events will be set up, too.
Scoring Olympic tickets, however, is a feat in itself. Most tickets are allocated, but some may be available on cosport .com. It’s the authorized seller to those in the USA. Hotel concierges may be able to obtain seats.
Cabdrivers worry about traffic, which usually crawls despite the city’s attempt to limit vehicles. Air hub Heathrow already is operating at near capacity and not allowing carriers to increase flights or add larger planes during the Games to avoid backups, says John Holland-kaye, commercial director for BAA Airports Limited, which operates Heathrow. Fliers arriving during the Jubilee and Olympics will be treated to festive touches.
But given the dismal dollar exchange rate, it will be hard for U.S. tourists to be penny-wise and not pound-foolish. While some London hotel and B&B rooms (more than 100,000 by July, says London & Partners city tourist promotion agency) are available for the Jubilee and the Olympics, you’ll probably pay $500 and up a night. For info, visit visitlondon.com.
Travelers would be wise to arrive after the Olympics, when costs should be lower and the city still gussied up. But even during slow periods, a London hotel room with bath in a good location for less than $150 is an anomaly.
Rental services have Olympics availability, albeit at higher-than-usual prices. At sacoapartments.com, $400-a-night units in Central London could be booked this week for the Olympics, and onefine stay.com offerings included a twobedroom luxury town house in hip Chelsea at $694. Some London residents have bought tents to rent in their backyards via websites such as camp in my garden.com. A sparkling skyline
Those who snag flights and lodging will find the city ready for its global closeup. Buildings such as redone Kensington Palace are sparkling. The Shard, a 70-story pyramid-shaped tower piercing the skyline, is expected to be completed this year.
It’s already difficult to book a table at restaurants such as The Wolseley, a popular bistro on Picadilly, or the trendy HIX Belgravia — good luck doing so during the Games. Nightly, Londoners spill out of pubs to smoke and drink on the street. Guests pack renovated hotels such as the historic Savoy near Trafalgar Square.
It’s not all pomp and athletic prowess: The Jubilee and Olympics also boast many stellar cultural events.
At Windsor Castle, an exhibit featuring 60 historical photos of the queen already is open. The Cultural Olympiad has the biggest roster ever, Thomas says. A highlight: Shakespeare’s Globe theater in London will present 37 Bard plays by different theater companies in different languages.
As players rehearse for that ambitious undertaking, a cast of thousands is getting London ready for its moment to strut — not fret — on the world’s stage.