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Strikes, soaring airfares and yo-yoing hotel fees: A traveler’s guide to the coronation

<i>John Shearer/Getty Images</i><br/>Katy Perry is one of the coronation concert headliners.
John Shearer/Getty Images
Katy Perry is one of the coronation concert headliners.

Julia Buckley, CNN

So you’ve navigated spiraling air fares, hotel price hikes and you’re off to London for the coronation of King Charles III.

You’re not alone. According to Expedia, searches for London hotels rocketed by 4,285% after the coronation date was announced, with Americans making the most searches, followed by Brits, Canadians, Germans, French and Australians.

The coronation itself takes places on May 6, but there are plenty of related activities to keep royal fans busy on the ground. Here’s what to expect.

When to arrive

Be prepared for potential delays if you’re arriving at Heathrow Terminal 5 in the run up to the coronation, or leaving a couple of days afterward.

Security staff at the terminal — which is used exclusively by British Airways, which codeshares with American Airlines — are due to go on strike protesting against low wages on May 4-6, as well as May 9-10 and May 25-27 .

Technically that should affect outgoing flights, rather than incoming ones, as the staff striking are those on the security lanes for departing flights. However, in a worst case scenario it could have a knock-on effect, delaying flights as a result. Strikers have predicted “disruption” for passengers. When industrial action took place over Easter, British Airways canceled 300 flights.

The airline has not yet said whether it will cancel May flights and didn’t respond to a request for comment, but a spokesperson for Heathrow Airport told CNN in a statement, “We will not let [strikes] disrupt the flow of visitors to the UK during such an important period for the country.”

So if you’re leaving London on strike days, leave a little extra time at the airport, and if you’re flying in on BA, check your itinerary carefully — and ensure there’s leeway for any potential cancelations.

Where to stay

Hotel rates are, predictably, up for the coronation dates, particularly for properties near the action. Yet they’re not out of control.

Take the Conrad London St. James, for example, which sits between the Mall and Westminster Abbey. A two night stay is still available from May 6-8 for an average of £822 (about $1,026) per night. Stay May 5-7, checking out the day after the coronation, however, and it’s £575 ($718) per night. That contrasts with a lowest price of £330 ($412) per night in May, though other stays this month cost up to £817 ($1,020). Nearby, the Hub by Premier Inn St. James’s Park, a usually budget hotel, has availability on May 6 for £299 ($373).

Mind you, staying close to the action may not improve your chances of getting a prime view — although you’ll definitely be within hearing distance. Most of the roads around Westminster Abbey and St. James’s Park Underground station will be blocked off. The closest entry to the procession point is Westminster Tube station. Local hotels have been told that there will be “blockades” so it seems there will be little chance of sneaking a view of Westminster Abbey from the street outside.

Check your hotel booking again

Did you already book accommodation? Check if it’s refundable, as you might want to look into rebooking. Those initial coronation price hikes are already coming down, according to booking website HotelPlanner.

The website predicts 90-95% occupancy for the coronation weekend, but says that some prices are already lowering. Co-founder and CEO Tim Hentschel said in a statement:

“Prices are incredibly fluid. Hotels yield their rates through algorithms similar to online day traders. If their systems see sudden spikes in demand they yield up, which has been reflected by reports of high nightly rates for the Coronation weekend in recent weeks.

“However, with news of Heathrow security strikes threatening to derail appetite for overseas visitors, coupled with the plateau of the supply and demand curve, the public may now find that it’s the best time to book accommodation to land a late deal.

“Hotels will usually start their prices high in anticipation for heightened demand, but it’s not uncommon for prices to lower as the date for an event approaches.”

It’s found rooms at the Marriott County Hall, just across the river from Westminster, for £561 per night — down from £673 in mid-April — and rooms at the Crowne Plaza Albert Embankment for £350, down from £504. Even the chi-chi Savoy has knocked its rates down from £1,285 to £1,151.

If you’re still looking, look fast. Hentschel predicts that UK and European tourists may make last-minute bookings this week, which would send prices up again. So look again — and it might be worth keeping bookings refundable, just in case there’s a day-of-travel drop.

How to see the coronation

The coronation itself will take place on the morning of Saturday May 6 at Westminster Abbey. The service itself is for VIPs only, but the public can watch the procession along a 1.3-mile route from Buckingham Palace to the Abbey.

The couple will travel to the Abbey in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach. They’ll go down the long, straight Mall leading from the palace, through Admiralty Arch, turn right to travel down Whitehall and around Parliament Square to finish at the Abbey at 11 a.m..

On the way back, they’ll take the same route in reverse, but the procession will be much bigger, slower and grander — not least because they’ll be traveling in the 18th-century Gold State Coach. Other members of the royal family will also join this procession, as well as around 4,000 servicemen and women.

If you love the pomp and circumstance of the royals, you’ll want to see it. And if watching it on TV isn’t good enough, you’ll have to add a quintessential British activity to your trip: queuing.

There will be viewing areas for the public along the Mall and Whitehall. They’ll open at 6 a.m. on the day and will be closed once full — which will probably be fast. An accessible area is also first come first served.

The best place to see it? The Mall is the ideal spot — its length is best for visibility, and the fly-past (see below) will go straight over it. Depending on where you’re standing, you might be able to snatch a photo with Buckingham Palace in the background, too.

If the viewing sites are already full, you’ll be directed to one of three screening sites in nearby parks: Hyde Park, Green Park and St. James’s Park, though they’re also expected to reach capacity fast. There will be toilets, water refilling points and food and drinks stalls here.

For more details, see the government website here.

How to see King Charles on the balcony

Didn’t make it into the viewing areas for the processions? Once the family is back in the palace, there’ll be a fly-past over the Mall and Buckingham Palace involving more than 60 aircraft flying overhead, as the new king and queen — accompanied by other royals — appear on the balcony.

You might still be able to join in the occasion. The Mall will be (gradually) opened up after the procession goes by, allowing more people in to get near the palace.

Have a ‘big lunch’ with locals

Sunday is your chance to join a British “knees-up,” or party. Local communities will be encouraged to have “Coronation Big Lunches” across the UK, from street parties to sit-down meals or even a cup of tea with neighbors. The UK Government’s dedicated coronation website allows you to search for events by postcode — and has a map showing what’s been registered so far across London.

Big screens for the coronation concert

Later that evening, on May 7, Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Andrea Bocelli will be amongst the performers at a concert in the grounds of Windsor Castle. There will also be a performance from the Coronation Choir — a megachoir of amateur singers and community choirs, including refugee and LGBTQ+ groups, from across the country. The ticket ballot has now closed, so you can’t watch it there — or in Windsor at all, unless you try the Fairmont (see below) — but a large screen will be set up in St James’s Park, back in London. The concert begins at 8 p.m. and entry is from 4 p.m.. It’s free to access, and there will be food and drinks stalls, toilets and water refilling stations.

As well as those famous names, the concert will feature “music, dance and spoken word performances,” featuring “contemporary stars of stage and screen” as well as those musicians. See here for more details, including accessibility options.

If you’re desperate to be in Windsor for the concert, you have one option. The Fairmont Windsor Park hotel is screening it in the hotel grounds as part of a garden party. Tickets cost £150 (or £50 for children), including a picnic hamper with sparkling wine. Overnight packages, including tickets, start from £829 for two people.

There will be plenty of events going on across the country, too, from street parties to lunches and volunteering opportunities.

The UK Government’s dedicated coronation website allows you to search for events by postcode — and has a map showing what’s been registered so far across London.

After the celebrations — volunteering

On the Monday — a Bank Holiday in the UK — it’s time to give something back. “The Big Help Out” is a volunteering initiative in which people are asked to give something back to their community. Again, you can look for opportunities on the government website.

Soak up the atmosphere

There’ll be plenty to do to keep you in the coronation mood 24/7. City Cruises — which operates sightseeing tours along the River Thames — will be decking out their interiors with bunting, cardboard cutouts of the royals, and cloaks and crowns for visitors to dress up in, during the first week of May.

And if you pop into Hilton London Bankside for a whisky-based “King’s Cocktail” at the bar, you can also see an 88-pound chocolate replica of the coronation carriage in the lobby. Complete with chocolate horses drawing it, the “Chocolate Coronation Carriage” took 25 days to build and is taking pride of place in the lobby.

If you’re planning a trip to Windsor to gawk at the castle, make it Monday May 8. Royal Windsor Racecourse, near Windsor Castle, and on the bank of the River Thames, is having a race night to celebrate the day’s public holiday. The Queen Mother used to come here on Mondays when she stayed at the castle, and other royals have attended races — though don’t get your hopes up for this one. Free advance tickets have all been snapped up, but you can still buy packages from £25, which includes two drinks vouchers and a return trip by boat from Windsor town center.

Are your pockets as deep as a king’s? Then the “Royal Morning” experience — £8,200 for up to four people from Untold Story Travel — might be one for you. You’ll get private entrance to Kensington Palace, with the whole palace just open for the likes of Will, Kate, the kids… and you. A royal curator will take you around the State Apartments, show you Queen Victoria’s jewelry, and whisk you through the current Crown to Couture exhibition. Your ride to and from the palace? A Daimler once owned by the Queen Mother. You might want to practice your royal wave.

Souvenir shopping

Buckingham Palace Road, which runs along the side of the palace towards Victoria Station, is the place for souvenirs and all things memorabilia. Prices range from cheap(ish) and cheerful to high end. To go all out, the royals have an official gift shop, the Buckingham Palace Shop, at number 7 Buckingham Palace Road, near the Queen’s Gallery.

If you want to come fully primed, Heathrow is already selling bunting and flags at its duty free stores in arrivals.

Meanwhile Premier Inn, a comfortable budget UK chain, is selling limited edition “king”-style bathrobes, complete with fake ermine trim. So if you’re staying at the property by Westminster Abbey, you can at least wander around in your room in style, even if you can’t get near the service. Robes cost £50 and are made by The Sewing Rooms, a social enterprise in the UK. All proceeds go to Great Ormond Street Hospital for children. They’ll be on sale online from May 4, when the page will go live.

Royal themed stays

If you’re not up for braving the crowds, guests of Bulgari Hotel London can enjoy a live screening of the coronation in the hotel’s private cinema. It’ll screen the entire event, from the procession to the crowning, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Can’t afford a room? Guests of the hotel restaurant, Sette by Scarpetta, can also join. The restaurant will also have a special Coronation Brunch on May 6, with live music and coronation-themed kids’ entertainment, and the hotel offers a privately guided Royal Coronation Tour of London.

And if you’re keen to look the part, Dukes London has a “Royal Connoisseur Experience” for stays in 2023. You’ll get by-appointment-only access to five of the top level designers and boutiques around the posh St James’s neighborhood, including Lock & Co. Hatters, Anderson & Sheppard Savile Row tailors, and traditional barber Truefitt & Hill, who’ll give you a haircut or a hot towel wet shave. Rates start at £2,345 for two nights accommodation, including breakfast and one dinner.

Similarly, Brown’s Hotel is offering a two-night “Royal Warrant Journey” package, during which guests can visit local business which hold royal warrants (i.e. they’re official suppliers to the royals). Stops include a Savile Row tailor and a visit to the rare book room in iconic London bookshop Hatchards.

The Goring, just round the corner from Buckingham Palace, has long been a favorite of the royals — the then Kate Middleton stayed here before her marriage to Prince William, and the Queen Mother used to be a regular in the restaurant. In fact, this is the only London hotel with a royal warrant.

It’s also part of the PoB Hotels’ Coronation Concierge service, which will design individual royal-themed itineraries depending on your preferences. If you can’t stretch to the minimum £960 per night its rooms cost over the coronation, its restaurant is offering a six-course “Coronation Tasting Menu” based on Welsh products and foraged ingredients as a tribute to the king, who has always espoused environmental philosophies.

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