Her Majesty the Queen apparently is a fan of the charming Fairmont Empress hotel in Victoria, Canada.
Named after Queen Victoria, her great-great-grandmother and empress of India, Queen Elizabeth II has visited the regal British Columbia landmark six times during her nearly 60-year reign. In her honor, the hotel has a set of fine china created exclusively for use during royal visits.
That exclusivity, however, is about to disappear.
For three evenings, April 29 and 30, and May 1, commoners will be able to dine on the posh china in the Empress Room. The meals -- priced at about $155 and including selections from the royal menus created for her majesty -- will mark the climax of events celebrating the April 29 marriage of the queen's grandson and heir to the throne, Prince William, to Kate Middleton.
For those who haven't the dosh -- that's British slang for money -- for a pricey trip to London, the capital of British Columbia is gearing up for one heck of a party. Widely regarded as the most English of all Canadian cities, Victoria offers Anglophiles a cost-conscious option without leaving the Pacific time zone. It promises to be an experience filled with chiming bells, Union Jacks and plenty of English fare.
Set atop a sloping lawn overlooking the city's Inner Harbour, the nearly-century-old Empress will host many of the special activities in and around Victoria.
"As soon as the wedding between Kate and William was announced, it seemed like a natural," said Angela Rafuse-Tahir, the hotel's director of sales and marketing. "The hotel has such a connection to the monarchy."
The hotel's "Rise & Shine With the Royals" will begin at 3 a.m. (Pacific) as guests file into London's Westminster Abbey for the wedding. Visitors to Victoria are encouraged to gather for a live broadcast of the ceremonies and a traditional English breakfast (about $40). Hotel guests won't even have to get dressed; pajamas and bathrobes will be just fine, Rafuse-Tahir said.
For those unwilling to rise in the wee hours, the celebrations continue throughout the day. In neighboring Sidney, a noon brunch will be held at the local community center during a rebroadcast of the ceremony from London. Preceding the meal, at 11 a.m., couples are invited to renew their vows along the waterfront. Folks are encouraged to get into the spirit by donning their finest fashions.
"People are really getting onboard with this. It's gone beyond my wildest dreams," said Councillor Kenny Podmore, who's helping to organize the Royal Wedding Week in Sidney. "A lot of [local] ladies are getting their hats out. It'll be the highlight of the year for some of them."
In Canada as in the motherland, a special occasion means topping a fancy frock with colorful headgear. For unprepared Yanks, a prenuptials visit to Roberta's Hats in Victoria's Old Town can help to top off the appropriate attire (1318 Government St.;  384-2778, www.victoriahat.com).
Later that afternoon, the Empress will hold a special Royal Subjects Picnic & Tea (about $20) on its front lawn. Besides traditional scones and finger sandwiches, guests will receive British flags to wave.
A less expensive yet very proper "cuppa" can be found at the large beverage bar at Murchie's, a longtime tea and coffee merchant with a location in the downtown area. Stop by the adjacent retail store for a unique souvenir: Wedding Blend tea in a collectible canister (1110 Government St.;  383-3112, www .murchies.com).
Also on April 29, visitors to the Inner Harbour will be treated to recitals on the carillon at the Royal British Columbia Museum. The official carilloneur, Rosemary Laing, will climb a 75-step circular staircase, and then a ladder, to reach the clavier's keys. The 90-foot-tall, 62-bell carillon is Canada's largest.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
If you go
THE BEST WAY TO VICTORIA
From LAX, connecting service (change of plane) is offered on Alaska and Air Canada. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $406, excluding taxes and fees. For information on ferry service, schedules and rates between Vancouver and Victoria, go to www.bcferries.com.
The Fairmont Empress, 721 Government St., Victoria; (800) 441-1414, www.fairmont.com/empress. Royal wedding room rates and packages available.
TO LEARN MORE
Tourist info at (800) 663-3883),