It will be a floating spectacle unrivalled in British history.
At 2 p.m. on June 3, 1,000 boats will make their way down the River Thames in celebration of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Expect to see warships, barges, tall ships, tugs, paddleboats, steamers, kayaks, river police boats, fireboats shooting geysers of water, an oyster smack named Boudicea (the oldest sailing boat still afloat in Europe), square riggers and passenger boats. There will also be boats from the Commonwealth: a canoe from Canada's West Coast, Hawaiian outriggers, dragonboats and Australian surf boats. In all, about 35,000 people will be on the water that day.
Along with the visual theatre, the river pageant will be an aural showcase as musicians, bands and orchestras play from separate vessels. Handel's Water Music will be heard, along with concerts by nine other musical acts. You'll see heralding trumpeters, a pipe band, a dhol ensemble playing Indian, Scottish and Bollywood melodies, the Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, the Jubilant Commonwealth Choir and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, among others.
The first musical act down the river is a floating belfry with eight bells made at Whitechapel Bell Foundry, their peals to be echoed by churches along the route.
The most important boat, a royal barge, the Spirit of Chartwell, will carry the Queen herself. Elizabeth II is the second British sovereign to reign for 60 years (Queen Victoria was the first).
The flotilla, which will reach up to 11 kilometres, will travel up the Thames at four knots (better understood by landlubbers as a fast walking speed). Should you stand in front of the Tate Modern, it would take an hour for the entire flotilla to pass.
So why not find a comfortable perch for this river-faring extravaganza? The boats will muster in the west at Hammersmith, the route officially begins at Battersea, and dispersal starts in the east just past Tower Bridge, with the pageant ending at Greenwich Naval College. You could join the throngs at the festival being held at Battersea Park, book a ticket on the London Eye and guarantee a bird's-eye view or, better yet, book a room in one of the hotels with a bedside view of the river pageant:
- The London Marriott County Hall couldn't be more perfectly positioned: On London's South Bank, this five-star property overlooks the Thames, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. London County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road; marriott.com.
- The Royal Horseguards is another five-star hotel right on the embankment. 2 Whitehall Court; guoman.com.
- The Savoy, by Fairmont, is offering guests a Diamond Jubilee package: two nights accommodation, breakfast and a four-course Jubilee dinner from £1,230. fairmont.com/savoy.
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London is right beside the Tower of London and London Bridge, making it a great spot to watch the boats just before dispersal. 7 Pepys St.; doubletree1.hilton.com.
- The Corinthia Hotel, set on Whitehall Place, has penthouse suites with river views. corinthia.com.
- For more information, go to thamesdiamondjubileepageant.org.
For those who can't make it, the pageant will be broadcast live on TV.
For more information, go to thamesdiamondjubileepageant.org.