- Associated Press - Thursday, April 28, 2011

LONDON (AP) - Each step has been rehearsed, each flower meticulously arranged, the aisle of Westminster Abbey transformed into a flowering avenue of trees.

With just hours to go before his wedding to Kate Middleton, dedicated royal watchers camped outside got an unexpected surprise _ a visit from Prince William.

The 28-year-old groom-to-be emerged from his residence Thursday night to greet the hordes of well-wishers gathered along the processional route. Dressed in khakis and grinning broadly, William shook countless hands as his photo was snapped on cell phones and digital cameras.

The visit lent further excitement to the carnival atmosphere near the abbey, where hours earlier 29-year-old Kate had a final run-through with William’s best man, Prince Harry.

A throng of curious tourists, dedicated monarchists, souvenir vendors, William-watchers and Harry-hunters have turned the Union Jack-bedecked streets into a scene of festive chaos.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Not many kings-to-be are going to be married anytime soon,” said 26-year-old Sarah White, camped out with her sister, Liz. “Everyone’s making friends and is in good spirits _ or at least will be until tomorrow.”

The only clouds on the horizon: the threat of rain and the intrusion of politics, with the British government revoking an invitation to Syria’s ambassador to condemn a deadly crackdown on protesters that has left hundreds dead.

Friday’s ceremony has been planned like a military operation. More than 1,500 soldiers, sailors and air crew will be on duty to line the couple’s procession route between the abbey and Buckingham Palace, just under a mile (1.6 kilometers) away.

An additional 5,000 uniformed and undercover police will be on alert for threats from Irish dissident terrorists, Muslim extremists, anti-monarchists, royal obsessives and drunken hooligans.

The royal nuptials will offer pomp and circumstance on a grand scale, starting with a global guest list of 1,900 that includes kings and queens, sports stars, music royalty, the couple’s university chums, Royal Air Force pilots and charity workers, as well as friends and family.

Royal carriages drawn by mounted troops of the Household Calvary will roll to the palace in a sweeping procession under fluttering rows of Union Jacks. Hundreds of thousands are expected to line a parade route scrubbed clean in recent days.

Westminster Abbey itself has been remade into a blooming forest, with six field maples and two hornbeams lining the aisle to the altar.

William and Kate have been intimately involved in planning their wedding, officials say, from the music to the flowers to the cake _ in fact, two cakes. Kate opted for a traditional white-iced fruitcake while William made sure that was accompanied by his childhood favorite, a chocolate biscuit cake.

Britain has not seen a royal celebration on this scale since 1981, when Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Much is at stake for the royal family, who hope the latest match bolsters the Windsor dynasty, which has been buffeted by a series of failed marriages, including those of Charles and Diana, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, and Princess Anne and Mark Phillips.

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