He's apparently not one to stand on ceremony.

Despite being destined to hold one of the grandest titles imaginable - King of England - Prince Charles surprised Philadelphians from Center City to Mantua with his down-to-earth ways yesterday as he greeted them with quips and handshakes and zipped away from his handlers for one more hello.

Brent Cronin, 47, a union mason from Center City, was standing on the street outside the Four Seasons Hotel when the royal limo pulled up after a day during which Charles and his wife, Camilla, took in the city's historical sites and murals and visited with students, community leaders and artists.

"Prince Charles!" Cronin bellowed, as if calling out to a buddy at the bar.

The prince looked back over his shoulder and waved.

Lisa Diane, 40, of Brigantine Beach, N.J., grew up on Pennsgrove Street in Mantua and returned to her block to see the royals.

Much to her surprise, Charles shook her hand.

"Never in a million years did I think we'd have the opportunity to meet the Prince of Wales," she said. "Out of all the places for him to visit . . . this is phenomenal, and it makes history for us."

It had been 147 years since a Prince of Wales came to Philadelphia, and so it was a giddy occasion for those who waited in the cold, and went home with photos and stories to tell of having touched a royal.

"I'll never wash this hand," yelled a man in West Philadelphia.

The three-day visit, the couple's first to the United States since 2005, coincided with the 150th Anniversary Academy Ball and Concert, which they attended last night. This morning, they are to worship at Arch Street Presbyterian Church before taking a train to New York, where former Vice President Al Gore tonight will present the prince with an environmental award from the Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment.

The trip, said an aide, was seen as a way to boost "the transatlantic relationship" between the United States and Britain. With the themes of youth empowerment and urban regeneration, the focus was "on issues where both countries are confronting similar problems and can learn from one another."

The couple's first stop yesterday was Independence Hall, symbol of the American colonists' break with the British, which was bathed in brilliant winter light as the motorcade rolled up just after 11:30.

Without much fanfare, they got out of a black limousine - he on the left, she on the right - a well-dressed, middle-age couple instantly surrounded by darkly clothed men and women.

Theresa Boyce held up her cell phone.

"This is a Kodak moment," she said.

"Cool," said her 9-year-old daughter, Jessica.

Escorted by the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry in full military garb, they were swarmed by a pool of 20 reporters and photographers and enthusiastically greeted by a crowd of 600, many of whom waved British or American flags.

Every few feet, they paused to read signs and shake hands.

Theresa McGlaughlin, 20, a Moore College of Art and Design student, gave the Duchess of Cornwall a bouquet of lilies, daisies and roses.

"The prince said, 'Thank you for the flowers for my wife.' And I said, 'Anytime, sir,' " she said later.

He also reached out to Sarah Tonemah, 20, another Moore student, after she presented the duchess with a book of watercolors.

"He was very handsome and charming. Now I can die happy," she said. "Meeting a royal was on my list of things to do."

Moore students held up handmade signs, including a banner welcoming the Prince of Wales in Welsh: "Croeso i Philadelphia."

Protesters, including a handful from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, were also there.

Matt Rice, 31, a PETA activist, said his organization was there "to ask Prince Charles to use his influence with the British Ministry of Defense to switch to synthetic fur rather than slaughter Canadian black bears for Royal Guard hats."

Canadian Chet Woon, 39, an amateur photographer from Alberta, found himself "acting like a paparazzi" when he climbed an Independence Mall fence to get a picture of the prince.

Judy Spiller, 60, who lives in Independence Place, got a chuckle.

"I asked to shake his hand, and he said, 'It won't do you any good.' He has a sense of humor."

There were critics in the crowds throughout the day.

Simran Bhatia, 18, of Dubai, a Wharton School finance student, said: "I don't think he's done anything good for the world. He won the genetic lottery."

As for urban regeneration and Charles' vision, Bhatia said, "He talks a lot and does nothing about it."

At Independence Hall, the royals - he in a blue suit and dark topcoat, she wearing a fur-trimmed beige coat over a pale-blue dress - met Gov. Rendell and Mayor Street.

From there they walked to the Liberty Bell, where fifth graders from William Loesche Elementary School in Northeast Philadelphia were waiting.

Charles "told me I did a good job," said 10-year-old Kyle Staeb.

Ellen Tassin, 46, of Louisville, Ky., and her husband, Staff Sgt. Jerry Tassin, 45, came up unexpectedly on the royal visit.

"It's history," she said.

"It's pretty boring," said the couple's son, Nick, 14.

In a room filled with the city's elite at the National Constitution Center, Charles offered thanks for the opportunity to explore urban concerns.

"I've learned a great deal from the American experience," he said. "Over the next couple of days, I look forward to meeting many people who are well-versed in these issues."

From the historic icons and stylish rowhouses of Society Hill, the royal motorcade carried the prince and duchess to Mantua, a close-knit neighborhood that residents say is on its way back up.

"I think it's nice they came to West Philadelphia, not just Center City," said Hazel Pree, 64, who was wearing a full-length mink for the occasion. "It's nice they want to be around ordinary people."

The plan was for the couple to attend a ceremony at 40th and Pennsgrove Streets, a vantage point that gave them a look at three Mural Arts Program works, then walk a block to Heavenly Hall Full Gospel Church to meet artists, children and activists.

But as they came down 40th, past a corner Laundromat with security mesh and a pair of sagging houses, they caught sight of the crowd lining Poplar Street and veered over. Camilla posed for pictures and accepted a flag from a young girl in a hat as a gospel choir sang, "I was born by the river."

Many had hoped for a fleeting glance, and got much more.

"We all grow up on fairy tales, kings and queens," said Linda Hicks-Kenny, 52.

Calla Cousar, 77, has lived in Mantua since 1947.

"I never thought I would see the prince and duchess," she said.

Looking around at streets and sidewalks that she said had been tidied up for the event, she quipped, "We should have 'prince day' once a month."

When Charles and Camilla finally made it to the second floor of Heavenly Hall, accompanied by Street, Mural Arts Program director Jane Golden, and a click-click-clicking frenzy of photographers, they found groups of children in oversize T-shirts dabbing at parachute cloth mural squares.

"Hello," Camilla said, surprising a little girl working on the face of Mother Teresa.

"Well done," chimed in the prince.

He was full of questions as he strode about the room:

"Who drew out the original?"

"Is this acrylic?"

At the center table, artist David McShane, in flannel shirt and ponytail, supervised a group of youngsters painting the face of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in shades of blue.

The prince, a watercolorist, was asked: "Would you like to paint?"

"Oh, dear," he said, rolling his eyes.

Camilla showed no reticence. She grasped a brush and started right in on the civil-rights leader's chin, worrying McShane as her cuff came near a paint tub.

Thus encouraged, her husband took a few strokes, too.

As Jessica Hinton, 11, painted across the table, she stole glances at the future king, gray and soft-spoken in a double-breasted suit and paisley pocket kerchief.

"I thought a prince would be a little younger," she said later.

The prince told McShane he deserved "a good stiff drink" for working on a Saturday.

All the cameras, McShane said, had the children "feeling like rock stars."

Downstairs, the prince and duchess quizzed community activists - old, young, black, white - from Kensington, Norris Square, Grays Ferry and other neighborhoods about their murals, renderings of which were displayed on the walls.

Stopping before the "Holding Grandmother's Quilt" mural display, Golden told him: "Look what a committed group of citizens can do. The ripple effect is indeed profound."

Outside the sun was out again, and the couple once again walked to the barricades to greet neighbors.

A bike officer called out, "Hey, how you doing?"

"Still alive!" retorted the prince, getting a laugh.

"He was amazingly down to earth," artist Cathleen Hughes said.

Artist Keir Johnston was impressed by the prince's choice of activities: "I thought it showed a lot of his personality, that besides going to the symphony house he requested to come to mural arts."

At International House in West Philadelphia, Charles joined the tail end of a student conference on urban regeneration, listening as students summarized their findings.

Afterward, John Park, a University of Pennsylvania architectural student from Korea, said the prince had added to the discussion.

"He gave great insights," Park said. "We were talking about regeneration, and the whole time we were talking about the financial aspect, the architectural aspect. But he was the one who pointed out we should talk to the residents who are already living there . . . and develop our plans from there."

The Philadelphia Royal Visit

Today

Arch Street Presbyterian Church, 1724 Arch St.: Worship service.

10:40 a.m.

30th Street Station: Departure for New York via private train.

In New York, Prince Charles will receive the Global Environmental Citizen Award from Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment.

EndText

For a special report on the Academy of Music's 150th anniversary,

and complete coverage of

the royals'

visit, go to http://go.philly.

com/academyEndText

Contact staff writer Julie Stoiber

at 215-854-2468 or jstoiber@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Melissa Dribben contributed to this article.