THE COUNTDOWN

When in Rome, do as Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes do: 1. Arrive via private jet on Nov. 13 with 10 others in the party for the wedding scheduled for Nov. 18. 2. Check into the five-star Hotel Hassler at the top of the Spanish Steps—the same hotel where Cruise and Holmes stayed during their first public outing in 2005. 3. Cover ears when the Roman police blow their whistles relentlessly to control the traffic outside. With pre-wedding hype reaching fever pitch, Cruise, 44, and Holmes, 27, escaped with kids Isabella, 13, and Connor, 11, for dinner on Nov. 14 with the owners of Odescalchi Castle. No sign of 7-month-old Suri, though an earlier sighting of her car seat caused a stir.

THE GUESTS

TomKat's families and pals such as Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and J.J. Abrams were expected for the festivities, while Giorgio Armani readied the wedding party's outfits. The biggest challenge for invitees? The wedding present. A source close to guests David and Victoria Beckham says that just days before the wedding, the Beckhams were still "scratching their heads. It's pretty damn hard finding the ideal gift for Tom and Katie." Even Oprah (who said she was not invited) told Extra, "I don't know what to give them."

THE CASTLE

It worked for feudal lords, so why not for Tom and Katie? Even before their arrival in Rome it was widely reported that the couple planned to wed in a black-tie ceremony at the medieval, fortress-like Odescalchi Castle on Lake Bracciano, 18 miles northwest of the city. Too bad the catapults and crossbows have been retired—and a request to impose a flight ban over the castle was denied by the local Roman government. Inside, banquet halls boast frescoes, tapestries and suits of armor. But no dancing is allowed on the castle's upper floors, lest the ancient terra-cotta tiles cave in.