PALM BEACH, Fla., Nov. 12

A glittering ball inside a fantasy hotel placed by the side of a silvery sea was the setting tonight for the last appearance of the Prince and Princess of Wales on their American visit. Hollywood stars, jewel draped society matrons and an assortment of Vignettes from the royal visit are in Washington Talk, page A24. Anglophiles who had flown in from around the country and the world were there to help the Prince promote one of his favorite charities. Some Palm Beachers stayed away as a result of discord over the price of the tickets $5,000 each and the fact that the college was so far away.

The setting for the gala was the twin towered Breakers hotel, a 1920’s Mediterranean revival dowager that remains the sentimental centerpiece of Palm Beach society. Prince Charles, looking slightly fatigued from his participation in a vigorous polo match this afternoon, arrived with the Princess in a black and beige Rolls Royce. He was in black tie, she in a deep pink velvet sheath.

The Princess looked demure compared with Joan Collins, the actress, who stepped from a gray stretch limousine under the portico of the hotel and onto a regal red carpet wearing a black strapless dress and an enormous diamond necklace.

Merv Griffin, the television personality, who was the master of ceremonies for the evening, was asked upon his arrival if he was nervous. ”No,” he replied, ”I can always say, ‘We’ll be right back after this message.’ ”

The charity ball, sponsored by Dr. Armand Hammer, the petroleum magnate and art patron, was expected to raise $4 million for United World Colleges. Prince Charles is a director of the organization, which provides education at six sites around the world in the hope of promoting international understanding and lessening global tensions.

Before the evening got under way, about 12,000 people watched the Prince’s polo team, clad in green and white, put down a team of all stars, 11 to 9. The match was a crowd pleaser from the first chukker to the last: while the Prince’s play drew a few reserved but biting comments from aficionados in the stands who winced at missed shots, the real game on display this warm afternoon was royalty watching, and the Prince and his Princess were 10 goal players by this measure.

After the match the Princess presented individual trophies, porcelain horses, to her husband’s team. She had watched the match from a box in the stands, dressed in a blue silk blouse and plaid skirt, not clearly visible to spectators who craned and pointed long lens cameras in her direction.

”I had mixed feelings about coming,” confided a Chicago woman who said she attends about one polo match a season. ”Usually, if I get bored, I can leave. But one doesn’t feel right about walking out on the Prince of Wales.”

American style fanfare gave local schoolchildren a chance to participate, as marching bands performed in prematch activity, along with cheerleaders for the Miami Dolphins. And then, as if in good natured mimicry, the closest thing to American royalty toddled out onto the playing field: Mickey and Minnie Mouse, direct from Walt Disney World.

The royal couple arrived here in early afternoon after a flight from Washington aboard a VC 10 jet that is part of the Queen’s Flight. After landing at the Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach from which they will depart for London on Wednesday they moved easily among schoolchildren and others who had been permitted into the reception area to shout, and at times, to sing their hellos.

The route to the polo fields was not made public but a few hardy people, mostly women, took up positions at midday in heat that reached the mid 80’s. They waited at strategic intersections in hopes of catching a glimpse of the motorcade.

The polo club is well inland from Palm Beach, west of the Florida Turnpike, which for years has been the unofficial boundary of development encroaching from the coast. The natural landscape is palmetto scrub, flat and fairly monotonous. Yet expensive developments have opened this western acreage in the past decade, and the polo club, with 11 playing fields each 900 feet long and 480 feet wide lie in the center of some million dollar homes, along with golf courses and tennis courts.

Not all of Palm Beach has been happy about the attention the royal visit has occasioned. Even the unhappy ones, however, express something close to reverence for the Prince and Princess while condemning the crowds they inevitably draw.

”Palm Beach will go on as it has for more than a century, a small seaside town inhabited, managed and manicured by people who don’t want the world intruding on this peaceful, rigidly mannered way of life,” wrote Agnes Ash, publisher of The Palm Beach Daily News, known locally as ”the shiny sheet.”

”Palm Beach is not dull,” she continued, but neither is it all glitter and ”one lurid divorce case after another,” as press accounts might suggest. The wealthy resort, many of its inhabitants insist, has a solid, decent dimension that often goes unreported but is the daily reality of the people who live here.

Still, Palm Beachers love gossip and scandal as much as people who live in Altoona, Pa., and Palm Beach gossip because of the wealth, the power and often the beauty of some of the principal players can be 24 karat.

Take the chairmanship of tonight’s ball. Pat Kluge, the 36 year old wife of John W. Kluge, the 71 year old multimillionaire who sold Metromedia to the publisher Rupert Murdoch for a reported $2 billion, was named co chairman. However, last month the British press revealed that a decade ago a nude photograph of Mrs. Kluge was published in a British magazine called Knave. A staff representative of the Kluges recently issued a statement that the couple would be traveling abroad today and would be unable to attend the ball.

Resentment over the sponsorship of the ball by Dr. Hammer, an outsider in Palm Beach, became apparent soon after it was announced that the proceeds would help support the three year old United World College in New Mexico. Palm Beach society only rarely acknowledges the presence of even West Palm Beach, which is just a few hundred yards beyond the Intracoastal Waterway, and then only if it is necessary to pay a traffic ticket in court there or to catch a plane north.

Another blow to the ball was delivered by Mary Sanford, the doyenne of local society, who had been enlisted to organize the ball and get the invitations to the right people. She later said she had been misled about the beneficiary. She had some unkind things to say about Dr. Hammer. Before leaving town so that no one could say she snubbed the event, Mrs. Sanford sent regrets to her friends.