Unless you have the telescoping steering column it's pretty tight. I've done it before without removing the steering wheel, but you have to be extra careful.
From my experience with these bulbs if they are burned you should be able to see a difference between brightness of outside temp and odometer or trip. Actually, during the day you wouldn't even be able to read the portion that has the bad bulb. If I remember correctly there are only two bulbs for the LCD.
But like I said earlier there should be a noticeable difference in brightness.
Also, you can remove cluster by taking out speaker and pushing it out from behind. This is a little time consuming, but safer than hooks (especially if you've never used them before).