(Photo by Mark Large - Pool/Getty Images)
By Maria Puente, USA TODAY
Get ready, people of paradise, the Cambridges are coming! You are about to host Will and Kate and the biggest, loudest, most-covered royal road trip ever.
Prince William and the former Kate Middleton, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, embark Monday on their second international tour since their marriage in April 2011, this time traveling tens of thousands of miles over 10 days to Southeast Asia and the South Pacific on behalf of grandmother Queen Elizabeth II.
Their trip looks like a fabulous vacation in one tropical Eden after another - luxury resorts, perfumed gardens, high tea and luau feasts, walks in the rainforest, communing with orangutans, diving in crystal blue seas - but it's actually serious business, strengthening diplomatic and trade ties with an important region for Britain.
The young royals, both 30, are representing Her Majesty to mark her Diamond Jubilee of 60 years on the throne. Other members of the royal familywere assigned to travel to other parts of the far-flung former British Empire, but the Cambridges got the most exotic gig: Singapore, Malaysia, the Solomon Islands and tiny Tuvalu, one of the most remote inhabited spots on the globe, about halfway between Hawaii and Australia.
Turns out the queen is actually the queen of Tuvalu, too. In 1982, she and husband Prince Philip traveled there on the royal yacht Britannia (now retired), to visit "this most striking and remote of nations," as the Cambridges' spokesman, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, put it in a press briefing about the trip last week.
Will and Kate will arrive to a traditional island welcome, carried off their aircraft at shoulder height, possibly in canoes, just as their grandparents were welcomed 30 years ago, Lowther-Pinkerton said. .
The queen, 86, has the practiced ability to look dignified in any situation, no matter how daffy. Now, as she passes on more of her travel duties to a future king and queen, they - especially Duchess Kate - are learning how to do the same as they take on an increasingly front-and-center role in the royal "Firm."
"This is going to be the pattern in coming years - the queen increasingly deploying her son and her grandsons (to represent her)," says Sally Bedell Smith, author the recent best-selling bio Elizabeth the Queen. "(Will and Kate) are going to be covering a lot of ground, it's their first big extensive multi-country tour they've taken, so all eyes will be on them to see how they do."
As they did on their North American tour last year, they are traveling light - but bringing a hairdresser - and on scheduled flights when possible to keep costs down. The Daily Mail reports Kate is bringing at least 30 outfits, plus borrowing some jewelry from the queen.
Lowther-Pinkerton said the queen personally chose their itinerary. At every stop, they will attend receptions, state dinners and cultural performances, visit schools, factories, villages and war memorials, explore the wildlife, eat native dishes and sleep in luxurious surroundings. He will deliver brief remarks occasionally, she will do so once, at a hospice, one of her charity specialties.
They also will call attention to issues that both the queen and the couple care about, such as the importance of the Commonwealth, conservation of the rainforest and the threat of rising sea levels to her island realms.
"The queen is sending a message that by deploying Will and Kate to some of the small places of the Commonwealth, it's a measures of her care and concern (about those places)," says Bedell Smith.
But they're still going to have a good time. Here's a look at their itinerary:
In Singapore (Sept. 11-13), they will visit botanical gardens for a ceremonial naming of an orchid in their honor, and to see another named after his late mother, Princess Diana.
In Malaysia (Sept. 13-15), they will attend a traditional English tea party and travel to Borneo to explore a tropical rain forest, where they may see wild orangutans.
In the Solomon Islands (Sept. 16-18), they will travel by war canoe to the five-star Tavanipupu Private Island Resort, known for its "barefoot luxury" and for sailing, kayaking, fishing and scuba diving.
Tuvalu (Sept. 18-19), a nation of islands and about 10,000 people, hopes William's passion for the environment will help bring more attention to the threat of rising sea levels to its long-term survival.
After their idyll in paradise, the Cambridges say farewell and return to London and, if last year is any guide, to rapturous applause and headlines at home. And who knows, maybe a pregnancy announcement?