AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands, Feb. 3, 2009 -- When Her Majesty Queen Beatrix "by the Grace of God Queen of the Netherlands" celebrated her 70th birthday earlier this year, the Dutch press was feverish with speculation about whether she would abdicate.
However, the birthday came and went and there's still no sign that the monarch is going to retire, thus giving her oldest son, Prince Willem-Alexander, and her daughter-in-law, Princess Maxima, more time to prepare for their eventual takeover of the throne.
Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Maxima have three daughters, Princess Catharina-Amalia, 5, Princess Alexia, 3, and Princess Ariane, 1.
Their marriage in 2002 caused some controversy because of her Argentinean family connection.
Maxima's father had served as Argentina's minister of agriculture when the country was controlled by the military. During this era, known as the "dirty war," thousands of people were tortured, killed or simply made to disappear.
Concerns about her family background led to violent protests in the Netherlands, and Maxima, in a compromise, denounced the military regime and did not invite her father to the wedding.
Those bad feelings, however, have long since been overcome: many here clearly consider her their "Princess of hearts," with a recent poll showing her to be the most popular member of the royal family with 57 percent of the Dutch vote.
Marc van der Linden, who has written biographies of the queen and the princely couple, agrees with his fellow countrymen. "She's brought fresh wind and energy to the Royal House. She's the modern-day princess that everybody just loves," he said.
"She's good-looking, intelligent, she knows how to dress and she has brought some glamour to the Royal House. She made Willem-Alexander a well respected prince," van der Linden said.
"It is almost impossible to be a fairy tale princess and a modern-day woman at the same time, but she seems to be able to combine those attributes perfectly," added van der Linden, editor of monthly magazine Royalty.
Maxima – who is fluent in Dutch – has become a role model for many young women in the Netherlands, and the royal couple are widely recognized as a sympathetic, likeable young family.
They live in the 30-bedroom Villa "Eikenhorst" near Wassenaar, an affluent suburb of The Hague, about 30 miles north of Amsterdam.
Their oldest daughter, Princess Catherina-Amalia, has joined the local kindergarten there – a family tradition, according to van der Linden – and she is being treated like any other child. The little princesses are called by their first names until they are 18 years old; only then will they be addressed as Royal Highness.
Duties of the Royal Monarch
As a young man, the prince usually made headlines for his love of fast cars and attractive women. In fact, people in Holland used to call him Prinsje Pilsje [as in Pils beer] because beer was his favorite drink. Since being with Maxima though, his reputation has taken a turn for the serious.
"Maxima is wearing the pants in that house," says van der Linden. "She's made him a more royal prince."
According to royal watchers, Willem-Alexander proposed to her while they were ice-skating on a frozen lake behind the royal palace Huis ten Bosch, not too far from where they live today.
The couple met at a party in Seville, Spain, and the prince had introduced himself only as Alexander. Maxima, who did not know him, reportedly just laughed when he later told her that he was a prince.
Maxima, a trained economist, worked for Deutsche Bank in New York before tying the knot.
She is an active member of the United Nations Advisors Group on Inclusive Financial Sectors, a group whose goal is to halve world poverty by 2015.
Some royal watchers believe the queen is now getting ready to let her son take over.
"Last time I saw her, she looked a little tired, maybe she'd like to enjoy life and have more time for her grandchildren," van der Linden said.
"Everything is being prepared for her to retire. The Royal Palace in Amsterdam, where abdications are signed, is being renovated and Drakensteyn Castle, where the Queen will live when she's retired, is also being tidied up," he said.
The monarchy is very popular in Holland. Each year hundreds of thousands of people flock to the streets on Prinsjesdag to see the queen travel by golden carriage drawn by eight horses from Noordeinde Palace in The Hague to the House of Parliament, where she delivers her annual speech from the throne.
And on April 30 each year the entire country celebrates Koninginnedag (Queen's Day), which is her official birthday, as a national holiday.
Willem-Alexander and Maxima usually accompany the queen on those occasions.
The queen's second son, Prince Friso, gave up his rights to the throne upon marrying Mabel Wisse Smit, a commoner, in 2004. The couple have two children.
Friso's decision to marry Mabel was met with harsh criticism when the Dutch media found out about Mabel's previous relationship with a man who was reportedly involved in drug dealing and contract killings. So when Friso said "I do" he gave up his status as third in line to the throne, behind his older brother, Willem-Alexander, and Willem-Alexander's daughter Catharina-Amalia.
Dutch Royal Assets
For many years, Queen Beatrix used to lead American business magazine Forbes' list of the richest people.
But the magazine has taken her off that list ever since her late father, Prince Bernhard, complained to the editors that the Dutch royal family's assets and wealth were totally overrated.
Prince Bernhard managed to get Forbes to lower the figure to $250 million – a figure now widely believed to be true.
The queen, Willem-Alexander and Princess Maxima receive annual allowances from the Dutch government that cover their expenses. The monarch gets about $1.5 million per year, her son and his wife together about $500,000 per year.
The state, however, owns the three royal palaces which the queen is using. It costs about $114 million to keep up those palaces, pay for the staff and provide security for the royal family.
"Queen Beatrix is a full-time Queen," says van der Linden. "She's working seven days a week, 365 days a year and she's the captain of the ship. She likes to have everything under control. Wherever she goes, you see her taking notes in her little black notebook."
Van der Linden points out, "The Dutch Queen and her family are a good example for a modern monarchy. They could be trend-setters for how traditional monarchy is combined with modern day challenges. "
"In fact, the Dutch Royal House is a rather modern monarchy, which allows commoners to marry into the royal family, and it was the first royal family in Europe to allow girls to succeed to the throne."
Willem-Alexander also chairs a United Nations Panel on water and sanitation in the Third World and he's known for his unconventional approach to issues.
Last September he spoke openly about the lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation that many people in the world suffer from.
"It genuinely upsets me that young children and women living in slums still have to relieve themselves in stinking gutters in the street every day. We cannot accept this," the prince said in his speech.
The Oranje Prince, as he's also called, works for the International Olympic Committee as well.
He is a huge sports fan who has run the New York marathon and taken part in the "Eleven Cities Ice-Skating" event in Holland.
He performed his military service in the Royal Netherlands Navy. He loves flying airplanes and is licensed to fly jets.
Is the Heir Ready for Duty?
The prince reportedly was hoping to take his family there for vacations and to enjoy the privacy the remote coastal place offers, but the Dutch parliament has yet to approve his plan because of security concerns.
Queen Beatrix used to take her family to her summer home in Italy and to Austria for a skiing holiday in wintertime.
The Dutch parliament is expected to argue that it will cost the taxpayer millions to maintain a permanent security level in Mozambique by anchoring a navy ship off the coast close to the prince's proposed vacation retreat.
The issue has still not been resolved and it makes some people wonder if the prince is in fact fully prepared to take over from his mom.
"I bet you that Queen Beatrix will hand over business to her oldest son at the latest when she celebrates her 30th anniversary in 2010," says van der Linden.
But a spokesperson for the Royal House told ABC News, "The only person who knows when she will step down is her majesty, the queen. And she's not telling anyone of her plans yet."