MOUNT DESERT ISLAND, Maine — This place may be known for its rugged coastline and stunning ocean views from Acadia National Park, but the concept of sightseeing here took on a whole new meaning this past weekend.
Instead of mountains, trails or beaches, from Friday afternoon through Sunday morning, the main attraction on Mount Desert Island was the president of the United States and his family. Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia, 12, and Sasha, 9, spent two days on the island for a family vacation.
But sightings were not easy to come by. Security for the president and his family was very tight, and the secrecy surrounding their movements was so severe that even the embedded journalists who traveled with his motorcade usually had no idea where they were going next.
Many people got glimpses of the Obamas, but some people had more substantial encounters.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Havana owner Michael Boland said of the Obamas’ visit to the restaurant in Bar Harbor on Saturday night. He said he, his wife, Deirdre Swords, and several members of the Havana staff got to chat with the president and first lady during their meal.
“They were very easy to connect with,” Boland said. “They were really genuine.”
The Obamas talked with Swords and Boland about yoga and about their daughters, the restaurateur said. Boland and Swords also have two girls, Zoe, 4, and Juno, 6 months.
The president had paella and Mrs. Obama had lobster thermidor, according to Boland. Both had martini cocktails and, for dessert, the president had tres leches, a traditional Latin-style cake, and the first lady had flan.
After eating, the first couple posed for photos with restaurant staff, and when time came to pay, the president used his credit card, leaving a “very generous” tip, Boland said.
“He passed that test with flying colors,” he said, adding he plans to keep the credit card slip. “It’s got his signature on it. It’s pretty awesome.”
Eben Salvatore, operations manager for Ocean Properties Ltd., was kept busy making sure the Obamas’ needs were met. The company owns the Bar Harbor Regency hotel, where the Obamas stayed; Stewman’s Downtown, where they ate Friday night; and the Bar Harbor Club, where the Obamas played tennis, swam in the pool and watched some of the British Open golf tournament Saturday morning.
“They’re a very pleasant family and looked like they were enjoying themselves,” Salvatore said.
The first family stayed in one of two rooftop suites of the main Regency building — the suite that faces north, according to Salvatore. White House staff and the Secret Service rented out more than 100 other rooms at the hotel and still had to book rooms at other hotels nearby, he said.
“It was an honor to host them,” Salvatore said. “The staff did their jobs perfectly.”
At Stewman’s the president had lobster, Salvatore recalled, but he could not remember what the first lady ate. He said the Obamas took several live lobsters with them to have for Sunday dinner in Washington.
Michael Povich, the local district attorney, officiated over his daughter’s wedding Saturday at the Regency. He credited Ocean Properties staff and local law enforcement, who helped with security near the hotel, for making sure his daughter’s wedding went off without a hitch.
Povich, a Republican, said the Obamas walked past the wedding rehearsal Friday evening on their way to board a boat at the hotel dock. He was officiating over the rehearsal but did not see the first family stroll by.
“My family is heavily endowed with Democrats,” Povich said. “I think [the Obamas] waited until the only Republican in the area had his back turned [before they walked by].”
Despite the Poviches’ initial concern about timing complications created by the presidential security, the prosecutor said everything went smoothly. Some guests, concerned about possible delays, ended up arriving earlier than they needed to, he said.
Povich said he got a lot of friendly teasing from the police officers whose checkpoints he passed, but that they made sure everyone got through to the wedding safely.
“They really had it set up to minimize the hassle,” he said.