Obama party visits Sea Life Park


POSTED: Sunday, January 03, 2010

He's the leader of the free world, with a heavy agenda waiting for him when he leaves Hawaii tonight and returns to the White House.

But as President Barack Obama sat at Sea Life Park yesterday, watching daughters Malia and Sasha interact with dolphins, all that Jesus Bravo saw was a doting father.

“;He was really happy—you should have seen his face,”; said Bravo, the park's general manager. “;He watched it like any other parent.”;

Obama, along with friends and family that included his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, and her husband, Konrad Ng, visited the park yesterday morning before the first family heads back to the nation's capital tonight.

Obama began the day the same way he has every day since his arrival on Christmas Eve—with a workout at the Semper Fit gym on Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay.

After a quick stop at the family's rented Kailua vacation compound, the president's motorcade made the trip along Kalanianaole Highway through Waimanalo and arrived at the park just after 9 a.m.

The group spent about an hour at the park, leaving before it opened to the public at 10:30 a.m. First lady Michelle Obama did not accompany the president and their daughters.

Bravo said a total of seven people—adults and children—were in the water with the dolphins. Participants also were able to stay on platforms in the water to have the dolphins come up to them, allowing them to pet the marine mammals and learn more about them.

Obama did not get in the water, but watched from nearby seats.

“;I think that it's a very good thing for someone that has the burden that he has—leading the country—to be able to enjoy it like that,”; said Bravo, who met the first family at the park. “;It was a very nice sight.”;

Bravo said he knew of the possibility that Obama might visit the park, based on his visit during the family's December 2008 vacation. At that time, Obama and his daughters went while the park was open to the public, and did not get in the water, Bravo said.

“;The Secret Service was great with us,”; Bravo said of the planning this year. “;They were kind enough to have the president early in the morning.”;

The park opened at 10:30 a.m. as scheduled. Reporters were not allowed in the park while Obama and guests were there.

After Sea Life Park, the president's motorcade made its way back to the Kailua compound and then to the beach on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, out of sight of the traveling press pool.

Last night, the president and Michelle Obama had dinner at Lucy's Grill & Bar in Kailua with friends Bobby Titcomb and his wife; Marty Nesbitt and his wife; Valerie Jarrett; and Soetoro-Ng and her husband.

The first family's vacation comes to an end today after more than a week in the islands.

Obama stayed mostly out of sight during the early days of the vacation, which began Christmas Eve, but has been more visible in public the last few days.

Aside from encounters on golf courses, crowds also spotted Obama as he left a movie theater on Thursday—when he and his daughters saw the 3-D blockbuster “;Avatar”;—and also on New Year's Day, when he took a group to what is becoming a traditional stop on his vacation, the Island Snow shave ice shop in Kailua.

But Obama was never far from work on the vacation.

On Monday and Tuesday, he held news briefings to discuss the government clashes with demonstrators in Iraq and talk more in detail about security lapses surrounding the thwarted terrorist attack over Detroit on Christmas Day.

Aides said Obama was briefed on the situation daily. He is scheduled to hold a meeting in Washington on Tuesday with multiple agency heads to address the investigation and the next steps.