KAILUA, Hawaii — Would it have been an authentic Hawaiian vacation for President Obama if he hadn’t stopped for shave ice?
The employees at Island Snow, the Obamas' favorite spot in their vacation town of Kailua, have been preparing for his customary visit since he arrived in Oahu the weekend before Christmas. The shop, which has doubled in size since he began coming here, reels in tourists and sells "Obama Kailua" T-shirts with his campaign logo, playing on his island roots. The walls and even the magnetic sensors at the doorways are papered with pictures of his past visits.
But Obama has spent most of his afternoons on Oahu playing golf or heading to the beach, and hadn’t yet popped into the shop for the delicacy until New Year’s Eve.
Arriving with his daughters and their friends Tuesday afternoon after a snorkeling excursion at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, Obama ordered a cherry and lemon-lime cone — a variation of the "Snowbama" that Island Snow created after he made that order on his first few visits.
Obama has largely stayed out of the public eye on this trip, but he stopped for a few minutes Tuesday to talk to well-wishers who gathered at a nearby pizza place.
The president’s visits no longer stir as much excitement as they once did in this laid-back vacation town, but the crowd was supportive — cheering and clapping as he approached, cone in hand.
After chatting with one man about the cherry flavor and shaking hands with a number of people, he left with a grin and a shaka sign — Hawaii’s "hang loose" hand gesture — ignoring questions from reporters about the progress of his healthcare law.
"I hope you guys have a great 2014," he said before heading back to his vacation home to ring in the new year with family and friends.