BAR HARBOR, Maine — Rumors swirled for days about where the Obamas would stay. A rich person's house? A private enclave? Then, just a couple of days before their arrival, the Secret Service appeared at the Regency Holiday Inn up on Route 3.
The first president to vacation on Mt. Desert Island in 100 years chose to be everyman instead of elite man. The Obama family vacation, July 16-18, was similar to what most tourists get on this tony island. For every Martha Stewart mansion, there are a hundred families staying at little hotels and shopping for lobster bottle-cap openers downtown.
The Obamas stayed at the Regency's best $500-a-night suite that includes a kitchen, living room, a big roof top patio and Queen Anne furniture. But the Holiday Inn itself is pretty standard. Travel Web site Expedia.com gives the 278-room hotel three stars. An ocean-view room can go as low as $219 a night during the summer.
And why did the family stay at the Holiday Inn? It is likely because the hotel is owned by prominent Maine-born Democrat Thomas Walsh.
But one thing is certain: The Obamas kept the vacation simple.
"A lot of the stuff they did wasn't out of the ordinary at all," said Jun Park, general manager of the Regency. "It was just what someone visiting Bar Harbor would do."
At Stewman's Downtown, the family arrived at the back dock of the restaurant in a National Park Services boat.
"People who were already dining could stay, but they had to close the front door and nobody else could come in," said Marisa Prestinari, a greeter. "He sat in my friend Mark's section. Mark had only been serving for eight days. His hand was shaking when he took the president's order."
"Every time I brought drinks or dinner from the kitchen, I was wanded by Secret Service" — about 35 times, said waiter J.D. Flaig, who served the presidential party, but not the president. "They watched people cook the food and pour the drinks."
At Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream, owner Linda Parker was making chocolate ice cream when she got a few minutes' notice that the Obamas were coming. She didn't even have time to clean up before they arrived and ordered four single scoops — coconut, chocolate, cookies and cream and candy shoppe at $3.75 each. The president paid with a $20 bill.
"It was an awkward moment when it came time to charge the party," she said. "I said, 'Can I buy these for you?' And he said 'No, no.' He pulled out his wallet. They were pretty real. I had chocolate all over me. But I guess I looked the part of an ice cream maker."
She was sold out of coconut ice cream all week because so many tourists wanted a cone just like the president had.
At Acadia National Park, the family went for a little bike ride at Witch Hole Pond. A regular person would have to bring a bike or rent one in Bar Harbor (about $16 for half a day), get it to the park, pay the $20 entry fee, and probably see lots of other riders. The Obamas? They weren't exactly waiting in lines.
"They blocked off and closed the trail," said David Young, a seasonal park ranger who saw the motorcade, but not the president.
Most presidential vacations involve compounds that can be cordoned off easily with security. The Obamas will vacation at a private home on Martha's Vineyard in August. They also plan a family weekend on Florida's oil-stricken Gulf Coast in mid-August. Details haven't been announced yet.
You can't vacation with the Kennedys in Cape Cod or the Bushes in Kennebunkport. But the Holiday Inn — that's something every American might afford one day.
However, IHG, the Atlanta-based parent company of the Holiday Inn brand, won't be capitalizing on the presidential publicity. It won't even admit he was there.
"On that specific topic I am not able to comment," said IHG spokeswoman Sarah Ann Soffer. "I can't confirm if he did or did not stay."