Image: Barack Obama and his daughter, Sasha, swim in Panama City Beach, Fla.
Pete Souza  /  The White House
President Barack Obama and daughter Sasha swim at Alligator Point in Panama City Beach, Fla., on Saturday in a photo released by the White House.
updated 8/15/2010 6:00:03 PM ET 2010-08-15T22:00:03

President Barack Obama and his family cruised the waters off their Florida Panhandle hotel on Sunday, offering a portrait of a family on vacation to boost a region struggling with the economic damage wrought by the nation's worst oil spill.

The Obamas boarded the 50-foot Bay Point Lady on a rainy, overcast morning, the second and final day of a weekend getaway during which the president assured residents that his administration would not forget the region even after oil stopped spewing from a broken oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. The family returned to Washington on Sunday afternoon.

With first lady Michelle Obama and 9-year-old daughter Sasha beside him, Obama leaned over the bow of the Bay Point Lady to watch porpoises as their boat cut through the calm waters of St. Andrews Bay. Back on shore, the family stopped for treats — mint chocolate chip ice cream for the president, Oreo ice cream for Sasha, and a hot fudge sundae without whipped cream for the first lady — before heading home.

The Obamas' 12-year-old daughter, Malia, didn't make the trip because she's away at summer camp.

Obama's 27-hour trip to the Gulf region was his fifth since oil started fouling Gulf waters following an April 20 explosion on an offshore rig operated by oil giant BP. Though the well is no longer leaking, he emphasized that the government's work in the region is far from over.

"I'm here to tell you that our job is not finished and we are not going anywhere until it is," Obama said Saturday.

Image: Barack Obama, Michelle Obama
Susan Walsh  /  AP
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greet members of the U.S. Coast Guard in Panama City, Fla., on Saturday.

Much of the long-term recovery efforts in the Gulf will focus on restoring the region's economy, which in areas like the Florida Panhandle is heavily dependent on tourism. Most of the region's beaches stayed open throughout the spill, yet many potential visitors stayed away, apparently deterred by images of oil-slicked waters and tarball-strewn beaches in other parts of the region.

While both the president and the first lady encouraged Americans to take their summer vacations on the Gulf Coast, they were criticized for not following their own advice, instead traveling to North Carolina and Maine and planning a trip later this month to Martha's Vineyard. Mrs. Obama also took Sasha to Spain.

The White House hoped images from the weekend jaunt to the Gulf would end that criticism. To the delight of locals, Obama took Sasha for a dip Saturday, a signal to other would-be Gulf vacationers that the water and the beaches are fine

The president's swim happened out of sight of the news media. The White House released an official photo, but The Associated Press does not publish such handout images. According to the White House, the Obamas swam off Alligator Point, which is in Saint Andrews Bay, not the Gulf.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: While BP plugs busted well, Obama plugs Gulf tourism

  1. Closed captioning of: While BP plugs busted well, Obama plugs Gulf tourism

    >>> first lady and their daughter sasha arrived in florida today for a quick trip, just one night in the gulf. the white house late today releasing a photo showing a smiling president frolicking in the waves with his daughter. but on this day, the symbolism of spending time down south where the oil spill has done so much damage was competing with an issue from way up north here in new york. nbc's mike viqueira is traveling with the president tonight. he joins us from panama city beach in florida . mike, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, kate. the first family minus malia who is still away at camp came to florida 's panhandle in part to show tourists and americans at large that it's safe to come back to the coast. but as the president's comments last night and the aftermath of those comment, he and his aides have been dealing with this controversial support for building that mosque near ground zero . even as the first couple and daughter sasha arrived this morning on the gulf coast for a weekend getaway, it is mr. obama's support last night for the construction of a mosque close to new york's ground zero that has proven controversial.

    >> i believe that muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower manhattan in accordance with local laws and ordinances.

    >> reporter: his remarks at a white house dinner honoring the start of the muslim holy month of ramadan came after white house aides said the president would not weigh in on the debate, calling it a local matter. conservatives, as well as some victims' families, condemn the president's support.

    >> it's irresponsible and morally wrong and insensitive to do it. that's an issue the president never addressed.

    >> reporter: today in florida , the president spoke out again, appearing to backtrack on his support for the mosque saying, i was not commenting and i will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. i was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. meanwhile, the obamas' visit along the gulf coast comes with a message for beleaguered residents --

    >> oil is no longer flowing into the gulf. it has not been flowing for a month. and i'm here to tell you that our job is not finished and we are not going anywhere until it is.

    >> reporter: today's visit is as much about pictures as it is about policy. the obamas are expected to set an example for reluctant tourists. visiting gulf hotels and restaurants. early today , the president said he would take a dip tomorrow.

    >> i'm definitely going to go swimming but we're not going to let the press pool come because you guys will take a picture of me without my shirt on.

    >> reporter: late today, the white house released this picture. mr. obama and daughter sasha . and late today, the president's spokesman put out a statement emphasizing that the president is not backing off his statement about the mosque, simply saying that the government does not have a right to tell any faith where they can build a house of worship . kate?

    >> mike viqueira in florida , thank


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