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Obama heads to Hawaii for much-needed vacation

Though the year was filled with high-profile battles with Congress, the President left for vacation on a high note after announcing a thaw in relations with Cuba.

A tumultuous year all but behind him, President Barack Obama set off for his annual winter getaway in Hawaii hoping for one thing: Quiet.

Air Force One touched down late in the evening at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, with the president, first lady Michelle Obama, their daughters and two dogs on board. On Saturday, the family was to begin their roughly two-week retreat from the hubbub in Washington on the lush island of Oahu.

Vacationing in Hawaii, where the president was born and spent much of his childhood, has been a tradition every year that Obama has been in the White House. This year, the trip comes as Obama closes out a chaotic sixth year in office on something of a high note.

Lofty aspirations to overhaul immigration laws, early childhood education and U.S. wages were scuttled by stubborn opposition to Obama's agenda in Congress, and on his watch, Democrats took a drubbing in the midterm elections that will relegate them to the minority in Congress for Obama's last two years. Crises erupted in Ukraine, the Middle East and West Africa, diverting Obama's attention time and again.

Yet as Obama packed his bags for Hawaii, he appeared buoyed by what he had managed to accomplish on other fronts, including the resumption of relations with Cuba last week after a half-century of antagonism. In his year-end news conference Friday, Obama said he felt energized, citing signs of major progress in the economic recovery and his recent executive actions on immigration and climate change.

"Going into the fourth quarter, you usually get a time-out," Obama said. "I am now looking forward to a quiet time-out, Christmas with my family."

He also wished reporters a "mele kalikimaka" — Hawaiian for merry Christmas.

Typically, Obama spends much of his vacation playing golf on Hawaii's lush courses, joined on the green by longtime friends and occasionally a celebrity or professional athlete. A gym at a nearby Marine Corps base allows the president to get in an early-morning workout. He and Mrs. Obama also dine out at landmark restaurants in Honolulu, and join daughters Sasha and Malia for hikes, beach time and trips for shave ice — a Hawaiian treat similar to a snow cone.

In years past, Obama's vacation has been interrupted by pressing crises, sometimes forcing him to delay his departure or even return to Washington temporarily. This year, with Congress having approved must-pass legislation just ahead of its year-end deadlines, White House aides were cautiously optimistic that this year's trip wouldn't be disturbed.

Like last year, the Obamas were to spend their time away in a swank rental home in Kailua, a beachside community not far from Honolulu. Obama has no public events scheduled during his stay, but islanders typically have a few opportunities to spot the president and his family out and about during their stay.

Obama is scheduled to return to Washington on Jan. 4.

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