Travel Blog

Awed in Alaska

Awed in Alaska

by Sherri Rost on May 03, 2014

When Norma Ballard was considering a special trip to celebrate her husband’s retirement from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2012, she wanted something that would appeal to Tom’s active, adventurous nature, plus give the couple time to relax and sightsee. After she told me what she wanted, I decided an Alaskan cruise fit the bill. 

In seven days, Norma and Tom were able to kayak, ride a historic train along a mountain pass, hike in a rainforest, and take in cooking and wine-tasting classes. They boarded the Princess Star cruise ship in Seattle, Washington, after spending a couple of days exploring that always interesting city, for a roundtrip trip up the coast to Skagway, Alaska. They stopped along the way at Ketchikan, known as the “Salmon Capital of the World,” and Juneau, the state’s capital.

“The trip was a fantastic adventure, but also very relaxing,” Norma says. “Tom had never been on a cruise and I worried that it might be too quiet for him. But Alaska, with all the wildlife and hiking and other activities, was just what we wanted.” The trip was a celebration of Tom’s retirement after 27 years as a special agent. (Norma retired in 2013 after 22 years as an agent with the Bureau.)


Few places in the world are as beautiful and awe-inspiring as Alaska, but sometimes people overlook it when planning a trip because it seems remote. A cruise gives people a chance to see many of the state’s wonders without having to worry about transportation or booking hotels. “We liked that a lot,” Norma says. “We enjoyed so many things on and off the ship.”

At every stop along the route, the couple took guided shore excursions. “We used all of the Princess excursions. We really enjoyed them more than going off on our own. There was so much history, and the tour guides tended to be local so you really got a feel for history. On our own, I don’t think we would have picked that up.”

At Ketchikan, they chose a tour that included a hike in a rainforest island in Tongass National Park and a motorized Seahawk ride along the coast of the Clover Passage. “We got to see bald eagles during our boat ride and the walk in the rainforest was beautiful,” Norma says.


The couple also stopped at Skagway, a charming town founded during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896-1900. At  Skagway, a ride on White Pass and Yukon Railroad is a must-do activity. The narrow-gauge railroad climbs 3,000 feet in just 20 miles and the cliffhanging turns can make you feel a little breathless. “It’s a little scary, but the scenery is amazing,” Norma says.

After the train ride, they went to Lake Bernard to kayak for the first time in their lives. Learning how to handle a two-person kayak was a thrill, Norma says. They also loved the fact that they had stunning views of white-capped mountains in all directions while they were paddling.


Norma says they also had fun during the at-sea days when the ship sailed without docking anywhere. “For me, it was all about the classes. They had a cooking class, a wine-tasting class, and a lecture about jewelry and gemstones. My day was spent running around to all the different activities. Tom liked to sit on the deck and read. One night, he sat out on the deck watching a movie. He got all bundled up in a blanket and drank hot chocolate so he’d be warm.”

The most enjoyable aspect of their Alaskan adventure was, well, everything. “We loved the combination of it all,” Norma says. “Everywhere, we had so many choices of things to do. Tom loved how much ground he covered.”

 (This article by Castaic Travel owner Sherri Rost also appears in Grapevine, the magazine for retired FBI agents.)