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5 reasons to consider an Alaska cruise (beyond escaping the Southern California heat)

If you’re tired of the 80-degree weather that dogged us all winter, you’re probably not looking forward to what summer will bring: more of the same, if slightly hotter, with a dusting of smog.

Here’s one antidote: an Alaska cruise.

Not only will you get a break from sweltering Southern California weather — summer temperatures in the 60s are common in Alaska — but you’ll also see some spectacular scenery. Cabins start as low as $699 a person, based on double occupancy, with $249 rates for two children in the same cabin.

What makes Alaska a bucket-list goal?

“Alaska is different from every other destination in the world,” said Gov. Bill Walker. “Every day offers an unforgettable memory: a mother moose and calf, glaciers and mountains, unique native cultures, our Russian legacy and gold rush days.”

Here are five reasons you should visit:

The glaciers: President Obama sounded the alarm in September during his visit to Kenai Fjords National Park, home of the Exit Glacier, where you can “experience the dense blue ice while listening to it crackle,” Alaska.org notes. Alaska’s glaciers are, well, exiting, and the president wanted to call attention to the effects of climate change on the mighty ice masses.

Of course, you’ll still be able to see them — and the effects of glacier melt — on your cruise. In Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, a popular area for cruise ships, you can see dozens of glaciers and, often, calving, the action by which a glacier sheds chunks of ice. The park has more than 50 named glaciers and two major arms, East and West.

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The area is also filled with wildlife; you’ll probably see bears looking for food along water’s edge and mountain goats grazing on hillsides, as well as whales, seals and sea lions cavorting in the water and sea birds soaring overhead.

The wilderness: Alaska is America’s last great wild frontier and is unmatched, from the Tongass National Forest in the south to the Arctic coastal plain in the north. The state claims 15 of the nation’s 20 largest wilderness areas.

Of the 20 tallest peaks in the United States, 17 are in Alaska, including Denali, the tallest in North America (more than 20,000 feet above sea level). The state has 3 million lakes, 3,000 rivers, soaring mountain ranges, rushing rivers and Arctic tundra.

The wildlife: Species endangered elsewhere are still abundant in Alaska. It has bears, including grizzly and polar, plus more than 430 species of birds and the largest population of bald eagles in the nation.

Its wild lands and waters provide habitat for salmon, whales, walruses and species as diverse as pygmy shrews that weigh less than a penny and gray whales that weigh anywhere from 16 to 45 tons.

The towns: Anchorage may be the state’s commercial hub, but the true flavor of the Alaskan frontier is more evident in its quirky small towns, such as Skagway, which boomed during the gold rush. Gold fever struck in 1898, when prospectors streamed into the Klondike, hoping for a big strike.

Other port towns in southeast Alaska, such as Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka, are equally fun and colorful.

The culture: Alaska Native culture is another important part of any cruise to the 49th state and can be seen in larger ports such as Ketchikan and Sitka and small towns such as Icy Strait Point.

Alaska Native and Native American populations make up about 17% of the state’s population.

Alaska has a broad range of native cultures, from the Inupiat Eskimos of Barrow, just above the Arctic Circle, to the Tlingit Indians of Ketchikan on the tip of southeast Alaska.

More than two dozen ships sail Alaska’s southeast region from May to September, offering passengers numerous options. Princess Cruises will have six ships cruising Alaskan waters, offering multiple itineraries, cultural experiences and onboard culinary programs such as Cook My Catch, which allows passengers to return from fishing excursions and have the chef prepare their own catch of the day. The line also will offer a Puppies in the Piazza program, in which sled dog puppies are brought on board to interact with passengers.

Celebrity Cruises will have three ships sailing in Alaska, two of which have recently come out of dry dock with new additions, including a Rooftop Terrace that includes a foodie film experience.

Luxury carrier Crystal Cruises will sail nine voyages in its Alaska season, including a Northwest Passage expedition that starts in Anchorage (Seward) and calls at Kodiak, Dutch Harbor and Nome before traversing the waters north of Canada.

For help deciding what kind of cruise is best for you, check out Alaska.org, which compares ports, lengths of cruises, itineraries, cruise line atmosphere and size of ships.

travel@latimes.com

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Tip of the week: Cellphone camera photos can be like leaving bread crumbs

Have a port call in a large city? Use your cellphone camera to shoot a photo of the spot where you were dropped off by the cruise ship shuttle. Include some identifying marks — street signs or unusual buildings help. If you get lost and can’t find your way back to the drop-off/pickup spot, you can show the photo to get directions.


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