I was just reading your post "What Should I See At Walt Disney World," and thinking "Man, I wish Jen would write something like this for DragonCon." A few friends and I are going for the first time this year, and even though I've been going through everything I can find about it online, it's all a bit overwhelming. I've really enjoyed reading your DC recap posts, and I would love to hear any suggestions you have for first-timers."
I've been asked for convention tips before, so this is another great FAQ whose time has come. I started going to Star Trek cons back in middle school, when my folks would drop me and my friend Chris off at the local Hilton to mingle with "our people." We'd gawk in the vendor room, queue up for John De Lancie's autograph, take a class in the physics of warp drive - you know, the usual.
Those were tiny cons, though, with attendees numbering in the hundreds instead of the thousands. Larger cons require a LOT more strategy and preparation, and I think Dragon*Con is second only to San Diego Comic Con for crowds here in the U.S. It takes up an entire city block, with attendance pushing toward 50,000. It's madness. Beautiful, geeky madness.
The Marriot lobby, where all the best cosplayers come out to play (via)
So, all that in mind, here are a few tips:
- Prioritize & Plan Ahead
D*C panels are spread out over 5 different hotels, and running from hotel to hotel in the 90+ degree heat alongside a billion other nerds will wear you out FAST. Map out where your can't-miss panels are ahead of time (D*C has a fantastic free app for this, or you can download the pocket program), and decide what's worth hiking through the elements for.
The good news is most Star Trek stuff happens in one hotel, most Star Wars stuff another, etc., so if you're only interested in, say, Steampunk, then you won't have to travel around nearly as much. These areas of interest are called "tracks," and everything is listed by track in the D*C guides.
Once you have a tentative schedule figured out, watch the Dragon*Con FB page (or app) for updates and cancellations. At the con itself, scheduling changes will be announced online, on the app, and on the D*C programming that airs in all the host hotels.
Also, for you D*C newbies: there are three handy overhead bridges you should know about: One connects the Hilton to the Marriot, another connects the Marriot to the Hyatt, and the final connects the Marriot to the food court in the Peachtree Mall. (The food court is where most of us eat lunch everyday, so that's an important spot to know.) Not only are the bridges air-conditioned, they also let you avoid the giant hill between the Marriot and Hilton, which gets to be a real pain when you're climbing it several times a day.The bridges aren't easy to find - we didn't discover one of them 'til our second year - so if you get lost, just ask someone next to you in the crowd. Odds are, they'll know!
- Think of it as a mini camping trip, and pack accordingly
A backpack is ideal, or you can make do with a large messenger bag. In it, pack the following:
- water bottles
- plenty of snacks that travel well (I like sliced apples and meal bars)
- electronics or reading material for long lines
- deodorant (both a necessity and a courtesy)
- Purell or hand wipes (the Con Crud is real, and odds are you WILL catch it - but don't go down without a fight!)
- grooming necessities (hair brush, chapstick, etc.)
- emergency supplies - from costume repair glue to Tylenol to prescription meds
- extra batteries for cameras and/or cellphones - don't expect to find any outlets to recharge!
- Think Comfort
Sure, you're dying to wear your new thigh-high platform boots or that rubber Leelo crotch harness, but after a few hours you may be willing to trade a small appendage for some bunny slippers and sweat pants. Be sensible. Bring a change of clothes or footwear, if necessary - even just flip-flops - and remember that no con is fun when you're tired, hungry, and/or in pain. Also keep in mind that frequently your only seating will be on the floor, ladies, so beware certain wardrobe malfunctions. And for my fellow cosplayers: can you get out of your costume by yourself when nature calls? Find out ahead of time. Make a plan, and if necessary, bring a bathroom buddy.
My go-to con attire: comfy boots, hat, & a cross-body bag. (John carries the backpack.) I also wear shorts under my skirt to make sitting on the floor more comfortable.
- Don't Plan on Seeing Too Much!
This is one of the most common pitfalls, and if you're not careful you could spend the entire con frantic and frustrated. Panels have long lines. Everything is crowded. You have to stop to eat and rest sometimes. Not to mention you want to see the vendor rooms, take pictures, have a drink with your friends, and grab that autograph from Felicia Day. So here's my hardcore con-going advice: don't plan to attend more than 3 or 4 panels a day. Yes, seriously. If you plan more, you'll be disappointed - but plan less, and if the odds are in your favor (see what I did there?) maybe you'll squeeze in a bonus panel or two and come out ahead.
Now, that's coming from someone who LOVES taking cosplay pictures, strolling through the vendor room, and gawking in artists' alley. I also enjoy sleep - a lot. If you don't like any of those things, then no doubt you can see more than I can. Still, keep your expectations low, plan your "must-see"s with a few optional "it'd be cool if I got to"s, and go from there.
Another shot of the Marriott lobby, via
My strategy: stand at that top railing, watch the crowd on the floors below for costumes I want to photograph, and then chase each one down in turn. It's a true photo safari, and the most fun any costume photographer can have.
- You Gotta Eat...And Sleep!
PRO TIP: Strapped for cash but need something to nosh? Then head to the ConSuite in the Hyatt, rooms 223 & 226. They'll have sodas, snacks, and various food stuffs available - all free - every day of the con. This is one of those hidden gems most con-goers don't know about, so please, use it!
And I know I already mentioned packing snacks, but I can't over-emphasize the importance of having something to eat on you at all times. Our first year at D*C we didn't get a lunch break all four days - we just wolfed down bars and trail mix in line. Your only real down time will be in lines or while waiting for a panel to start, so those are the most efficient times to eat. If you don't eat, you'll get tired, cranky, and start to wonder who thought this stupid convention thing was a good idea in the first place. Trust me, I've been there.
This goes for sleep, too. Hopefully you're not as crabby as me on too-little sleep, but you'll still need to be at 100% to not only get through your day, but to enjoy it as well. (And really, isn't that the whole point??) This year we were lucky enough to snag a host hotel, so I'm planning to sacrifice some panel time for an afternoon nap, because I'm old like that, and also because I want to stay up later for costume shots. That's my priority, so plan out your priorities, let the rest go, and focus on going with the geeky flow to have the best con experience possible.
In fact, that's going to be my final tip:
- Go with the Geeky Flow
Remember, this is supposed to be fun. If it's not, then you're doing something wrong, and you need to figure out how to make it right! Talk to the people in line with you; it'll make the time zip by, I promise. Stop to listen to a band, or sit down and have a drink. Do what you want to do, not what you feel like you should do to "get your money's worth," or even what your friends want to do just so you're not alone. In fact, go somewhere by yourself sometime - you'll make more friends that way! Dragon*Con is more about the experience of banding together with other real-live humans who share your passions than it is about getting to that next panel, so live a little. Make some memories. And above all, have fun!
So tell me, con vets, what'd I miss? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!