Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Dragon Con Survival Tips 2016 - New Info!

With Dragon Con just around the corner, it's time for a Survival Tips refresher! This is a must-read for newbies, but even those of you who've been a few times may find it useful, as I'll be including updates on things changing this year, plus new pictures for that oh-so-essential cosplay eye candy. ;)

First... what is it?

Dragon Con is an internationally known pop culture, sci-fi, fantasy, and gaming convention held in Atlanta, Georgia. It spans 4 days over Labor Day weekend (9/2-9/5 this year), and averages upwards of 65,000 attendees.

 Unlike most large conventions, Dragon Con is NOT held in a convention center; it's held in 5 large "host hotels" plus a big merchandise building (America's Mart) which span several blocks in the downtown Atlanta area. Here's a helpful map from Reddit:

Because the con is spread out over such a large area, it's easily the most confusing and potentially stressful event you'll ever attend. First years are guaranteed to be lost a lot of the time, as it can take 2 or 3 cons to really get the lay of the land.

HOWEVER, nothing can describe the exhilaration of being surrounded by "70,000 of your closest friends" as we attendees like to joke, and there's plenty you can do to prepare.

Quick Tip: DC doesn't sell tickets, they sell "memberships." On their website, there's no "buy" - it's "join." That can be confusing for first-timers, but rest assured it's the same thing. Right now tickets for all 4 days are $150 - but keep in mind for next year that if you pre-purchase you get steep discounts.

The Marriott lobby last year in 2015. This is where all the best cosplayers come out to play.

 So, all that in mind, here are some essentials for surviving - and enjoying! - the weekend:

NEW FOR 2016:

 - Artist Alley is moving! It will now be on the 3rd floor of Building 2 of America's Mart, where the rest of the merchandise and vendors are located.

- The Parade will be broadcast live on local TV. So tune in Saturday morning to CW Atlanta, channel 69, at 10AM. To my knowledge this will not be live-streamed online, but watch this page for updates. The parade will also be re-broadcast at 8PM Saturday night.

- Now You Can Get DCTV Without Staying In a Host Hotel! (Yay!) Yep, for $10 you can stream Dragon Con TV - which includes everything from celebrity panels to the parade to lots of hilarious original content - right to your laptop or computer.  Go here for more info.

 Now, back to the survival tips:

- Prioritize & Plan Ahead

Again, DCon 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. (DCon has a fantastic free app for this, so if possible, download that ASAP. If not, grab the pocket program when you arrive.)

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 DCon guides.

Once you have a tentative schedule figured out, watch the Dragon Con Twitter account (or the official app) for updates and cancellations. At the con itself, scheduling changes will be announced online, on the app, and on DCTV.

In general you can queue up for panels about an hour ahead of time, and they DO clear rooms between panels. This isn't SDCC; there's very little camping out, and the main programming rooms are so massive that you're almost always sure to get a seat, even if it's in the back.

- Know Your Sky Bridges

There are several handy overhead bridges connecting 3 of the 5 hotels (plus the food court area) which allow you to stay in the relatively cool air and avoid trekking up and down the outside hills. There's even a bridge connecting our favorite parking garage to the food court! These bridges are a life-saver in the Hotlanta heat, so use them whenever possible. Refer to that map I posted above to see which hotels are connected to which.

There's also an additional bridge connecting the Westin and America's Mart, where the two-story merchandise/vendor room is located. Not as vital, but still useful.

If you get lost and can't find the bridges - and know now that you will -  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:

- a refillable water bottle (there are lots of convenient water stations)
- plenty of snacks that travel well (I like sliced apples and meal bars)
- deodorant (a necessity and a courtesy)
- Purell or sanitizing 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 (costume repair glue, Tylenol, prescription meds, etc.)
- 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.

Quick Tip: There are several costume contests throughout the con, but the big BIG one is called "The Masquerade" on Saturday night. This confused us our first year, since it sounds more like a ball, but it's really just a costume contest - no masks required.

- Anxiety Sufferers, Have A Panic Plan

My most frequently asked question regarding DC is how I deal with the crowds, considering I suffer from both anxiety and agoraphobia. The simple answer is, I don't have crowd anxiety - unless of course the crowds are preventing me from reaching an exit. And I'll be honest: sometimes the crowds DO get that bad, where you're forced to shuffle shoulder-to-shoulder for long stretches. However, 95% of the time you'll be able to get away, and there are plenty of nooks and crannies to escape to for a recharge.

If you have severe crowd anxiety, I'll be blunt: DCon is not for you. However, for those like me who "only" have run-of-the-mill panic and anxiety issues, this convention is totally do-able. Bring your meds, pay attention to your food & rest needs, have a buddy with you at all times, and take lots of sit-down breaks as far from the crowds as possible. Earplugs and sunglasses can also be a big help for over-stimulation - and of course have your phone on hand for a quick distraction.

(You might also take a look at DCon's Disability Services page; they've expanded some of their services, and may be able to help.) 

Need a place to hide/rest? Two of my favorites:

- The bottom floor of the Hyatt has lots of small panel rooms and corridors. The rooms will be full, but the hallways will be relatively crowd-free, and are a nice spot to sit.

- The Westin lobby - it's huge and the least crowded of all 5 host hotels. Great place for a recharge.

- Don't Over Schedule!

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. Three floors of cosplay-hunting goodness!
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 cosplay photographer can have.  

- Skip the Parade

The Dragon Con parade takes place on Saturday morning, and boasts over 3,000 participants. That's 3,000 people just IN the parade itself. I don't have the numbers for the viewers, but I think it's roughly "the entire population of Atlanta." I'll spare you the horror stories, but trust me, DO NOT GO. Watch it on TV instead!

If you do skip the parade (which you should), note that police shut down almost all of the streets in the immediate area, so you won't be able to get anywhere NEAR the convention (or the parking garages) until the parade crowds have cleared. I usually sleep in that morning, and we drive in around noon, which works out great.

- You Gotta Eat... And Sleep!

Quick Tip: Strapped for cash but need something to nosh? Then head to the ConSuite in the Hyatt, rooms 223 & 226 (or at least, that's where it was last year. Double check in the Pocket Guide before you go.) They'll have sodas, snacks, and various food stuffs available - all free - every day of the con. Be prepared to wait, though, as there WILL be lines.

I know I already mentioned packing snacks, but I can't over-emphasize the importance of having food on you at all times. Our first year at DCon 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?) I tend to sleep later because I want to stay up 'til after midnight for costume shots. That's my priority, though, 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 something is 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, Dcon vets, what'd I miss? Share your tips and tricks in the comments! 

PS - Want to find me and John at Dragon Con to say hi? SWEET! It's going to be both easier and harder this year. Easier, because if you see a big group of Ni-sayers wearing helmets like this:

 That's us. 
(I'll be the one with the shrubbery.)

And if you see Agnes the Junk Lady clanking her way through the crowd:

 That's us, too. 

But of course we won't be able to chat in costume, beyond a super quick "'Ello!"

Feel free to friend me on the Dragon Con app (go to "attendees" and search for Jen Yates) to see my schedule, though that's more of a "guideline" since I don't follow it super closely. Your best bet besides that is to follow me on Twitter, where I'll be announcing which costumes we're wearing when. In general, though, John and I'll be around AFTER noon (sooo not a morning person) and every late night we'll be around the Marriott lobby, either taking pictures or posing for them. ;)

There's no Epbot Meetup planned this year - sorry! - but John and I WILL have special edition Dragon Con Epbot pins for the lucky eagle-eyes who spot us in the madness, so don't be shy about chasing us down!


  1. No matter how many times I scroll through this, I keep going back up to the top and thinking how much I want....no, NEED that Lost In Space Robot outfit!

  2. Thank you for this! This is my 6th year going and have three n00bs tagging along and this was a great guide to give them. Hope to spot you this year!

  3. Awesome guide as usual! I will have to add you - sad no meetup as it was awesome to see you last year, but hoping to catch you in your costumes at some point. Shout if you see a First Order Trooper and Captain Phasma running around in evening wear (like they are going to the Galactic Gala!) or a group of Disco Mario Party cosplayers!! :)

    The Gaming area is moving this year too - to America's Mart Building 1, I think. If you like board games, you will no longer find that section in the basement of the Hilton. And weekend long gaming passes have increased in price from $5 to $10 (to check out board games from their library).

    Also, the interwebs and phone connections tend to be pretty terrible in the vicinity of the convention, though I feel like I had fewer issues last year. Combined with their new streaming of DCTV, I am not sure how this will work out. I think we turned our iPhones so that they didn't use data for text messaging, which made keeping in touch easier if we went to different things.

  4. I second not going to the parade. Wholeheartedly. I have never had issues in large crowds before, but two years ago when it ended There were just people EVERYWHERE and I got extremely anxious and nervous. Last year I was in it so I didn't have that issue, but just looking at the huge crowds made me so nervous. My friends and I are already planning on watching it on TV in our hotel room.

    I just hope they improve the lines to the America's Mart. It was hard to tell last year where to go to get in line, and people were coming and cutting from everywhere.

  5. Crowd anxiety is my downfall. Too bad, cuz I'd love to dress up :)

  6. I hope to see you this year! If you see a Sanderson Sister's group - that's us! Bring a compact umbrella. If it rains, you do not want to be stuck in the hamster tubes. It quickly becomes very congested and humid lumbering along. If you are short, it is even worse!!!!

  7. Hmm. This commenting thing is tricky. Anyway, I am one of those noobs. Thank you so much. I am an academic so I have been reading every guide, blog post I could get my hands on since September of last year. And...I still don't think I am going to be 100 percent ready. :p

    1. I've been going every year since 2009 and each year I never feel like I'm 100% ready for DragonCon :)

  8. I cannot WAIT to see your latest costumes!! We've stalked/chased you the last two years at DragonCon (and scored your awesome Epbot pins), just to get to see "the cake lady" (your nickname, courtesy of my hubby)! All of these tips are spot-on, especially the one about packing some snacks for the panel queues. Our first year at DragonCon, we starved most of the weekend because of poor planning in the snack department!! See you next week in the shrubbery!!

  9. If anyone in your party has problems with too much sensory input, please bring ear plugs. They help tremendously. Also, be careful if you take the stairs. All manner of food and drink get spilled on them, and you may end up stuck to the floor.

  10. I love going to the parade in person. We stay in the Marriott so we don't have to fight the traffic in and out- just the elevators. Almost every first timer I know has had a little bit of anxiety in the crowds. Especially if you go into America's Mart when it first opens Friday. It's really hard to prepare anyone for exactly how many people there are if they haven't been to a convention this size.

  11. I'm super excited for this year! I hope I can finally catch up to you!

  12. Con crud is real. My wife and I got it for the first time last year and we've been going almost 10 years. It really saps your energy and casts a pall on your Dragon Con experience. Hand sanitizer is your friend. Also, don't forget the 5-2-1 rule; at least 5 hours of sleep a day, 2 meals a day, and 1 shower a day. If you forget anything, there's a CVS real close by. Most importantly, have fun.

  13. I hope I have enough money(and costumes) to go to DCon next year.

    I can vouch for tip to eat at cons. Went to an anime convention once and we could NOT find food when we got to the hotel the night before OR in the morning before we headed out so I spent many hours wandering the convention HANGRY af. Did not have any fun and just wanted my friends to hurry up with what they were doing so we could go out in the city to find something to eat. (I don't drive so I had to wait for the driver to do stuff so we could get places.)

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  15. My husband and I are flying in from Utah to meet up with husband's family at Dragon Con. This article both comforts me and makes me more nervous to attend DCon. My crowd anxiety tends to manifest as frustration and annoyance, so I'll try to take some of your suggestions Jen.
    I forgot to ask in my first post: Where is the best place to park?

    1. Downtown Atlanta has lots of lots (heh) and several parking garages all within walking distance, and we've yet to find a garage completely full each morning. All to say, you'll find parking. It will be pricey (I think the garages went up to $25 or $30/day last year), but it's there, and it's pretty convenient.

  16. If you are an older Con goer there is
    A Facebook DC Over 40. We have a couple of meetups.Check it out.

  17. If wearing long wig, pack wig comb/brush & travel size detangler. It will save your wig & give you something to do while waiting in lines. a buddy can do the back so you dont have to take it off. Have a blast!

  18. This is great advice! This will be my 5th year. I usually skip the parade, but I'm so excited to be in it this year as part of the Periodic Table of Elements (I'm Carbon!).

    The other thing I'd add is that cell phone service is often terrible. When your group splits up, it's better to set up a place and time to reunite later than to rely on text messages coming though.

  19. I can't stress the importance of hydrating, especially if you're in a hot costume or, worse, marching in the parade. In addition to water, start drinking an electrolyte replacement drink (Pedialyte, Gatorade, etc.) a couple days before DC.

    We believe in the 6/2/1 Rule: At least six hours of sleep a night, at least two meals a day, and ABSOLUTELY at least one shower a day!

    Before you go, make lists of every piece you need for every costume. Include things like any special undergarments you need, particular jewelry or hair accessories, make-up, etc. Before you leave for DC, check the list against your luggage and ensure everything is present and accounted for.

    I hope to see Agnes there! If Abby Sciuto or Kylo Ren run up to you and start fangirling, it's probably me!

    1. Seconded on 6-2-1!
      A must for any con, not just the big ones. And that is six *contiguous* hours of sleep, not a bunch of naps, two *actual* meals, not just a bag of doritos and some trail mix, and one *full* shower, with scrubbing. And those are *minimums*.

      Beyond that, my big advice would be to leave the con space for dinner. Some folms don't want to miss any of the things going on, and so will stay in the hotels and convention centers. This is a mistake. Food will be mediocre and overpriced.
      Head out for the evening. Many places offer discounts to con attendees. Expect it to be busy, and tip well.

    2. Abby Sciuto or Kylo Ren

      I love that these are your two costumes! Talk about polar opposites. :D

  20. I got to meet you one year shortly before a Buffy panel, and it was one of the highlights of that year! I hate that I can't go this year. Y'all have fun!

  21. Went to my first con this year, small local one. My piece of advice: if you are a guest of the hotel, avail yourself of all the amenities. Use the pool, the gym, housekeeping. Using the sauna helped relieve stress and a headache. Also, tip housekeeping.

    1. Avoid the hot tub, though. I have been to some cons where... Let's just say it was nasty. We'll leave it at that. There really aren't words.

  22. (sorry if this posts multiple times, i keep getting error messages) i used to attend conferences for work at the hyatt there a few times/year. there is a restaurant in that area called alma cocina that has fried avocado tacos. i cannot recommend them highly enough. yum. yum. yum.

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  25. If anyone wants to explore the skybridges, I set up Ingress missions to cover 9 blocks without going outside (OK, one short bit). I'm glad to share tips. More info here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-Nhvi2jYMEsTE5HQXFozyX2HHd0dpFLJkOpC5uAwvDM/edit?usp=sharing

  26. I used the gym in our con hotel for the first time last year and it was AMAZING! So quiet and peaceful. Even if you're not into 'exercise', I recommend taking some sneakers and walking a nice brisk mile (or any distance) on the treadmill. It's a good way to wake yourself up in the morning, get a little time to yourself, and get your legs stretched out - most of what you end up doing at the con is standing and shuffling very slowly. :)

    Definitely make sure you know where the 24-hour CVS is (CVS is a drugstore, for those who don't have those locally). The past few years they've had big bins near the checkout with D*C 'essentials' like mini hand sanitizer, energy shots, and safety pins.

    If you have 'getting separated from people' anxiety like me, I think the best way to do the dealers rooms, artist alley, etc is accept that you'll be separated and assume you won't have good enough reception to find each other via text. Just set a meetup place/time, after which you can leave or all go back in for another round.

    I think this will be my 9th year. It's still super exhausting for me but worth it if you pace yourself.

  27. The con suite is your friend! Gather snacks, light meals, and fountain sodas from there! (Cheerwine is on tap!) I refill water bottles there!

    The masquerade is fun to watch on DCTV. I find it nice to watch the parade from the Hyatt. If you don't have access to a balcony overlooking the parade route, there are windows in the hallways that also overlook it.


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