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
- 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!
- 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:
(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!