Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mailbag: Dragon*Con Survival Tips!

Callie writes, 

Hi Jen,
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 parade

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!


  1. There's also a bridge between the Marriott and the Hyatt.
    Can't wait! See you there!

  2. I would also note, as a relatively new Atlanta resident, that streets here are eccentric and signage is poor, so good luck with any driving you might have to do. Everyone jay-walks all the time, and drivers rarely yield right-of-way to pedestrians (walk sign be damned!), so be careful walking in the city, and definitely use those hotel bridges any time you can.

  3. I don't go to conventions -- that whole introvert-claustrophobia-hate crowds thing ... but that photo of the drag princesses is the funniest thing I've ever seen. Knowing I'd see that might make it worth going!

  4. Big props for posting your picture with members of the <a href=">Alabama Ghostbusters</a>! (Pictured center and right: Brock Parker and David Railey, respectively.)

  5. Scheduling changes are also announced by the Daily Dragon for Luddites like me who don't have a smart phone.

    Also, if you're planning on being in line for a long time (I'll often get in line during the panel before mine, so we're talking an hour at least) grab food at the food court yet. Or better yet, bring a buddy to the line and take turns going to get food. The food court is excellent for a quick bite to eat, but don't expect to find seating easily. I usually grab and take to a line or my room. Oh, and ration the food court too. If you have a bit more time try one of the real restaurants around the con hotels (the hotel restaurants are overpriced and kind of meh). I find by the end of con I'm so sick of the food court options.

    Water bottles are handy, but don't feel the need to pack enough water to last all day. It will just weigh you down. They have pitchers of water and cups at the panels and you can refill your bottle there.

    If you have the luxury of getting to the con a day early take the time to walk around the hotels a bit. They Hyatt can be confusing with their tower layout (on some levels you can't get from one to the other and on others you can).

    In terms of the bridges you should also be able to get to the Hyatt from the food court. Though I guess it's technically not a bridge.

    Man, I'm really bummed now. This is the second year we'll be missing it :(

  6. If travelling with a little one (4-6yrs). Make a backpack part of their costume/outfit. I often have my DD carrying her snacks, toys and beverages (and if not too heavy. maybe even a change of clothes). This way she can access her stuff on her own, when she wants and I don’t have to remind her to eat/drink. It cuts down on interruptions when we are waiting in line and conversing with other con goers. Toys are a must, but should be kept small. DD loves to color so it’s easy for us. We also have a small, lightweight kids camera so she can take her own costume shots. (They aren't great, but sometimes it's an interesting perspective) As an added bonus, with her carrying her food/entertainment, we can carry everything else, including a small blankie and pillow for those times when the panel is just SO BORING that tired eyes take over.

    AS A SAFDETY MEASURE we take a cell phone picture of her several times during the day. This is in case we get separated from her. In our panic, we can easily show a security person/police EXACTLY what she looks like and is wearing. Most of these guys have text/photo messaging so it’s easy to get that photo out to the other officials that might be looking. (We have never had to use this, but it’s good to be prepared with a small one)

    1. Okay this is going to sound like a paid advertisement, but it's not, honest.
      You might consider getting her a Road ID (I have one and got one for my niece and BFF, aka her mom). The slim version has interchangeable bands in loads of colors and in sizes from toddler to sumo. The important (metal) part can be moved to a new band as she grows and/or suddenly decides that pink is out and purple is the best color in the universe (which it is.) They both have loads of medical issues, so I got them the interactive version, but on the kiddo's I made sure her mom's number was on there for when she wanders off, as she does. *sigh*. Ooh! Bonus. They will replace the metal part should it become illegible or otherwise breaks, for FREE, for LIFE!
      Anywho, the kiddo knows that if she gets separated from mom, to find a cop (or other official type, like a store worker or airline attendant) and show them her bracelet. Easy peasy.

  7. Someday we hope to see you at Dragon*Con... for now I'll enjoying living vicariously through your hilarious recaps and photos! Thanks for the tip on the survival bag btw - that will also be handy for SWC this weekend. If we find you, you'll know us by the scent of lavender hand santizer! :)

  8. Sooo excited that you will be there. This will be my first con. I hope I can find you!

  9. Thanks for sharing this because my friend and are going to Dragon Con for the first time this year. I totally can't wait!

  10. Get a reusable water bottle and refill it often. There are water fountains and ice water dispensers all over the place. Dehydration happens in AC too.

  11. I'm coming up on D*con number 5 (I think, lol), and here's some stuff that we've discovered.

    There's a few really great places to eat around the hotels that aren't the food court. We really enjoy the little greek stand across from the Sheraton - they have greek food and things like burgers and fries.

    Don't be afraid to ask people for photos. People in costume LOVE having photos taken (at least I do!). Keep in mind - whether your in costume yourself, or taking photos of people in costume, always allow extra time to get to where you're going in case you need to stop for photos a lot!

    Take lots of breaks. Sometimes the best thing is pulling up a bit o' floor and just watch the people walk by.

    I agree with Jen - chat with people in line!! One of my favorite things about the con is that there are so many other people there who are geeky about so many different things. I've had fantastic conversations with people I've never met before while in line! I've also found that the panels are fun and I love going to them, but they're not always what I remember most about the con - I have so many great memories of people I've met/seen/talked to, random games while waiting in lines, and all the costuming.

    A few things to bring: Vitamins - they'll help combat con crud as well as help with giving you energy (I always bring C, D, and Potassium, as well as just a general multi-vitamin). Also, your pain meds of choice. Especially if you aren't used to walking around so much, and if you drink at all (I don't drink much during the con, but I've had friends that have missed half a day due to having a bit too much fun the night before). Ear plugs are essential if you are a light sleeper - not all hotels are noisy at night, but some are. I stayed at the Hyatt for 2 years, and it was party party party all night long, but then I've also stayed at the Sheraton and Westin, and those were just fine. Also, if you're room sharing with people who snore, ear plugs are a life saver!

    And be flexible!! If there's something you absolutley have to see, by all means do it. But so much can change on a moments notice at the con - panels fill up/move/get cancelled, friends have other plans, you run into things you weren't expecting but decide you need to see...plan out a few things, but also don't be afraid to just fly by the seat of your pants!

  12. Get a neoprene sleeve for your water bottle (they sell cute and not-cute ones at Target, and they have straps you can hook onto your bag or dangle from your finger). It'll absorb condensation and keep stuff from getting wet in your bags. I've never done a big con, this is just experience with water bottles and hot weather. Wish I could do this one, though!

  13. Actually my advice, as a long time con-goer, is DON'T GO TO DRAGON CON (yes, I have been).

    If you must, must, must do a big con as your first con, go to WorldCon. It's better, more literate and nowhere near as crowded. You can actually sit in chairs and talk to people. It's cool.

    But I would really recommend going to a small regional con, depending on where you're located. Google around - there are several sites that list con by region. That way you can also find year-round fan activities and get more involved, not be just a gawker.

  14. And your first year you WILL just stand around gawking in geek glee from time to time.

    Also, I crash to peoplewatch on the couches and chairs along the sides of the Marriot's lobby level.

  15. Thanks so much for posting this! It is very helpful for a newbie like me. I'm super excited to go! Can't wait to track you down as well (that totally sounds like I'm a stalker...).

  16. I would also suggest checking out the podcast Debriefing DragonCon ( and the Facebook group DragonCon Newbies ( There are many people in the group who've never been to D*C or have only been once or twice, along with some con veterans, and everyone is great with sharing information and tips that've been picked up over the years.

  17. I second coloring utensils (especially crayons) even for adults. You make friends (everyone loves to color) and it's entertaining for the long lines.

  18. Thank you so much for this post! This will be my first Dragon*Con and I'm doing it solo. I'm nervous, but also a huge planner, and I thought I had everything figured out: costume comfort, good shoes, how to use the bathroom in costume, not planning on too many panels...but I never even thought about food and water. Y'know, those little survival basics. Thanks so much for these tips! I feel more prepared than ever (though I'm sure I'll run into surprises here and there).

    One week to go, and I can't wait!

  19. I go to a lot of, erm, alternative sexuality conferences, and try to abide by the 5-2-1 rule:

    Five hours of sleep, Two meals, One shower each day. It really helps keep you feel at least mostly human while you're running around like a crazy person.

  20. My wife and I are planning on attending our first D*C next year, good thing we have a local friend who is a regular and is willing to act as a guide...

    So where would you fall in the con visitng ranking system is you have only attended one con, but are attending another one this week (we live in Orlando, so we went to SWCV and will be attending SWCVI)... Do we get points off if both cons are basically the same?

    I am ready for the maddness of D*C... not sure if the wife is though... :)

  21. Great post!
    I have taken notes and will use your wisdom as a guide for my first Dragon*Con and for the (hopefully) many more to come!

  22. This is hubby and I's 6th D*C. We literally start planning next year's adventure on the plane right home to Colorado.

    Second everything Jen says, and also the rest of the comments. (except WorldCon, I haven't been, so I can't concur at this time.) Especially Debriefing DragonCon and 50 Days of D*C. We learned a thing or 3, and have added events because of those podcasts.

    Of course we keep an eye on the guest list and track panels. Then, a couple of weeks before con, we identify 3 things we ABSOLUTELY want to do. And I find a way to make that happen. But I won't allow more than 3. Cause then, we'd be disappointed and cranky.

    Plus, the magic of D*C happens when you least expect it. If you over-schedule, you miss the magical opportunities of seeing someone pass by in the crowd, finding that perfect costume shot, meeting new friends, hearing Voltaire for the first time, having drinks with your favorite podcaster (Hi Darkness Dave!) or staying up way after your bedtime and feeling young again. And this is hard for me to say, because I am the QUEEN of Overscheduling! (Before the app, I printed 3 copies of the grid, color coded, created my own excel version, also color coded, and printed copies for me, hubby, and all our friends.) (Now I have the iPad app for everything we could possibly want to do if we had 7 clones or a timeturner, and just load our very favorite options into the iPhone.) (when did I cross from geek to nerd?)

    EAT BREAKFAST! Seriously - take time for a good meal to start the day. Then you can use J&J's snacking rules to best advantage. We also found a donut shop nearby (Suncoast plaza I think?) where we pick up a dozen to keep in our room. Then, when we go for costume changes, we can do some quick carb loading. Even stalish donut are yummy!

    Wear comfortable shoes. I very literally had to crawl from the bed to the bathroom the second day of D*C #1, my feet hurt so bad. You won't always be able to find a place to sit, and I think standing is harder on the bod than walking. If you can get good inserts for each pair of shoes, it is a wise investment.

    IF you are in one of the host hotels, turn the TV to D*CTV. You get to see some great panels while you are changing clothes, not to mention the SciFi Janitors! Check the Daily Dragon for the channel for your hotel.

    Most of all - if you aren't having fun, you aren't doing it right. There is absolutely no reason NOT to have fun! What you choose to experience may be even better than that event you might miss.

    And, look for Hubby and I - we love meeting new people! Hubby is Lucius Malfoy and QuiGon Jin. And this year, I'm going hogwild on the costumes: Mrs. Weasley, Merlotte's Waitress, SteamPunk, Maudie the kitchen maid, and Molly Brown.

    See you there!
    In 8 sleeps, we are on the plane!!!

  23. This will be my second D*C, and one thing I'll definitely back up is don't be afraid of doing things alone. I did last year mostly by myself, and learned that you can get pretty great seats without having to wait in line forever by being a single seat-filler. Look for staffers in the aisles and attendees in their seats holding up a "one" finger. They're pointing out a single empty seat that's ripe for the taking. You'll also enjoy the heck out of the con by not having to quibble over what you're seeing next and not disappointing your companion by being so tired that you decide to flake on something you'd planned for. In short, when flying solo, the Con is yours to seize as you please!

  24. Great guide, Jen. Thanks!

    The food and drink thing is SO IMPORTANT!!!! I've only been to small Trek Cons but learned that lesson on the first one. We went without food all day except for a granola bar for each of us (my best friend and I). By the time Shatner was done, we were about dead and starved.

    I've also learned the hard way (passing out twice, once on a concrete floor!) that dehydration is nothing to play with. Take more water than you think you'll need, and even some of those Propel sticks (like Gatorade).

    And while I really, really, REALLY want to go to DragonCon someday, don't discount the small cons. It's a good way to get your feet wet and you have a better chance of getting to interact with the starts on a more one-on-one basis. :o)

  25. "queue up for John De Lancie's autograph"

    Did anyone else love this pun???

    Just me?

  26. My brother and friends attend D*C every year. They have started to park in the long term parking at the Atlanta Airport and ride the train/buses to the hotels. WAY more cost effective and stress free if you are driving to Atlanta because the streets are crazy, convoluted and all pretty much named Peach "something".

    1. Hmmm. My hotel is rather far out and a lot of what I want to do is late at night (there's a panel with Jim Butcher at 22:00 one night and Jennie Breeden's kilt blowing is now kinda official (as in actually on the schedule!) and it's at 01:00 Sat night/Sun morning. Are there affordable shuttles to the airport at o'dark-thirty? It certainly sound SAFER than finding a nearby parking garage as public transport stops too early to be of use (as I'd originally planned.)

  27. I can't wait for DragonCon!! My friend made me a dress and I am so excited to prance around in it! I'll keep an eye on Twitter: I hope to run into you and Jon. :)

  28. I would add:
    Pace yourself- It kind of goes with the plan-everything-out thing, but it's more about not trying to do so much on Day One and Day Two that you have no energy for Day Three. We ran up against that at our last con. Just got so tired out (but in a good way) that when we left on Saturday, we decided that there were a couple of panels we wanted to hit on Sunday, but we'd see how long we slept in to decide whether or not to make it. I didn't wake until almost noon, my kiddo slept until almost 1:30. Needless to say, we did not make Day Three.

    If you can stay in the hotel, do. Even if it is your own city or a reasonable driving distance. Even a 15 minute drive at 2 in the morning when you've been going since 7 am gets to be a looooooong drive home.

    and finally, I reiterate the eating thing, but emphasize that you cannot live on ConSuite food alone. Yes, it's awesome to have (in our case) free rice and ramen, but it did not make for satisfying nutrition. If you don't want to pay $15 for a hot dog at the hotel, plan out a time to escape off site to get some real food.

  29. if you must wear awesome costume shoes i suggest WEAR THEM EVERY TIME YOU GET A CHANCE!!!!! to the grocery store to walk the dog even just around the house because if you bye a pair of shoes for the con and wait till the day of to even put them on you will regret it. Best decision of my life was wearing my con shoes every ware i went for a month it was like walking around in my house slippers at the con

  30. Thanks for all the great tips. I just moved to Atlanta in February, so this is my first D*C and I couldn't be more excited! I hope I bump into you and John at some point.

  31. DISCLAIMER: I've been on Dragon*Con staff for the last several years so I've seen both sides of things.

    1) The fire marshal won't let us start lines for the big panels until one panel in advance. This means there's no point in waiting six hours to see that one famous actor - but you DO want to be outside the room before the previous panel starts, so you can be first in line when the queue begins. That said, in the five years I worked the big ballrooms I've only seen ONE panel get full enough to turn people away (Patrick Stewart) - and even then, people trickle out so there were empty seats. If you can't get in right away, come back ten minutes later and you can probably sit in the back.

    2) When the convention is in full swing, it takes a long time to get from one end to the other. Plan to take half an hour or more to get from one side to the other during peak times. This means head back to your room to change your shoes BEFORE your blisters get the better of you!

    3) Costumes are great and fun, but be aware you're in a crowd! Atlanta nudity laws do apply at all times, even at the nighttime parties. All weapons must be peace-bonded so nobody can get hurt even if they do something stupid. Your eight-foot-high dalek costume might get you a lot of photo requests, but you will probably have to sit off to the side/back at any panels you attend. (Also, the coolness of your costume is directly proportional to how long it will take you to get through the hotel lobby because people will stop you constantly!)

    4) The main hotels WILL be locked down in the evenings. This means you will need a Dragon*Con badge or a room key to get in the door. This is to keep out the gatecrashers and keep the fire marshal from closing down the whole hotel! Don't go out without your badge. (In fact, that's good advice anyway - you can't get in to panels or parties without it.)

    5) Even though Dragon*Con feels like another world, it's in a big city. Badges get stolen on a regular basis, as do cameras and wallets and backpacks. Be aware of where your belongings are, and know your surroundings. If you decide to venture out in search of food after dark, go with a group and/or someone who knows where the restaurants are, because you don't want to wander downtown Atlanta alone at night in a furry costume. Also, there have been some problems in the past with non-Dragon*Con attendees harassing costumed con-goers, particularly young women in revealing costumes. If you see or experience a problem, contact hotel or Dragon*Con security immediately so the problem can be dealt with.

  32. At Dragon Con specifically, and I'm guessing many other cons you CANNOT RELY ON CEL PHONES! Even in the food court cel reception is spotty. Once you get down into the lower levels of some of the con hotels where many tracks, and dealers rooms are located it is down-right non-existant.

    As a result you should plan your meet ups with friends in advance and pick a spot to check in at certain times in person.

  33. What my roomies and I do is cook food before hand that keeps well, and keep coolers of it in our room so we can just stop by there real quick for a snack, or take a sandwich with us. This year we're having chicken quesadillas, vietnamese pork sandwiche, s'mores cookies, and other things that I haven't figured out yet. Saves us a TON of money and time :D

  34. Go to the Parade! As an Atlanta native, it took me an embarrassingly long time to make it to D*C. But, I always knew when it was in town because of the Saturday morning parade - it's a free and easy way to see a wide variety of costumes. Plus, it's not quite as crowded as the hotels.

  35. I wish I could go to D*C this year but my little sister's wedding is that weekend. So rude, non geek people have no consideration for geek priorities :)

  36. Gah - so close to getting to go this year! Maybe next year you can come hear me sing with Pandora Celtica!

  37. If you are an introvert and periodically need time to "recharge" in peace and quiet, PLAN FOR THIS -- especially if you are sharing a room with others.

    Make sure you have a key for the hotel room and set aside time during the day to go back to the room if you need to. If that is not feasible, then scope out places close to the con -- a coffee shop, bookstore, library? -- where you can go to sit and breathe for a bit, away from the press of people.

  38. Lots of great tips, and I will agree with all of them (except the "don't go to Dragon*Con" tip...D*C is the best con I've ever been to, and I've been to a lot), and add just a few more:

    1. Peachtree Center Station (which is the mall/food court) is connected by tunnel to both the Hyatt and the Marriot, and also to MARTA (if you're taking the subway in). Very easy to stay indoors unless you need to head to the Sheraton or Westin.

    2. In the food court, there is a restaurant called Willy's, all the way down at one end, which is a local Tex-Mex burrito chain, and I LOVE it. The prices are very reasonable, too. If you've had Mo's, which is a similar chain that is growing nationally, Willy's is similar, but less expensive, and, imho, about twice as tasty.

    3. The D*C staff tends to form lines for the same ballrooms in the same places. So, if you're going to see someone in, say, Centennial III-IV, and you remember where you lined up last time, you can often go right to the end of that line, and perhaps call it a shortcut.

    4. As Jen said, you might want to go easy on how many panels you want to attend, to give yourself some breathing room. The dealers/exhibitors areas, and the art show, are great fillers, if you have nothing else to do, but don't just want to people-watch.

    5. Give blood. LifeSouth does a big blood drive every year. They're in the Sheraton and the Marriott, and you get a free t-shirt and snacks. The t-shirt this year is an Avengers spoof (Google them, you'll see it on their front page). Plus, free blood pressure and cholesterol numbers. Save a life!

  39. I have to respectfully disagree with Kathleen. I did D*C as my very first con; yes, it was overwhelming, but for, say, Southerners like me who can't afford to traipse across the country to other, "better" cons, a crowded, illiterate nerd party is better than none at all!

  40. I want to add a tipp to all fellow cosplayers: If you don't have a friend who doesn't cosplay trie to sew some pockets in it. Do it even if you have a friend, you will need it for your ticket, your cell phone, maybe your drivers license, neccesarry if there are rated stuff (I was at Gamescom with a lot o and no one believed me that I was 26), some emergency money. These are the must have. You can squeeze them even in a Leelo thermobandage suit. If possible also pack the things Jen mentioned like water (there are special drinking bags if your costumes allows it), food, deodorant. And I if you are love to photograph cosplay pack a photo very close to your hand. But pack it a knight does look weird if a knight is chasing down the alleys with a big camera.

  41. As a regular at our local cons, I can only begin to imagine what one of these big cons would be like. (Season 5 of "The Guild"??) But here are some awesome ideas not yet mentioned:

    - Business cards. Not necessarily for business related networking, but you'd be a fool not to have some of those too; geeks have a RL persona too that might be applicable when you meet that new BF in line.
    But I actually mean cards with info to hand out to others in case you want to be friends and stay in touch i.e. Name, e-mail, facebook, twitter, whatever you feel comfortable handing out to strangers.
    Since our family is usually dressed up as a bunch of Klingons (I'm an Orion... ;D ) then we frequently get stopped for photos. (Who doesn't love a couple Little Warriors preschoolers dressed up in full uniform with ridgey foreheads??!) But if you're like me you might want a copy of photos taken of you or your children. So whenever we get a photo taken, just hand out a card to the photographer and say "Hey, can you send me a copy of that?" and we're good to go.
    Protip: You'll want to collect business cards too from others, such as the vendor of that awesome item you just can't afford right now; grab a business card and peruse their website at leasure. (Hello! Gift giving made easy later in the year!!) But some cultures find it rude to take your card and just shove it in your back pocket. It's like sitting on their name. So, put your cards in a business card holder, and as you collect others' slide them in the back where you won't lose them later. What? You don't have a dedicated business card holder? Amazingly, an old audio cassette box works perfectly! Also works for holding cash/room key/ID that you might need to slip into a pocket or cleavage for hands free worry. What, I can't be the only one with no pockets at a con that has to stuff things in her bra for safe keeping. You know you do it too!!

  42. - Speaking of vendors and panelists, not all of them are famous people, or do this as a source of income, most sacrifice a lot to share their talents and interests with others. Be polite, even when you're haggling over prices for that awesome knife with a slight rust spot on the tip. These are amazing people, and sharing common geekery is what cons are all about. Besides, having a friend on the inside of the vendor room can be very beneficial. Just sayin'.

    - Did I mention haggling? That awesome replica of a Klingon Phaser Rifle might be the perfect thing to complete your outfit and would look lovely hanging under your batleth over the fireplace. But to them it's that thing collecting dust that their wife insisted they get rid of. They see my husband coming a mile away and when he gets around to asking for the price then they quote something high. While enthusiasm for their wares is greatly appreciated, don't let yourself get ripped off while you're so hyped up about it. As a rule, we always cruise the vendor rooms early on at the cons and just see everything there is. Unless it's a one-of-a-kind and the price is already more than fair we won't even buy it till later. Usually towards the last day. Then we talk about what items the other wants and the best negotiator goes in to purchase it alone. Can't decide if you really want yet another painted decorative plate or that pin that's not completely cannon but looks awesome anyway? Wait till the last day. If it's still there, then it's meant to be.

  43. - Traveling with young ones? Plan on parents trading off on the child care for that one can't miss panel. Kids take a priority but no one wants to spend the whole time in the consuite watching their kids color and eat nothing but chips and soda. (We pack lunchables and fruit boxes.) Being over-tired and cranky is no fun for anyone. We take our kids to day 1 of the con (usually a Friday) when things are slower, smaller crowds etc, so they can see and be seen, and pick up that mini glowing Tardis to snuggle with that night. Then they're usually over it, so one or both parents can take them home or drop them off with a babysitter. Then we have the few moments of the big Saturday at the con to ourselves while our kids are safely cared for at home with a sitter. Wins for everyone.

    - Also, if you have a small child, rock your costume while pushing a stroller. It will make the kids happy to not stand all the time, be a perfect way to lull them into a nap, and you can free up your load by stashing bags of stuff on the stroller. It's easy enough to push just out of camera range for pictures if wanted, and a great excuse for an aisle seat at the panel for a quick exit when you kids are done listening to people trying to learn Klingon. Don't be surprised if other con goers are jealous of your kids' sweet ride. Wouldn't we all want to be pampered like that?

  44. I have attended DragonCon several times, but not in the last two years, so these tips may vary:

    1. Avoid using the stairs. They get all manner of drinks/food spilled on them, and get VERY sticky. The stairs are a trap!

    2. If you have any sort of sensitivity to smells (too much perfume, etc.), this is not the con for you. People are usually crammed in like sardines everywhere, and you can't avoid walking through a cloud of perfume/BO/cologne/cigarette smoke. I know they don't allow smoking indoors, but the smell hangs on people who do smoke. If you do attend, make sure you bring headache meds.

    3. If you are staying in one of the event hotels, BRING EAR PLUGS for sleeping. I cannot stress that enough. People stay up until 3am or later partying, and you will not get any sleep otherwise.

    4. Watch where you walk. This is especially important because more people are bringing their children with them to cons. Make sure to look around AND down when you walk so as to avoid stepping on a little one.

    Other than that, try and enjoy the atmosphere. It is something that should be experienced, if only once.

  45. As a 10 year veteran of DragonCon, here are my tips (a lot from a cosplayer's point of view)-- I actually just finished sharing them on Monday!

    My DragonCon pro-tips:

    1) Start walking! If you're not used to walking more than 15 minutes a day at a time, get going!

    2) If you have new shoes for a costume, start breaking them in now! Put 'em on and walk around the house!

    3) Febreeze is your friend. Pack a small spray bottle of that magic stuff!

    4) Drink lots of water, but figure out how to de-costume to go to the bathroom by yourself. The PeePee Dance is not sexy.

    5) Know when to costume as what. No one wants to see your ass cheek at breakfast. O_o.

    6) Drink plenty of plain water. Despite evidence to the contrary, mixing it with alcohol doesn't count.

    7) For the love of all that is spandex...MEN! Buy a freakin' dance belt! Remember kids are eye level with your junk! (Dawn's note: BWAHAHAHAHA!!!!)

    8) Hit an ATM before you get to Con - the food court ones empty pretty quickly over the holiday weekend.

    9) Eat at least on "real" meal a day, not just chips and snack bars. Also, the ConSuite in the Hyatt is your friend!

    10) Shower at least once a day. Walk like a gamer, talk like a gamer, just don't smell like a gamer!

    11) BE NICE TO YOUR CON STAFF!! These volunteers deal with more crap than you can imagine. Make it a point to sincerely thank at least one of them a day! (this also goes for the hotel staff!)

    12) One safety pin and one length of ribbon -- zip your back zippers up all by yourself!

    13) Bring a full-sized garbage bag. You've seen the tiny wastebaskets in hotel rooms, right? Plan ahead! Plus, the hotel staff will thank you!

    14) Tag your damn bags, even if driving in. "It was a black bag" ain't gonna cut it at the front desk check-in chaos!

    15) Check, then double-check your badge is secure! Make "Badge-check" your rallying cry before you leave the room!

    16) Assume liquor stores may closed on Sunday (smaller mom and pops, a holiday weekend, any number of reasons). Also, if you don't know what your hotel's "corking fee" is, learn!

    17) Taking a page from CONvergence: "A costume is not consent!" Ask before you touch! Don't be a creeper!

    18) It's always polite to ask if you can take a photo of a costume. If they say yes, MOVE OUT OF TRAFFIC to do it.

    19) Catch a panel. Find at least one that you want to go to and DO IT - they can be AWESOME experiences!

    20) The most important tip? HAVE FUN!

  46. Not D*C related, sorry! Jen, is it you at 2.22 watching this proposal at Disney?!

  47. I just put up my yearly D*C survival guide yesterday, BIS Dragon*Con 2012 Survival Guide.

    I have yet to actually get to the Con Suite. The line is usually long.

    I think my main points for the guide were:
    Line rule: Talk to people.
    I've always had great conversations with complete strangers while waiting in line for my badge (really, with as long as that wait is, you might as well enjoy it) and for panels. Dragon*Con is filled with people just like you. You never know, you could make life long friends, or at least, a weekend drinking buddy. If you're near me in a panel line, ask to join in a game. I'll have Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice with me this year. I'll also be taking photos of any game of them I play to submit to the As Seen On Tabletop tumblr.

    Mary Poppins rule: Be prepared.
    There's a reason I carry a Bag of Holding to D*C. I have cameras, wallets, OTC meds, snacks, drinks, sweaters, notebooks, pens, tissues, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, clorox wipes, face wipes, and who knows what else.

    Second most important con rule, (i.e. The Wheaton Rule): Don't be a dick!
    Listen to the wise and all knowing (or mostly knowing anyway) Wil Wheaton. He know of which he speaks.

    And above all else, Most Important Con Rule: Have fun!

  48. Not Con-related, but wanted to give Con-goers a heads up that on Friday, August 31st, there will be D*C, a Braves game, and the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game for football at the Georgia Dome. (These are the things I know of, there may be more)

    Look for lots of people and lots of traffic! :)

    (Wish I was going to be down there, but it's not in the cards this year.)

  49. I have a question for everyone - When should I make reservations in the Con hotels for next year? I've never been able to figure that out and they are always sold out by the time I check.

  50. Yay Dragon*Con! I just did my first pass at picking out things in the schedule during lunch today. Then I get to go home, keep working on costumes and inventory (I'm a dealer - I get to work and play!) and try not to stress about how little time is left.

    Some additional tips:

    - A lot of the "must sees" - like the parade and the Sunday Masquerade - are also broadcast in the host hotels on Dragon*Con TV! Great way to see some things without the crowds, or if you just want to be able to talk about the costumes while watching.

    - The dealer's rooms get very crowded. Try going to them early in the morning and you'll better be able to see things.

    - Costumers - find out how you're carrying stuff before you go. One of my favorite costumes to wear (Kaylee!!) has tons of pockets, but this year I'm actually putting hidden pockets in my big costume project. No more hiding things in my boots!

  51. More bridges: There's a LONG bridge from a parking structure on Courtland (between the Hilton and the Sheraton) that goes to Peachtree Center. If you need to get from the Sheraton to the Westin Peachtree Plaza and don't want to hike that hill, I'd go over to the parking garage, go up the elevator to the floor with the bridge, take the bridge to Peachtree Center and come out on Peachtree Street. Then you're only a block or two away from the Westin Peachtree Plaza - on a level walk.

    NerdFlu: I have gotten sick after the last two cons. Bring LOTS of hand sanitizer and/or wash your hands constantly.

    Someone made a good suggestion of refilling your water bottles in the panel rooms. I'd never thought of that. I was try to bring enough to last all day which is too heavy.

    Sunscreen: It sounds crazy but you may need some kind of sunblock. The Hyatt and Marriott wrap their long lines outside the buildings as much as possible to cut down on fire-hazards. If you're stuck in one of those hour long lines in the Georgia sun at mid-day, your pasty nerd self may get burned. :-)

    Be prepared to think on your feet. You never know when you're going to run into "someone" in a crowd. If you can get out a coherent thought in a quick time frame, most of them will be pleased to receive a compliment, especially if they didn't expect to be recognized. This happened to me after the parade broke up a couple of years ago. One of the Stargate writers came (I think the first one to do so). I recognized him and so just took 60 - 90 seconds to thank him for coming and acknowledge that the writers really drive quality shows. He was very gracious and just shocked that someone recognized him in the crowd. And now I have a cool memory from the middle of Peachtree Street.

    Sorry to disagree with Wendy, but I've seen more than one panel fill up. It was not in the big Marriott Atrium Ballroom where Patrick Stewart was, but I've seen a couple of Firefly panels fill up - it just depends on who's going to be in the panel. But she is right about people leaving mid-way through, though sometimes there's even a "replacement" line. AND she's totally right about security. Don't wander around downtown Atlanta at night. And stear clear of the drunken football fans - better safe than sorry.

  52. Someday, somehow, I will make it to D*C. I understand the whole "you can totally go alone" thing, but as I'd be traveling from S.D. and it would be my first ever con, I'd rather go with someone. Gotta find someone as geeky as me who wants to go. Until then, I'll just have to live vicariously through your pics and updates. :D

    That being said, one thing I would add to the "bring extra batteries for the camera" would be to bring extra memory cards as well. I was at an air show a few weeks ago and ran out of memory, which I have never done before, even on a busy picture day while traveling in Israel. So, even if you think one 4 or 8 gig card is enough, bring another one! You don't want to have to miss out on the best pic of the con because your card is full.

    Btw, SO EXCITED for the big reveal tomorrow! Hyperventilating over here!

    1. The thing about cons is that this is where you find your very own personal geek contingent. I went to a smaller con the first few years and made very good, long lasting friendships with other 40+ something single women who ended up being my entourage at DC. There is a lot of merit in what someone suggested earlier as trying a smaller con first. DC is fun but can be a bit overwhelming and there are plenty of smaller venues popping up all over the country these days.

  53. Whether or not you attend DragonCon, I will second Kathleen's recommendation that you find a local convention to attend... you'll be surprised how many there are! And once you've found one -- volunteer!!! This is the best way to get involved with the local fandom and get behind the scenes -- become a S.M.O.F.!

  54. Not going to make it to this con, but I think your tips (and those of your awesome readers) will serve me well when my Phoenix con rolls around again next year :) I am a little worried about the crowds, though, I get a little dizzy if I'm in the middle of a crush for too long...

  55. I remember those guys! They were fun. No joke, this entry almost made me cry because I'm not going this year.

    I'll second eat and sleep enough. I know people who say "Oh it's fine I'll sleep when it's over" and "nah, no time to eat!" but I gotta tell you, I think at the end of the weekend I'm having more fun than they are. Last year, Wil Wheaton did a panel on Monday morning- one of my roommates didn't come because he was too tired but the two of us who did go had an awesome time (and Jen was there!).

    Also, plan in that some of the panels will run over. Two years ago I missed a NASA panel because Adam Savage started over a half hour late and he ran the whole hour, letting out late. I would have skipped out five minutes early had I realized that I would've made the NASA panel if it weren't for the crowd.

    By the way, I HAAAAAATE crowds and I absolutely adore D*Con. Something about the geekery (and being in costume myself) makes it so much easier.

  56. Ahhh, Buddy Jesus! lol We apparently were on the same floor at the same time in several of your Marriott pics.

    My recommendation is for those new disposable flasks. They are great for storing and sharing refreshments without the weight of glass or plastic.

    Also your favorite lanyard if you already have one. There's many you can buy there but if you don't have one as soon as you pick up your badge, you risk losing it imo. Learned that the hard way.

  57. Ahhh, Buddy Jesus! lol We apparently were on the same floor at the same time in several of your Marriott pics.

    My recommendation is for those new disposable flasks. They are great for storing and sharing refreshments without the weight of glass or plastic.

    Also your favorite lanyard if you already have one. There's many you can buy there but if you don't have one as soon as you pick up your badge, you risk losing it imo. Learned that the hard way.

  58. As a warning, the Chick-Fil-A College Kickoff Game happens every year at the nearby GA Dome, too, and this year, there's not just one game, but two, which means we'll be sharing eating and hotel space with even more football fans. I'm writing an article on *Con that mentions attendance and I checked: The Atlanta Visitors Bureau is anticipating over 195,000 people in the same downtown areas over Labor Day. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

  59. A few thoughts i think probably transfer from other cons:

    The 6-2-1 Rule. We teach this to congoers all the time: Every day, remember to get at least at least 6 hours of sleep, at least 2 meals, and at least one shower. Of course if your body has slightly different chemistry and your doctor has advised a different ratio, go with that. But also remember the corollary to the 6-2-1 rule: Red bull is not sleep. Cheez Curls are not food. And Febreeze is not a shower.

    Be Nice to Security Be nice to all con staff, really, but be especially nice to security. Con staff are rarely if ever paid to be there, so they come for the love of the community. Nothing ruins that love quite like a day of people being ridiculous. So don't rules lawyer (if the rule is there, chances are it's there for a good reason), try to be polite when staff tell you they need you do do or not do something, and say please and thank you. Tell a con staffer how much you appreciate their work; you'll make their day.

    As a corollary, make sure to be nice to hotel and convention center staff, and always tip your housekeeper and keep your room in semi-reasonable shape.

    Plan like you're planning for a hike. Sort of an extension of Jen's thoughts on planning like it's a camping trip, really. Make sure your shoes have nice comfy soles, padded if possible, that take good care of your feet. If you can't walk for 6 hours on hard cement in them, you're going to want to change them at some point. If your knees ever give you any problems, pack knee braces. And while carrying around some snacks and entertainments and such is a good idea, make sure your bag is light enough that you can carry it comfortably for several hours, and has soft straps that are good for your shoulders.

    Plan for Emergencies. I've seen many a congoer get intoo dire straits because they didn't allow themselves a contingency plan. If you live locally and you're planning to travel by public transit, make sure you have someone you can call if you miss the last train/bus/whatever. If you're staying at the hotel, set aside a little bit of money as emergency backup money in case something goes horribly wrong, like you lose your wallet, or you underestimate your hotel costs, or you go nuts and spend all your food money on a tricked out lightsaber. You don't want to end up in a tight spot with no money for lunch, or holed up on a couch at 4AM trying to stay awake because you can't sleep in the lobby and you have no way to get home.

    Volunteer. If you're alone at the con, this is one of the best ways i know to meet awesome people. I've never seen a con that didn't need spare hands on the fly for something; generally, this is how cons find great people to be staff. So if you're at loose ends, try dropping by con ops and asking if they could use a volunteer. The bigger the con, the more likely it is that someone has a job for you, with lots of other friendly people to work with.

    Ask Before Photographing There are some few cosplayers who aren't thrilled about photographs, but most of them love it. Just give them a chance to prepare themselves. They may want to make a few adjustments to be sure everything is positioned just right, and they'll almost certainly want to get out of traffic.

    Bring Money in Small Bills. Just a little thing, but the vendors will love you forever for it. Pack some 5's and 10's, as well as some singles for tipping the housekeeper. Fifty dollar bills may be easier to pack and look cool, but no one wants to break them for you.

  60. I have been to DragonCon on five separate occasions. I really enjoy it. I plan everything out. I have been described as, "A man on a mission", and it is true. I know where I want go and what I want to do, but I am willing to be flexible. It is very important to keep up with the schedule changes to the panels. One year I missed a super great panel of authors I wanted to hear, because they bumped it up in the schedule and I missed it. First thing everyday is go to an information desk and get a paper with the panels changes, or use one of the apps they have.

  61. Here a list of the places in the food court for those that are interested. I work nearby so I eat at Peachtree Center a lot.

    Bistro 7 - Steam table stuff and Gyros.

    Caribou Coffee - Obvious

    Café Momo - Buffet style pay by the pound place. They serve breakfast and lunch/dinner.

    Checker's - Burgers

    Chick-fil-A - The Original Chicken Sandwich.

    Dairy Queen - Obvious

    Farmer's Basket - Steam table stuff, very generous on the portions.

    Great American Cookies - Obvious

    Great Wraps - More gryo's and wraps

    GW Cheesesteak - Cheesesteaks and breakfast in the AM.

    Jack’s Sandwich Shop - Obvious from the name, I personally think they're a little over priced.

    Noodle Café - Thai/Vietnamese food.

    Roman Delight Pizza - Obvious

    Willy's Mexicana Grill - Obvious

    Yami Yami - Sushi

    GLC Café - Harder to pin down. Custom salads, hot items.

    Malibu Wings - Wings. Shocker I know.

    Moe's Southwest Grill - Obvious. (My wife and I are partial to Moe's over Willy's)

    My Friend's Place - Sandwiches and salad.

    Planet Smoothie - Obvious. My personal choice for having something to stand in line with.

    Subway - Obvious

    Tropical Cajun - Don't let the name fool you. It's general steam table stuff.

    There's also a new Indian place that I can't remember the name of.

    Since last years D*C a full sized CVS has opened in the mall so that should help anyone that forgot some of the basics or if you need to restock on bottled water, etc.

    There are plenty of sitdown places as well. Hard Rock, Hooters, Mama Ninfa's, etc.

    As someone earlier pointed out there are two football games this year instead of one. (One Friday night and one Saturday night). This is the south and we take our football VERY seriously so expect a MUCH larger crowd than in past years. The games are regional games (SEC vs ACC for those that care) so a lot of people are going to be driving in starting on Thursday.

    Parking is going to suck because of all of the extra people. I have the advantage of parking at work (private lot) but for the other 99%, good luck.

  62. We arrived in Atlanta last night for this year's Con. It was very, very overwhelming to me! And we haven't even been IN the con hotels yet! There was a moment, looking for parking close to the Sheraton to pick up our badges, that I was thinking, "Maybe this was all a terrible idea", thinking how peaceful it would be at home with our dog & kitties... You just gave me assurance that we can do this! And I did feel much better after we got something to eat, so thanks for that reminder, too. We couldn't get our badges, the fire marshal shut down the line shortly after we got there, so we're headed back, bright & early this morning, to pick them up. This post was JUST what I needed to read. We're staying about a ten minute drive away, so we won't have the option of easily retreating to our room for some quiet space. I'm hoping there are corners here & there we can find to get "away"? I'm having so many fears pop up, about being overwhelmed, about being separated from my sons (they are plenty old enough to venture on their own - 20 & 14 - I don't think *I'm* ready to venture alone!), not finding a peaceful spot... You helped me feel ready to walk right past those fears! So, thanks!
    ~ Caren, from Charlotte


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