Sunday, August 20, 2017

Dragon Con 2017 Survival Tips!

It's that time again, gang! Dragon Con is less than 2 weeks away, and if you listen closely, you can actually hear the shrieks of panicked cosplayers everywhere. :D

Sadly I can't help you finish a costume faster, but I CAN help prepare you for everything else! So let's go over my yearly run-down on what Dragon Con newbies and veterans alike should know for 2017. (Plus, as always, some of my favorite cosplay shots from last year!)

First, the basics:

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, and averages upwards of 70,000 attendees. For 2017 some even expect attendance to top out over 80,000. Yowch.

Unlike most large conventions Dragon Con is NOT held in a convention center; it's held in 5 large "host hotels" and one shopping center, all of 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.

 The Marriott lobby, where all the best costumes come out to play.

 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 $160 - but keep in mind for next year that if you pre-purchase you get steep discounts.

NEW FOR 2017:

For the first time ever anyone can purchase a Dragon Con Streaming membership, which allows you to watch a good chunk of the main programming (like the biggest celebrity panels, the parade, the costume contest, and more) right on your computer! Last year only DCon attendees could purchase streaming, so I'm thrilled to see them open this up to everyone. If you can't make it to Dragon Con in person, this is a great way to get a taste of what you're missing. And best of all, you can watch all that content anytime you like for up to 3 months after the convention! Suh-WEET.

Now let's talk SURVIVAL.

- Prioritize & Plan Ahead

Again, DCon panels are spread out over 5 different hotels, and running 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 download that the second it's available, which should be any day now.)

The good news is all the panels are separated into fandom "tracks" (Star Trek, Pop Culture, etc.) and each track keeps its activities in the same place. So if you're only interested in, say, Steampunk, then you can camp out in the Westin and pretty much never leave.

Once you have a tentative schedule figured out, watch the Dragon Con app (or their Twitter account) 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 in-between. This isn't SDCC; there's very little camping out, so only the mega popular celebs (I'm looking at you, Alton Brown & Matt Smith) will hit capacity more than 30 minutes ahead of time.

- 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 an additional bridge connecting the Westin and America's Mart, the mall where the multi-level vendor room and artist alley is located. Not as vital, but still useful.

If you get lost - and know now that you will -  just ask someone next to you in the crowd. Odds are, they'll know!

 - Pack Like You're Going Camping

A backpack is ideal, but anything large and comfy to carry will do. Use it to bring:

- a refillable water bottle (there are lots of convenient water stations)
- snacks that travel well (I like sliced apples and meal bars)
- Purell or sanitizing hand wipes
- grooming necessities (at least deodorant, if nothing else. Please.)
- emergency supplies (costume repair, medicines, etc.)
- extra batteries for cameras and/or cellphones 
And unless you're wearing the most comfortable sneakers you own:
- a backup pair of shoes/flip-flops

Remember when this happened last year? I'm Kermit-flailing all over again. ::happy sigh::

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

 If you have severe crowd anxiety, then 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 doable. 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.

(Take a look at DCon's Disability Services page, too; 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 Plan To Attend More Than 4 Panels Per Day

Everything at Dragon Con takes longer than you expect, from parking to eating to getting to the hotel next door. So pad out that schedule, peeps! Aim for only 3-4 panels a day, and then if you're lucky enough to squeeze in a bonus panel or two, that's just gravy.

Granted, that's coming from someone who LOVES taking 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 you can hit a lot more panels 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.

- 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. Sleep in and watch it on DCTV 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 around noon. Again, that's the perfect day to sleep in.

Quick Tip: Strapped for cash but need something to nosh? Then head to the ConSuite in the Hyatt, rooms 223 & 226. It's open 24 hours a day during the con, and will have sodas, snacks, and various food stuffs available, all for free. Be prepared to wait, though, as there WILL be lines.

 - Go with the Geeky Flow

 Don't be afraid to throw that schedule out the window, gang. Remember, this is supposed to be fun. If it's not, then change what you're doing 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!

 P.S. Good news, the Epbot Meetup is back this year! John and I found out a few dozen fans were planning one anyway, so with their permission, we're piggy-backing on their party. :D It'll be Thursday night at 6PM, under the Pulse Bar in the Marriott lobby, and you should totally go. That way we can all be socially awkward together.

For those who can't make it Thursday and still want to find me and John: We're a constantly moving target, but your best bet is the Marriot lobby each night, where we'll be roaming the crowd taking pictures with our new flash set-up. Our only cosplay plans are the BB-8 'napping Jawa, so if you see a head-level droid, that's me! We'll have free Epbot pins and/or magnets on us, too, so don't be shy about shouting hello and asking for one.

So tell me, DCon vets, what'd I miss? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!


  1. Emphasize BIGLY the near certainty of CONCRUD. Vitamin C, Emergen-C, Air Shield, anti-bacterial by the quart, and/or maybe a gas mask. This will be year 9 for me, and I've avoided Crud about 4 of the last 8. But as I keep going, I find it an acceptable cost. :)
    See you all there!

    1. NO ESCALATOR HI-FIVES!!! That is a sure-fire ticket to Con Crud.

    2. Another deterrent of Con Crud is having gloves as part of your cosplay (if you're wearing one). This is tried and true for me (didn't have gloves once recently and BOY did I get sick), especially with me having multiple autoimmune disorders and getting sick very easily.

    3. I use my Neti flush nightly. It seems to help- if I get anything, it's trivial.

      If you use one, speak to your doctor about a rescue inhaler plan. I treat my regular rescue as a frequent use daily and Have a different rescue inhaler.

    4. So much con crud. I've taken to using this family of products twice daily the week before then 4 times daily during con. I'm in love with the fact that they have several formulas. Energy and sleep and my favorite kinds to have at con. (wooo wake up & go to sleep formulas!)

    5. I would even go so far as to eliminate ALL high-5s - fist bumps FTW! But also, WASH YOUR HANDS every single chance you get. With regular soap and water, if possible. Handiwipes are ok in a pinch, but find a restroom often and soap yo'self!

  2. Remember the 3-2-1 rule: AT LEAST 3 hours of sleep each day, AT LEAST 2 meals a day, and AT LEAST 1 shower a day. You'll feel better, last longer, smell better, and might even avoid Con Crud. (maybe)

  3. Steep discounts on the dealer floors on Monday. I got a free dagger helping a sword dealer tote boxes. There is usually great music around artist alley ( I think double click did a pickup show there). DconTV has a lot of the big panels on and most of those have a Twitter feed to ask your questions. Ditto skip parade. I skip Saturday all together ( visit the puppet museum!!) but I get panicked in that crowd.

  4. Remember there is a daycon and a nightcon. You need to decide what matters more to you and plan accordingly. Geeky panels, cool shopping, vintage video games all only happen during the day. Live bands, lots of drinking, more "adult" costumes all happen at night. If you like nightcon, sleep through most of daycon. If you have impressionable people in your party, maybe stay inside the room after 9 or 10pm.

  5. If someone offers you "Apple Pie" it's a very strong adult beverage ubiquitous with DC. Say yes for the camaraderie but only if you can handle it.

    The con is family friendly until 9pm, after that drinking and some nudity (mostly very small bits of cloth count as costumes) should be expected in hotel lobbies. Also the con goes on almost all night. There are some great panels that don't start until after midnight plus the parties.

    There are food stands through the con so you may want to bring cash so you can grab something from one panel to the next.

    If you cosplay there are multiple group photo shoots planned. Talk about finding your tribe at these. look on the DC calendar or ask people dressed like you. Be sure to ask when but also where, they are in throughout the con.

    If you want to sit down for awhile check out the Tabletop area. They have board games to borrow so you can play with your friends. Ask to join a game, everyone is friendly. If you're interested in D&D, Pathfinders or other RPGs you can sign up to play as many campaigns as you like. I know Pathfinders is having games for newbees that are only an hour long. There are also stations to paint minis and, I think, classes on building campaign sets.

  6. Once I get a schedule, I always mark everything that sounds vaguely interesting. In the app, you'll be able to see just those things on your calendar and decide which you want to do, if any. It also gives you back-up plan(s) in case the panel you want to see is full, say Alton Brown's. :-)

    I'm volunteering this year for the first time. I'm going to try to make the meet-up, though!

    Web version of the app:

    1. I'm a firstie volunteer this year as well! Super nervous but more excited to be "behind-the-scenes".

  7. I always enjoy your DragonCon recaps! I'm hoping that I might finally be able to go next year - possibly even with a press pass.

    Also, I think I know the Doctor Strange photo in the picture above! I'm *pretty* sure that it's Doc Kirby, Sorcerer Supreme of the Midwest. He's in my circle of Chicago cosplay acquaintances.

  8. Keep your rescue meds on you, easily accessible and if any are needing help to use, please have someone with you who knows how to use them. You also really need a medic alert piece. Your EpiPen buried in the bottom of your bag with no one knowing you need one or your rescue inhaler back in the hotel aren't much help. I'm picking on my issues, treat your rescue meds as needed.

    First year volunteer, I'll try to make the meet up if I'm not passed out already!

  9. Can you label some of these pics? My skillz are rusty! i can't recognize some of them.

  10. i'd love to go if only to meet you and john. sadly it isn't in the cards for me this year (again!), but hopefully next year i will plan better.
    have fun!

  11. For those of us who will never be attending DragonCon, I bumped into a fantasy novel that uses it as a primary setting. Very fun re-imagining that I think captures some of the feel. John Ringo's *Queen of Wands* ( Reading that makes me feel more 'in the know' when people talk about the real thing. ;)

  12. The mantra to remember is '6-2-1'. Six hours of sleep. Two decent meals (not just a bag of Skittles). One shower. MINIMUM.

    Socialize! Conventions are great places to make new friends. Stuck in a line? Chat with the folks near you, don't fiddle with your phone. Find out what they're about. Their first con? Where they coming from? What's their day job? Con friends are awesome.

    TIP. A lot of convention goers go on the cheap, and wind up stiffing those who put up with the busy crowds. Even a token few bucks for the housekeepers or waitress will be appreciated.

    Socially nervous? Don't think of it as thousands of strangers. Think of it as thousands of people who don't know your real life, and in a few days will be away off on their own lives. They have no power over you!

  13. Click on this link:

    Zoom all the way in (and then out a couple times). It is practically centered on the con hotels. Take a screen shot, print it out, and tape it into your hitchhiker's guide because it shows the con hotels, surrounding hotels where you might be staying, some (not all) sky bridges, parking, and metro stations (known as MARTA). And it has clear street names! Which is important because...

    BEWARE: EVERYTHING in Atlanta is called "Peachtree." DCon alone has Peachtree Center Ave. (a street), Peachtree Center (a building), and Peachtree Center (the Marta station), in addition to Peachtree St. (a street) which forks into Peachtree St and West Peachtree St.

    Good luck. Wish I could be there. Also, check out the museum for puppetry arts. You won't be disappointed.

  14. I totally plan on actually asking for a magnet/pin this time! I talked to you guys several times last year and just never did, lol.
    Hopefully we'll be checked in and registered by 6pm on Thursday so I can try to meetup, then run back and get in costume for bunny hutch later. :)

  15. Let us know when you publish your 2018 DC survival guide. One thing I would change is to either get into a group and be part of the parade or go see it. It is amazing.


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