Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The New & Improved Dragon Con Survival Guide For 2018!

It's that time again, gang! Dragon Con is barely a week 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 2018. (Plus, as always, some of my favorite cosplay shots from last year!) I love updating this post every year; gets me hyped to dive in to the madness again soon.

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 attendance continues to mushroom. We were just told to expect 85,000 people for 2018, up from around 70K just two years ago. Yeah. Yowch.

Unlike most large conventions Dragon Con is NOT held in a convention center; it's held in 5 large "host hotels" and two shopping center buildings, all of which span several blocks in the downtown Atlanta area. 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. Don't worry, though, that's why I'm here!
Here's a helpful map from Reddit you may want to print out:
 You'll pick up your tickets at Registration in the Sheraton, where the green check mark is.

And one more map that shows parking options, if you need them:
The MARTA is a fantastic public transport that brings you right to the con, so if you're traveling in try to use that to save money. If you're like us and prefer to drive, though, try to park in the center cluster of garages and lots across the street from the Marriott. They'll cost about $30 per day, but are SUPER convenient. And since they're so expensive, there are always spots left!

 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.

Now that you know where to park & get tickets, let's talk SURVIVAL.
 The Marriott lobby, where all the best costumes come out to play.

  Not to mention all the big groups!


  First things first:

- YOU WILL (probably) GET SICK.

This is the one everyone told me to emphasize the most last year, so consider it emphasized. Con Crud is terrifyingly real, and for most of us it's just a matter of delaying it as long as possible. Want to be among the lucky few who dodge it entirely? Then:

- Purell constantly
- Get enough sleep, eat your veggies, take vitamin C, etc.

- If possible, wear gloves & a mask. Trust me, you'll still blend in, even if you're not in costume. In fact, here I am in my steampunk style mask at Dragon Con, made just for this purpose:

... and I didn't get sick that year!
(Here's my template & tutorial to make this mask out of craft foam, which is super comfy and lightweight. There's still time to make your own!)

- 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 now!) then use the skyways connecting the hotels whenever possible, so you stay inside the air.

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 their set of panel rooms 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 (John Barrowman, Felicia Day, etc.) will hit capacity more than 30 minutes ahead of time.

- Remember there is a "Day Con" And a "Night Con"

While you're prioritizing what you want to see, remember that Dragon Con is only family friendly during the day. After dark there's lots of drinking, lots more skin and nearly-nude cosplay, and a general party atmosphere. However, after dark is ALSO when most of the best cosplay comes out. I highly, HIGHLY recommend spending at least one late night (preferably Friday or Saturday, and at least 'til midnight) in the Marriott lobby. That's where you'll see Dragon Con at its crazy best.

 Oh! That reminds me: Thursday night is the annual "Bunny Hutch" event, where you'll see every Playboy bunny & Heff fandom mashup you can imagine, and then some:

These aren't usually risque, though; the bunny suits rarely show more than a one-piece bathing suit, and if anything you'll see more funny versions like Bebop and Rocksteady. :D
(You can see the rest of my Bunny Hutch photos from 2017 here.)

- 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 first 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 (Meal bars, fruit, etc.)
- 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

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 agoraphobia 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.

I've also heard great things about the tabletop gaming area, which looks to be mostly in the America's Mart Building 1. Some gaming you have to sign up for in advance, but others are open to walk-ins, and could be a lovely way to get away from the crowds while meeting fellow gamers.

- 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 at 10AM, 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," since lots and LOTS of locals show up. Some veterans consider this a can't-miss spectacle, but to me it's a hot, shove-y nightmare.

So, my advice? Sleep in and watch the parade on DCTV instead! (One year the local news aired it live, too, so fingers crossed that becomes a regular thing.)

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.

Once again this year you 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! 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.


 - 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 make it right! Talk to the people in line with you, 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!

One of my personal highlights last year: watching Steam Powered Giraffe perform live, then taking this photo of The Spine the next day!

And finally, good news, the Epbot Meetup is back this year! In fact, there are multiple meets in the works, since there's a whole Facebook group now called FoEs Go To Dragon Con. (Happily two readers, Jen & Rebecca, have taken over organizing the meets. WE LIKE JEN & REBECCA.) So if you're coming to Dragon Con this year, go join the group & make some new con friends!

John and I will be at the meetup on Thursday night at 6PM, under the Pulse Bar in the Marriott lobby, and probably the Friday one, too, which is at the same time and place. So please, come hang out and be awkward with us. Free pins and hugs for those that want them!

For those who can't make it Thursday or Friday and still want to find me and John: We're a constantly moving target, but your best bet is the Marriott lobby each night, where we'll be roaming the crowd taking pictures with our flash set-up. We don't have ANY cosplays this year [sad face], so just watch for the flashes, ha. And don't be shy about shouting hello or asking for a pin if you spot us; we love meeting you guys!

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


  1. Thanks so much for the tips! I was putting together my final shopping list as I read. I'm going for the first time since '07, so I'm sure there've been a few changes since then. :) I can't wait to meet you and my fellow FoEs at the meetup!

  2. Holy double-take on that Leia cosplayer!!

  3. I LOVE the No Passing Zone!

  4. Do you go to the puppet museum while in Atlanta? They have a great Jim Henson exhibit!

    1. - Dark Crystal Ball this year!

  5. Running into the two of you is always one of my DragonC Con highlights!

  6. Yes App, I realize I have 3 other events scheduled at that time. Just add it to my schedule.

  7. Another warning about the parade: If you're coming into downtown on the MARTA, you still wont be able to get to anything except the giant crowds of people. We thought we'd hit a panel that was going on at the same time as the parade, but when we got off the MARTA the police would only let people leave the station in one direction - the opposite of where we needed to go and straight into a solid mass of parade watchers. By the time we shuffled and shoved to freedom, the parade was almost over, and we'd missed the entire panel we were trying to get to.

    For food: If you're wanting to eat somewhere with sitdown service, it's always a good idea to call for a reservation so you don't spend valuable con time waiting for a table. If you are wearing heavy makeup/costume pieces that obscure part of your face, it's also a good idea to ask them if they allow that. Some places won't for safety/security reasons. Not many disallow it, but a couple businesses do.

  8. I’ve heard rumors the board gaming area is moving this year from America’s Mart Floor 1, but don’t know where to yet. I should probably check the app. I also heard that gaming is opening Thursday this year instead of Friday so hooray! Can’t wait to meet new FoEs and see those we met last year! Just about a week to go!

  9. My biggest tip as a veteran con-goer is - DON'T make Dragon Con (or any of the Big Cons) your first con. Find a smaller, local con to go to first. It will help you learn the lingo, be a lot less stressful (and in my opinion a lot more fun). You're less likely to meet the media stars at these, but a lot more likely to get to hang out with SciFi writers and artists, which you totally should do!

    I've had lunch with my favorite author twice!

  10. If only I had a con to go to so I can use these tips… oh well. Guess I'm watching the cosplay vids on Epbot again this year!!! πŸ’– πŸŽ₯πŸ“ΉπŸ“ΈπŸ“·πŸ’– (let's see if those emojies work…)

  11. I like to wear regular (but nerd themed) clothes during the day, then get costumed at night, because day is too hot for me. I didn’t plan any elaborate cosplay this year because it’s my first year on panels /teaching workshops (please come - Costume track Electronics for Costumers and Microcontrollers). Looking forward to getting a good look at everyone else’s costuming! Mimosas everyday is my con crud remedy.

  12. Thank you so much for including my Samurai Hello Kitty! Keep a look out for me as either Stan Sakai's Usage Yojimbo or Concert Fantasy Louise Belcher from Bob's Burgers. I liked the fan installation video.

  13. I was thinking that was an amazing Spine cosplay until I read the caption...and no, I'm not jealous of that amazing shot of him at all. Nope. Not one bit.

  14. This is my third year in a row, and my 5th overall. The con has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 10 years, but the organizers really do an amazing job. A few things to note:

    * We were informed this year that the con is now OFFICIALLY a 5-day event, and there are a number of things to do and see on Thursday.
    * The mobile app has replaced the pocket program as your go-to source for all con info. They still make the pocket program, but you really can't beat the instant digital updates that the app provides. It has schedules, lists of guests, maps, and a host of other useful info.
    * There are more than a few local venues that offer discounts with your con membership, like the Aquarium and the Center for Puppetry Arts. I'm sure the website has a comprehensive list, so know that you get more for your con membership than just the con if you get the chance to take advantage of it.
    * The streaming membership is only $30.00. You guys, that is a GREAT deal. I'm thinking that I'm going to splurge for it this year - you have access for 3 months after the con to watch everything you want - including the Parade and the Masquerade.
    * The con will not allow you to line up for a panel until the previous panel starts, usually an hour beforehand. Jen's serious when she says you can't camp out in the panel locations. If you're really determined to see a super-popular guest, you need to block out the hour beforehand plus 15-30 minutes to get to the location & "hover." If people start a line early, the con staff WILL disperse it. Also, a lot of the big ballrooms have lines that start outside, down the street, and around the corner. So getting there early is a MUST to make sure you know where the line will form. And be ready to stand outside in the sun for a lot of that hour. This is mainly for the super-large panels though. The smaller stuff will not be a problem, and most of them won't even need a line.
    * For the 3rd year, I've been helping with the Artemis game room (come see us - Chastain C in the Westin!), and let me tell you, the Westin is a GREAT place to chill. Chastain level has seats and lots of open space to rest, restrooms that are well-maintained, and a food service area that has reasonable prices for a con. It also connects via skyway to America's Mart, where the vendor hall, gaming hall, and artist alley are. If you're looking for a place to set up a meeting spot/home base, I highly recommend the Westin - especially if you need a break from the crowd.
    * Gaming becomes a bigger deal every year, and when they added the America's Mart space, it got so much easier to participate. The con has a tabletop game library, where you can purchase for $10 a membership that lets you check out and play games throughout the con. There's a huge open floor of tables where people just camp out and break out a game. The Mart has a concession stand down there, and Chick-Fil-A usually has a kiosk as well, so you can plan your meal break down there, have tables to sit at, and maybe even relax and try a game you've never played.
    * In the gaming area, there are also LOTS of free-to-play arcade games, and some that are pay to play (there's some kind of mecha-droid thing that is super-popular but costs a good bit for just a few minutes).

    FINALLY - If you're a sci-fi geek and always wished you could be on the bridge of a starship, come play Artemis with us! Tickets are $10 for a 45ish-minute mission, and you get to man a station on the bridge (weapons, helm, science, communications) and work cooperatively to save your allies and try not to die. Our website has videos so you can see how it works, and we usually fill up fast - check it out! :) Play Artemis at DragonCon! Even if you don't want to play, we have audience seating, and the missions are often highly entertaining. :D

  15. Watch for one of the guys I graduated with - IG @wildkarde - he posted what cosplay he is taking...he is SO GOOD!

  16. What do you MEAN you have NO COSPLAY this year? Of course you do! Just wear one of your awesome outfits from previous years. Do not assume that everyone has seen them. Remember, attendance is in the THOUSANDS. Maybe you don't have something new, but I am sure you will look great. Hope to see you at the Friday meetup.

    -the Great Disco Newt

  17. The Reddit map isn't quite right (the food court and MARTA access is one block West [left] of where it's shown here), but the pedestrian bridges do connect to the hotels/venues they're shown connecting to. Also, the interstate access as presented (Andrew Young International Blvd) assumes you're coming from the South (which I realize you are, as do I). From the North, the most likely exit is Courtland Street.


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