Congratulations, you made it through registration. Badge and pocket program in hand, you are ready to partake in four days of Geek and Freak Spring Break, otherwise known as Dragon*Con. This quick guide will help you to make the best of your time at Dragon*Con and will cover a variety of helpful hints to make the next four days as pleasant for you as possible.
Alternate History to Dark Fantasy, Filking to Robotics, Science and Star Wars and X Track — and those are just a few of the panels. Throw in the late night parties, dances, Saturday morning parade, Walk of Fame, and the Dealer’s Room, it just seems like four days is not enough to do and see everything you want to.
Once the schedule goes up a week before the con, or you receive your pocket program upon picking up your badge, you will become overwhelmed with the desire to do everything. This is a common feeling, even amongst veterans. But veterans know, in order to have a good con experience, you need to pace yourself, and accept the reality that you will not be able to do everything.
Oh, you can try. But this will only lead to exhaustion and frustration. The best course of path is to take some time and sit down with the program schedule. Pick out one thing per day that you will not miss. Attend that event or panel and spend the rest of the day going with the flow. I guarantee you will not find yourself bored, but will find that you are in good spirits for the duration of the convention.
You are going to stand in line.
This is a convention of at least 40,000 people. Be it for a panel, food, or the restroom, you are going to be standing (or sitting) in line. In regards to panels, chose wisely. Just because your panel lets out at 2:30 and that other big panel you wanted to attend doesn’t start until 4:00, doesn’t mean you have an hour and a half to kill. Odds are good, depending on what the panel is about, that while you were walking into your 2:30 panel, people were gathering in line for the 4:00 panel already.
And this isn’t San Diego Comic Con, where you can camp out all day in one room to ensure you have a good seat for that 6:30 panel. At the end of each panel, the room is cleared out. (Sounds annoying, but remember, there is a reason why the worst thing you hear about Dragon*Con is our B.O., while SDCC’s involves someone getting stabbed in the eye over a seat.) Doesn’t matter if you are best friends with the sound guy or saved William Shatner’s life, that choice front row middle seat you scored for the 2:30 panel is now going to be up for grabs to whoever is waiting in the lobby for the 4:00 panel.
But don’t panic. Dragon*Con staff are not idiots. They are not going to stick the cast of Star Trek: Next Generation in a room meant to hold 40 and be surprised by the turnout. Generally, the big names are placed in the big rooms. I have been in a 2:30 panel in the Sheraton that let out at 4:00 and managed to score a pretty sweet spot in a 4:30 panel over in the Marriott. Sure, the line snaked around the building, twice, and yes, I was a little nervous about whether or not I would get in, but I did, thanks to the well thought out planning of the Dragon*Con staff. However, I would advise to stick to only one “must see” panel a day, especially since this is your first time.
Don’t want to stand in line? Well there are options. If you are staying in a con hotel, there is DCTV, Dragon*Con television. Those cameras in every conference room aren’t just there to capture footage for the blooper reel. They also film and show the bigger panels throughout the weekend on the in hotel televisions. In theory, if you don’t want to wait in a restroom, food, or panel line, all you need to do is camp out in a con hotel room for the duration of the con, and order room service. But where is the fun in that?
Yes, lines can be fun. Remember, odds are supremely high the people waiting in the same line as you are just as big, if not a bigger geek for whatever panel it is you are waiting for. Get to know your fellow geeks. Remember, a geek stranger is just a geek friend waiting to be made.
One of Us! One of Us!
Dragon*Con is not day-to-day life. Dragon*Con is a family reunion of 39,999 members of family that actually gets you. There is no costume so obscure, no fandom so bizarre to lead to raised eyebrows at Dragon*Con. In fact, if you manage to bring up something obscure and/or bizarre, you will be met with smiles and inquiries about more information into this fandom, for later investigation. Geeks love them some facts and fandoms. So relax, let your geek and freak flag fly high and proud. This is four days of your life when everyone understands you.
Lost? Confused? Don’t know what hotel you are standing in? Just ask. Dragon*Con goers are some of the friendliest and most helpful people you will meet. We have all been new to Dragon*Con at some point and we know how overwhelming it can be. But we want you to have a good time and remember it as a good time and the best way to achieve that is through friendliness. Besides, we get enough aggravation from the Muggle world, why would we spread the hate in our little slice of Geek and Freak Nirvana?
Tip your maid.
Whether you are staying in a con hotel or a Days Inn ten miles outside of town, don’t forget to tip the staff. From the bellhop that lugged your authentic Han Solo carbonite costume up five flights of stairs to the maids that make certain you have fresh towels, bring cash to tip them.
And with the maids, make certain to tip daily. Everyone’s schedule is different so the maid that brought you extra towels Thursday through Sunday might be different from the maid that brings you extra shampoo on Monday. Aren’t certain when your maid will show up? Leave a tip with a note stating it is for her or him. Don’t feel comfortable doing that? Contact your hotel service to find out who will be servicing your room during your stay and find out how to leave a tip for them that way.
Feeling frugal or just want to save the staff some time? Carry your own bags in and once you get into your room, place the do not disturb sign on the door handle for the weekend. And if you try the latter stunt, please try to leave the room in a state that doesn’t scream “Four days of non stop partying happened here.” Housecleaning is paid by the hour, not by the job.
Be prepared for zombies.
A good rule for any convention that involves walking is this: “Be prepared for Zombies.” I’m not talking about those poor souls stumbling back to the hotel after a hard night of partying while you are finishing breakfast. The real zombie apocalypse. In order to maintain maximum comfort, the best gear is what you would grab once you hear your neighbor moaning for brains. Hear me out on this.
One, are you wearing comfortable shoes? Are the shoes you wearing cute, or are they something you could see yourself wearing to outrun a zombie horde? If the latter, then good, your feet will thank you. Dragon*Con is spread across five hotels in downtown Atlanta. You are going to be doing a lot of walking. Wear comfortable walking shoes, be they Crocs, or running shoes, or hiking shoes. Whatever, as long as your feet are comfortable. Nothing brings down a con experience than developing blisters while waiting in line for your badge.
Two, do you have a bug-out bag? Bring a bag. Something you can comfortably carry that you will use for day to day purposes at the con. Snacks, camera, wallet, silver Sharpie for autographs, spare Yoda, deodorant, spare socks, book to read, knitting, water bottle, et cetera. At minimum, bring some snacks, water bottle, wallet and camera in the bag. I also tend to have a deck of Fluxx (see section about getting to know your fellow geeks in line) and maybe some geek related knitting. But that is just me. Everyone’s bug-out bag is unique to them and their needs. Basically whatever you need to get through the day and prevent you from having to make the trek back to your hotel room every time you need something small. “But, M.C.,” you say. “I am staying in the Marriott Marquis and will spend most of my time in panels there, I don’t need a bag.”
Hate to break it to you, but yes, you do need a bag. You’ll thank me later when you are thirsty and waiting in line and don’t want to spend $5 for a bottle of water, or when the woman who dresses as the giant Jayne hat is standing in the Hyatt chatting up Adam Baldwin and you realize your Dr. Girlfriend costume didn’t have pockets to hold a camera.
Be aware of your surroundings. All in all, the con-goers of Dragon*Con are a good group of geeks and freaks. But that doesn’t mean we are immune to ne’er do wells. Have a good time, but be aware of your surroundings, your personal belongings and anyone who might be acting suspicious, report them to the nearest security guard or police officer. (Claiming to love Star Wars while wearing a Mr. Spock costume is not suspicious. Unusual, yes, but not suspicious. )
Day Con vs. Night Con:
Did you know that Dragon*Con is actually two conventions? Well, not really, but it certainly feels that way. You have the day con which tends to be morning person and child friendly going from 10 in the morning until 8:30 at night. Then, once the sun sets, the night con begins, with panels that are a bit more adult, costumes that expose more skin, and parties and dances that last until the sun rises the next morning.
Remember that tip about not trying to do it all? There was a reason I brought that up. It’s because, unlike a lot of other conventions, Dragon*Con goes nonstop from the unofficial parties that welcome it in on Thursday afternoon through the end of ceremonies and unofficial “We Survived Another” parties that happen on Monday evening.
There is always something going on. So whether you are a morning person ready to talk shop about Runes and Tolkien or a Night Owl wandering from party to party with a 64-ounce flask, Dragon*Con has something for everyone.
Remember The Rule of 4/2/1.
If you remember nothing else, remember this, the rule of 4/2/1:
Four hours of sleep,
Two real meals, and
I know, there is a lot you want to see and do, but for your own sanity, follow this rule. Preferably get those four hours of sleep in one stretch, and make certain those two real meals don’t involve grabbing a hot dog from a hotel vendor. And above all, make certain that shower involves hot water and soap and not a bucket of Febreze!
Don’t be a dick.
Wesley Crusher, I mean, Wil Wheaton said it best: don’t be a dick. We are all geek and freak brothers and sisters here. We have to deal with enough dickery in the real world from non-geeks and non-freaks. Why treat each other poorly? If the person in front of you is not walking fast enough for your liking, if the Sailor Moon cosplayer is not thin enough or female enough to your liking, or if someone doesn’t smell like a fresh shower, what do you have to gain by being a dick to them? Nothing.
So please, don’t be a dick. No good comes from it.
Above all, “Don’t Panic!” Just breathe, put on some comfortable shoes, grab a bag and get ready to hang out with what will soon be 39,999 of your closest friends.