Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Countdown to Dragon*Con: Do's and Don't's

(Did I forget to mention that Countdown to Dragon*Con is all I'm doing this week? Yes? Well, here is your PSA. This week is all about Dragon*Con. And next week is all about post-Dragon*Con processing. I apologize to the people who don't care about this stuff, but such is life.)

(Also apparently I'm posting every day this week. Turns out I have too much to say about preparing for Dragon*Con!)

Countdown: 2 days

So you're going to Dragon*Con, and you are super excited, because well it's super exciting! But maybe it's your first time or maybe last time you didn't get to do everything you wanted to do because Dragon*Con is just crazy! Well, never fear. A Dragon*Con vet is here to help you! This will be my fifth Dragon*Con, and despite it's insanity, I love it. So let me be your guide.

So what can you expect? What should you do? Let's look at my handy-dandy list!
  • DO carry cash. Always. Sure with modern technology you can swipe a credit card on a cell phone, but when you're in the Vendors room in the basement of the Marriott there is very little cell phone reception. Not to mention that with dozens of dealers trying to do the exact same thing at the exact same time, the signals can get a little erratic. You may not be able to buy that limited edition Sailor Moon if you only brought a card. I also recommend, for those of us without unlimited pockets, taking out your entire budget in cash for the weekend and then refusing to use credit cards for anything. This way you limit how much money you spend by how much cash you have and you don't end up spending tons of money. Because with credit cards you can forget how much you've spent. 
  • DO pack snacks, if not entire meals. I don't care if you're local or flying in from Europe, you should bring snacks with you. When I lived in Atlanta, I packed my lunch everyday for Dragon*Con. Now that I'm coming from far away, my parents and I will be hitting up a grocery store Thursday night to stock our mini fridge. Food at the con is crazy. There is Peachtree Center with it's complete food court, but the lines are probably some of the worst lines at the entire con, especially at food times. The only other restaurants around are sit down. There will be little kiosks that sell like Papa John's Pizza in the hotels, but the prices are ridiculous. At some point you will be hungry, and you will want to eat. It's so much easier to eat a sandwich you packed while sitting in line then trying to get through the Checker's line.
  • DO pack extra clothes and sensible shoes, ESPECIALLY if you're cosplaying. Even if you're not cosplaying, after a spending Saturday morning outside watching the parade and then heading to the incredibly crowded dealer's room, you're going to be more than a little sweaty. You may find you want to change clothes at some point during the day. And if you're cosplaying, this is rachetted up a few extra knots. Depending on your schedule and wear you're staying, you may want to wear regular clothes to the parade and then switch into your costume after it. The parade is outside in Atlanta. It gets hot. And the extra sensible shoes are a must. Sure your steampunk costume calls for Victorian boots, but unless your feet are made of steel, at some point your feet are going to hurt so bad that you'll want to curl up in a corner and just die there. Trust me, I know. Bring sensible shoes.
  • DO plan your entire schedule before hand, BUT don't forget downtime or to be flexible. If you haven't looked through the Pocket Program for Dragon*Con yet, do it now. Dragon*Con has dozens of tracks, and trying to figure out what you're going to do at the con can be overwhelming. So look through program and figure out what you want to do. But remember things change. Sometimes panels get cancelled at the last minute and sometimes you realize you just really don't want to sit in the very back of the Atrium Ballroom and squint at the stage. So always plan secondary panels. With so many tracks, there is literally a panel you can be going to at any time, but don't forget that you'll need plenty of time to exploring the dealer's rooms. There are three, and they're huge. You'll want to explore all of it, and you'll need free time to do so. Also don't forget that schedules are made as guidelines, not rules. Feel free to change what you want to go to at the last minute.
  • DO bring a camera. Seriously, the cosplaying at Dragon*Con is intense. It's one of the better cons in America for cosplay. If you forget your camera, you will highly regret it. Also, don't be afraid to ask people to stop for a picture, but DON'T do it in highly trafficked crowded areas. You don't want to be the person responsible for creating a Dragon*Con traffic jam.
  • DO sit early for the parade. I don't think I can stress this enough. The parade is a big deal. People who don't buy tickets for Dragon*Con or go to any other event go to this, and since they're local (usually) they get there early. If you're not sitting on the curb by nine am, odds are you won't be able to sit on the curb. You need to claim your parade spot by nine am at the latest. 
  • DON'T ever wait longer than two hours for an event, EXCEPT for that one event you care about more than anything. I've never had trouble getting into a panel at Dragon*Con. Granted, sometimes I've had to sit in the very back. Also, technically at Dragon*Con, lines aren't allowed to form more than an hour and a half before an event (i.e. you can't form a line for an event until the event before it has started). I say "technically" because sometimes you can get little pre-lines starting. But generally, if you're there an hour and a half before, you'll get a good seat. However, I suggest looking at the schedule, and figuring out which event you'll never forgive yourself if you don't attend. And if it's something big, get there early. I waited 5 hours for Anne McCaffrey's signature, and I don't regret a single second of those five hours.
  • DO talk to total strangers. Part of the fun of a con is making friends, and it's really quite easy to do. Sitting in a line by yourself waiting for the Firefly panel? Strike up a conversation with the people around you, or join in on theirs. You are all in line for the same event, so odds are you all have a passion for Firefly. Talk about it. I've made tons of friends at cons: the college kids sitting behind me at the Adam Baldwin panel, the writer's I've met at the writer's track, some steampunkers at the Masquerade, and more. These are my con friends, people I touch base with every year at the con. It's fantastic. And that's the joy of a con. Everyone who is there cares just as much as you do about something fabulously geeky and accept you for who you are.
  • DO ask questions during panels, BUT make sure you know what your question is beforehand. I highly encourage asking questions at panels. I try to as much as possible. There is nothing like asking a question of one of your favorite stars/authors/casts and getting an awesome answer. But don't be that person who (A) gets up there and has no idea what they want to ask so rambles for a while, taking valuable time away from people who actually have questions, or (B) doesn't actually ask a question, just gushes. This time is for ASKING QUESTIONS. So...ask a question. The answers are usually awesome. Trust me.
  • DON'T PANIC when you get lost. It's going to happen. There will come a time when you realize you were supposed to go to the Roswell room in the Hyatt, not the Westin, you're already ten minutes late, and the Westin is a couple of blocks away from the Hyatt.  There might also come a time when you realize not every escalator in the Hyatt leads to the same place, or if you're really clever like me, there might come a time when you accidentally lock yourself in a stairwell that you apparently weren't supposed to use. Don't panic. Just remember, it's all for fun, you'll probably be able to get a seat in the back, and ask a stranger for help. (Or wait at a door of the stairwell and shriek at the next person who opens it, "DON'T CLOSE THE DOOR." As the case may be).
  • DO go outside and use the sidewalk instead of cutting through the hotels. Dragon*Con gets really really crowded. I remember a time when I literally could not go the direction I wanted to because the sea of people was so great, and I ended up on an escalator going the opposite direction then I wanted to. Trying to get through the Hyatt or the Marriott is like trying to swim against the tide. I don't recommend it. Cutting through never makes for a shorter amount of time. I know it's hot outside. I know that in some directions, the steep inclination is unappealing. But in the end, it will be faster. Trust me.
  • DO obey the laws of the line. Most of you are probably Americans, and so recognize that waiting in line is a sacred pastime.  Dragon*Con is usually really good about lines. The people who come are good about waiting and the staff are really good about making sure the line enters the room in the same order it was formed (i.e. first people in line are the first people in the building). If you are confused about where a line is, ask the volunteers. They are the keepers of the line. If you think you may  be waiting in the wrong place (aka an unrecognized line), ask. There is nothing worse than realizing you've been waiting two hours for nothing. Also, if you're saving places for other people, making sure the people around you in the line know. My general rule is you should never save a place for more than two people in line. Anything more than that is unfair, and even that I only use rarely. Usually, everyone in my party is in line, except when they have to go to the bathroom/grab food/remember they forget their purse in another room. If you're confused about what is fair and not fair, just ask yourself, would you be ok if the person in front of you in line was trying to pull this over on you? And talk to the people around you. Make sure they are aware of what's going and aren't going to be upset. The last thing you want is for someone to get upset and call a volunteer over to kick the rest of your party out of line for cutting. 
  • And just in general, DON'T PANIC or get upset. Remember, this is all for fun. And if it stops being fun, you're doing it wrong. Take a deep breath, wander through a dealer's room or the Walk of Fame, and above all, do not take it out on the volunteers. They are not paid to be there or to help you. They are doing it out of the kindness of their geeky little hearts. And do not freak out on the hotel staff. We are eternally grateful they allow Dragon*Con to come back every year, despite the insanity. 
Well, that's all I can think of right now! Above all, remember to  have fun. If you have any specific questions about Dragon*Con or cons in general, please ask in the comments. I'll be answering up to noon tomorrow, when I will be getting on an airplane for Dragon*Con. :)

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