Tips and Tricks for a Dragon*Con n00b

Oh, man, where do I begin!? Explaining my first time at Dragon*Con is going to be a challenge. The easiest thing I can tell you is: it is a totally effin’ blast, easily some of the best fun I’ve ever had at a con and you should start planning your trip to Dragon*Con 2012 right now. But that’s not me sharing what I learned from my experience, which is what you want, right?

So here we go.

Let’s begin with the two images in my header above. That’s me with Clint Eastwood’s character, Blondie from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and a velociraptor. Yup, these were two of the fabulous costumes wandering around Dragon*Con. Could they be more random and awesome? Yeah, probably, and that’s what makes D*C so fantastic. Chances are, if you like it someone else at D*C does too.

My boyfriend and I began our intrepid journey late Thursday evening, arriving in Atlanta, around 6am. Which let me tell you, is waaaaay to frickin’ early! Especially after an all night drive. So tip number one, if your budget allows arrive Thursday not Friday, the first day of the con. Your body will love you for it come Friday night. Thankfully, we were able to check into our hotel early and catch a few Zzz’s before heading off to the convention, so thanks hotel staff of the Atlanta Downtown Marriot!

When people ask where D*C is held, most answer Atlanta. Well, where in Atlanta? Basically, a good sized chunk of downtown Atlanta is taken over by the huge influx of nerds. Seriously, you couldn’t swing a dead tauntaun without hitting a fellow nerd. D*C   has five host hotels: Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Atlanta Marriot Marquis, Hilton Atlanta, Sheraton Atlanta Hotel and Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel. In these hotels is a collection of panels, dealer’s rooms, artist’s alley, a walk of fame and plenty of bars or vendors supplying alcohol. Oh, yeah, did I mention a big part of the convention revolves around drinking. This doesn’t mean if you’re not a drunkard you won’t have a blast, but the libations will be flowing everywhere!

So your mental image thus far should be this, somewhere around 30, 000+ partially drunken nerds shambling all over a three by three city block area of downtown Atlanta. Now take about two thirds of those nerds and put them in costumes ranging from the highly impressive to pretty damn funny. Add in a couple of highly impressive damn funny costumes, too ’cause there are those crossovers.

That’s your atmosphere, and it’s awesome. Coming home from D*C has been a weird culture shock when I realize not everyone I run into is going to get my oh-so-funny Doctor Who pun.

But what do we do at D*C when we’re not admiring beautiful cosplay and getting progressively drunker? I can only answer to what I was doing, because as I’ve learned since the con ended, there was a lot of D*C I missed. The whole event is just too large to see and do everything. That should be lesson number two of D*C, accept you won’t get to see and do everything you want. But rather, revel in the amazing stuff you do get to see and do. In one weekend you’ll find it tiring to attempt to see every Tom Felton, The Walking Dead, The Guild, William Shatner, The Stars of Star Wars, Eureka, Sylvestory McCoy, Star Trek: TNG and Venture Bros. panel you want to. I came close, by the way, but some things had to be skipped.

Most of my daytime activities revolved around going to panels. There were a bunch I wanted to see, sometimes they were irritatingly scheduled at the same time I wanted to do something else, but most of these panels had multiple times over the weekend. Wanting to see a lot of these panels also required us to stand in line…a lot. But it wasn’t an entirely unpleasant experience. All lines could only be formed an hour before the panel’s start time, so no having to waste half your day just trying to catch a glimpse of Wil Wheaton. Also, D*C smartly clears out every room after every panel. Hooray! No violent altercations involving someone almost losing an eye to a pencil. So yes, there are lines but they’re not unbearable and it’s a chance to mingle with your fellow con-goers.

And don’t think just because you went to the Eureka panel at 10:30 you won’t be able to get in to the William Shatner panel at 1:00 in the same room. The D*C organizers are some smart cookies and they’ve been running this convention for 25 years! They know they’re way around scheduling a con. These panel rooms are massive, and even after joining the Shatner line which went out the building, around the block then had to weave back up the block because it was colliding with Christopher Lloyd’s line, we still got in the room with rows and rows of seats behind us.

Here’s where I want to give an uber-awesome shout out to spectacular volunteers who made D*C happen. From line control to directing wayward fans (like us, this place was huge, remember?) they were on the ball. I’m sure some attendees might disagree with me but I never had a single bad or unhelpful interaction with a staff member. Unlike some other cons I could mention. And while I’m at, let’s give a shout out as well to the super-duper amazing hotel staffs! They put up with a lot of shit. All those drunken, partying-hard nerds, well, someone of them were in head to toe body paint. Can you imagine the messes they had to clean up? Rule number three should be, be  nicer to the hotel staff than you are to your 80 year old grandmother, they deserve your respect and gratitude for their efforts to make D*C fantastic.

As you’re reading what I’ve written here you might have noticed a few big names being thrown around. Shatner. Lloyd. Felton. McCoy. The cast of the The Guild. The cast of Eureka. The cast of The Walking Dead. Yes, celebrities come to D*C, but more often than not they’re coming to have a great time and visit with their fans, and to geek out a little themselves. The best way I can think to describe fan-celebrity interaction at D*C is by referring you to the current season of The Guild. I know, this sounds weird but bear with me.

At the moment the Knights of Good are at a gaming convention and these episodes have been littered with celebrity cameos, Brent Spiner, Nathan Fillion, Neil Gaiman, to name a few. They’re only a screen for a moment, some a little longer than others, but it’s a fleeting interaction between the characters on the show and these mega-nerd celebs. That’s how it’ll be at D*C. Chances are, you’ll have at least one encounter with someone you consider famous. Now, it might only happen in the Walk of Fame (which is where guests will sign autographs, take pictures, or just chat if you’d like and they have the time) or you could end up hanging out at late-night karaoke with a few cast members of The Guild and Eureka. Either way, they’re cool experiences you can brag to your friends about once you’re home.

Of course, the key element to all these famous encounters is to not be a dick. Yup, let’s take a page right out of Wil Wheaton’s handbook (Someone who, funny enough, was my first celebrity encounter at the con. Ran into him outside a bathroom after a Guild panel. Told him he was great, he said thanks and thanked me for attending. I told him, “No, thank you, for being here.” It was swell.) and make lesson four simply, don’t be a dick. Think about, the celebrities are taking time out of their busy schedule to come and rub elbows with us peons, the least we can do is act appreciative. If you see a celeb hanging around the convention, don’t mob them. If they don’t seem busy or involved you can ask them for a picture or a quick chat, but if they say they can’t don’t go off on them telling them they’re entitled assholes. You are more than welcome to visit them in the aforementioned Walk of Fame and pay for a photo. Which would be nice since this is work for them, and it’s nice to be compensated for your work, wouldn’t you agree?

Finally, the number one thing you must remember about D*C is having fun. If you’re somewhere, doing something and you’re not having a frickin’ blast, you’re Dragon*Con-ing wrong. There are cool people to hang out with, sometimes famous people. There is cool shit to see and buy, hell I barely even made it in the dealer’s room and still ended up spending too much money. Damn those Monday afternoon sales. Basically, come with an open mind, plans that are not set in stone, oh, and plenty of cash. A lot of vendors only accept cash and it’s the only way to pay for that Felicia Day autograph you’ve been pining over. You’ll want to bring that cash to the convention with you, the ATMs nearby tend to run out before the weekend is over.

In conclusion, here are my tips for one rad Dragon*Con:

1. Arrive early. You’ll want to get the lay of the terrain before you need to rush off to that early morning panel. Believe me, you don’t want to be in the wrong building at the right time. Also consider staying an extra day before you head home. Atlanta’s nice, they say, and this way you might avoid a lot post-con traffic.

2. It is impossible to do everything you want to do. I mean, maybe, but then I’m going to question why you’re at D*C to begin with. If you look at the programming schedule and only find two things that interest you, you’re in the wrong place. A lot of panels, signings, concerts, quiz shows, and contests that I wanted to be at, were at the same time. Suck it up, more often than not panels and signings have multiple times. For the concerts, contests and the like, well, you’re gonna have to pick one.

3. Be super, super, super, super, super, super, suuuuuuuuuper nice to the D*C volunteers and hotel staffs. Those volunteers don’t like standing out in the gross, misty rain anymore than you do. And believe me, the hotel staff don’t care what kind of glue you needed to finally get your fairy wings to not fall apart, they’d just rather it not be clogging the drain or permanently adhering a towel to the mirror. Also, tip if you can. If you can’t afford to tip don’t have them clean your room everyday, put up the privacy sign and then don’t leave your room in complete shambles upon check out.

4. Don’t be a dick. It’s so easy, but you’d be surprised how many people will forget this rule. This is sort of related to the above rule, but now we’re applying it on a grander scale. Don’t be a dick to celebrities and other convention guests. Don’t be a dick to vendors. Don’t be a dick to your fellow convention goers. Be polite, and also realize innocent mistakes happen, don’t just fly off the handle and accuse someone of line-jumping because they stopped to chat with a friend.

All right, those are my handy tips for those attending Dragon*Con for the first time. I’m sure they’re are important hints I’ve left off this list, lessons I didn’t learn (like, oh yeah, vitamins and hand sanitizer are your best friends) so please, D*C veterans, leave more helpful tips in the comments.

See you all in 357 days and counting!

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