So, You’ve Never Been but You Wanna Go to Dragon Con

Posted: July 26, 2019 in Dragon Con, Holidays, Life

Cover

Okay, some of what I’m going to bring up may come across as a bit “Duh!” to many of you, but… I’ve been going to Dragon Con since 2006. In that time, I have seen and heard so many discussions where people talked about the things they missed or messed up and felt stupid for doing so. First, don’t feel stupid. Anything that’s a large undertaking requires at least a little research and/or a little bit of a learning curve. I’ve been going for 13 years. I still occasionally learn something from someone else that makes my preparation or my Dragon Con weekend easier and I know people who have been going for 20 to 30 years who can say the same thing. Additionally, it’s easy to make mistakes that seem embarrassingly obvious to you after you’ve discovered you made them, but a number of people- very smart and normally on top of everything people -who have gone to Dragon Con have made some of the very same mistakes I’ll be touching on.

Planning

Start Planning Now

Dragon Con is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts compared to… No, wait… That’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy describing space. However, it’s not far off as an accurate description of Dragon Con.

How accurate? While I mean “big” in more ways than just a physical description, it’s certainly physically bigger than many conventions you’ll attend. This video was put together by the crew of the ESO Network as something of a walking tour you can follow on YouTube before your trip. They also throw in some very useful tips for your time at con.

So, yeah, Dragon Con is big. But it’s also so big when it comes to attendance figures that, despite the number of hotels it’s in, the odds are you won’t get a room in a host hotel and you might not even get one in an official overflow hotel. You might get lucky, but you might not. Start looking at the options around downtown Atlanta now. Start tracking down hotels and start learning about the MARTA system and how it can be a big help to you to have a hotel on or near the MARTA line. I’ll touch on MARTA a little more in a bit.

Start setting aside money now. I’ve never been to any other convention (and damned near no other event) where you find yourself accidentally able to go over budget as easily as you can at Dragon Con. This is extremely true on your first few trips. It’s not just the variety of things you’ll find in the dealers’ areas and on merch tables that can eat into your budget. Dragon Con is a socializing convention. All throughout the convention, you’ll meet people you’ll want to hang out with. This will involve dinners around the area at various diners and restaurants as well as maybe a few bars and club events. Plus, well, drinks. Lots and lots of drinks. Maybe even a few of the nonalcoholic variety. Let’s not forget a big part of what some people go to con to get. You’ve also got to have some cash for the celebrities that charge for photos and autographs and maybe even for preordering one or more photo ops before con.

Also, an important thing to think about budgeting is your travel expenses during con. If you’re not in a host hotel or a close-by hotel, you will be paying for rides or paying huge for parking near the host hotels.

Build your budget up a little at a time all year long. Make a point of setting aside what you can, and always keep a reserve of money you don’t/can’t touch while at con. The gas to get home still costs money and it’ll be nice to not have to choose between that and eating or not getting behind on any bills.

Staying with planning, we’re going to move this to something that seems really basic on the face of it, but it’s tripped up a surprising number of people who have planned and booked their first Dragon Con weekend.

Check and Double Check to Ensure You Have the Right Hotel

So1

These are the five host hotels where the convention is actually held. From Thursday night to Monday afternoon, these hotels (and the AmericasMart buildings) are where almost all of the official Dragon Con action is to be found. There are also official Dragon Con overflow hotels where no actual panels or official events are held but where there are deals in place to make the stay in Atlanta a little more affordable for Dragon Con attendees than their regular rates.

If you’ve never been to Dragon Con, feel free to try to get a room at any of these hotels but don’t set your heart on official hotels or bust. The Dragon Con rate rooms go fast every year. In the years I’ve been going, I’ve never been in a host hotel or an overflow hotel. A lot of people haven’t. However, if you’re going to go after one of these hotels, make absolutely sure you’re going after the hotel you think you are.

Now, that sounds overly ridiculously obvious, I’m sure. Nevertheless, it’s easy to get the wrong hotel if you’re not familiar with Atlanta or Dragon Con. It’s a big city that hosts a lot of events. There are multiple hotels scattered throughout the city with the names Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, and Sheraton on them. I know of more than a few people who booked online- sometimes through deal package websites –and thought they scored a room in a host hotel only to find out they were in an overflow hotel or even in a hotel halfway across town.

Depending on why- such as a medical condition or recovering from a recent surgery -you want a host hotel or an overflow hotel very close to the host hotels, this can be more than just the annoyance it may be for some. This is doubly true if the hotel you find yourself in isn’t on or near the MARTA line. Atlanta streets are not set up to make it the most driver-friendly city I’ve ever visited and the parking decks close to the host hotels charge an arm and a leg as a daily rate. Not only will you increase your blood pressure as you invent entirely new swear words to cover your feelings of driving in Atlanta, but, worse, you’ll burn through a lot of your budgeted fun money parking your car each day at con.

Learn from the mistakes of others. Check and double-check before you book, especially when using some of the hotel deal websites.

If You Go Hotel Hunting on Your Own, Research the Hotel and Location

Atlanta is a bigger city than many. As such, it has within its city limits the same strange phenomenon that many large towns and cities have in theirs. This particular strange phenomenon would be the one where you can be pretty safe and secure walking around most hours of the day or night in most areas. However, if you go only a few blocks too far in a certain direction you’ve crossed some invisible line into a part of town where you’re looking at better than average chances of getting mugged. Almost every medium to large city I know of has these pockets of OMG in and around their downtown areas, and, usually, they’re not found too far off the safer, more regularly beaten path.

I personally know several people who booked their hotels through budget websites only to discover when talking to others after booking that they were getting such a great deal because they were in one of those odd pockets of OMG in the city. They weren’t even that far out from the convention host hotels. In one case, several people booked a room in a hotel with plans to split the roughly $140 a night bill. The hotel was in downtown, it was maybe a 10-minute trip to the host hotels, and, saving some parking fee money, it was a block or so away from a MARTA station. It was also sitting on just about the exact same city block where a little over a year earlier APD had capped off a week-long sting operation with 79 arrests for drug dealing and prostitution. But, weirdly, like in many cities, you only had to go a few blocks in three of the four cross street directions to be back in a nicer, safer part of town. You might pay up to $100 more per night, but you’d be cutting down the likelihood of facing certain risks.

I’m not the only person who can tell you a story like this. By all means, look for the best deals you can find. However, before you set everything up, do some research. Go to the various Atlanta news sites and search the name of the hotel or the street to see what pops up. Go to a Dragon Con social media page- and there is one devoted to finding hotel rooms –and make a post asking everyone if the hotel or the part of town is good to go or if you need to take a pass on that deal. Trust me, the vast majority of people on the Dragon Con pages will be way more interested in making sure a fellow attendee is safe than they will be in conning you out of a hotel room to try and get it themselves. Plus, the moderators who work these pages will in a heartbeat bust anybody who tries that.

We very much value looking out for our con family. Don’t worry about someone jumping your hotel room deal. Worry about ensuring you’re safe during con.

Big Plastic Storage Containers Can Be Wonderful

Hotel Luggage Cart

We all have nice luggage. It works great for holiday trips to see the family, small work trips, or any other travel that involves packing light. This is Dragon Con, a five day event, and, even more so than with many other conventions you go to, you’re not packing light to come to con and you’re certainly not leaving lighter than you arrived after trips to the dealer hall, hitting merch booths, and collecting t-shirts all weekend. The more people you’re traveling with the more this becomes true, especially if you’re cosplaying at con. Long story short, you’re going to have a pretty big load of stuff to get up to your room and then back to your car.

It’s at this point that you may discover that a lot of nice luggage sucks for things like this. Loading up a hotel luggage cart to fit everything in as few trips to the room and back as possible and still having stable loads can be like playing (and occasionally losing) the most annoying game of Tetris or Jenga you’ve ever played. Soft bags and/or hard luggage don’t always mix and match well when stacking, especially when loose items in them roll and shift and cause things to slide.

If you can fit bags and smaller hard luggage items into larger hard plastic cases along with whatever miscellaneous loose items you have you can basically fill a hotel luggage cart with everything you have in the form of a solid, stable wall. Tip: The stable wall part relies on you getting the types of containers that are designed to stack with some level of stability and not the smooth topped ones.

Depending on Where You’re Staying, MARTA Can Be a Fantastic Travel Option

Take a look at this website.

The MARTA system is fairly easy to use and extremely inexpensive compared to some other ways to travel around town and/or to park your car near the host hotels every day. One really nice thing about the MARTA is that one of the stops is right under Dragon Con with the two exits from that particular station coming up at the front door of the Peachtree Center Food Court and across the street from it.

MARTA

If you don’t feel you have to be in a host hotel or within a few minutes’ walk of the host hotels for any of a variety of reasons, you can help your budget by looking at other hotels a little further away from the host hotels. If you do this, use the MARTA line map as something of a guide. Try to find a hotel near the MARTA stops or, if you find yourself further away from the line than you want to walk, see if any of the nearest MARTA stations have a secure parking lot. Yes, you can park your cars at some MARTA locations each day and it will cost you nowhere close to what most of the parking decks around downtown will.

Listen and Learn & Join and Learn

Listen & Learn

Do you see those two show logos? I share and promote those two podcasts so much that some people think they must be paying me. They’re not. I do it for two reasons. First, they’re both entertaining. Second, they’re both informative. When it comes to getting ready for Dragon Con, they are, as a matter of fact, the two most informative podcasts you’ll find.

The ESO Dragon Con Khan Report has a smaller number of episodes released throughout the entire year while 50 Days of Dragon Con starts 50 days out from the first day of Dragon Con and comes out almost daily. Because of the differing ways in how these two shows approach covering Dragon Con and helping people prepare for it, they make a perfect pairing to start helping you learn about the convention and helping you with preparation.

The ESO Dragon Con Khan Report will start up as early as January and run on a not quite monthly schedule until the recap and wrap-up show a month after con. In the shows running up to con, they will cover updates on events, guests, and various activities as well as having people on who discuss a variety of topics and tips geared towards helping newbies and old pros alike to have a better experience at Dragon Con.

The most important thing you need to know about this show is this. Everyone involved in this show, from the regular hosts to the guests, do this because they absolutely love Dragon Con. That doesn’t mean they sugarcoat anything about the convention. The point of the show is giving the listener the best advice they can deliver. They do not avoid topics when the matters addressed are about an issue or a problem in or around con or shy away from discussing things at con that, in their opinion, could be done better by the convention. They have always and will always shoot straight with the listeners.

50 Days of Dragon Con is cohosted by a convention regular and a Dragon Con track director. Despite that, the podcast is not, as they will tell you, an official Dragon Con podcast. However, since many of their friends are other track directors, they do get almost every track director on the show every year on top of other guests who provide valuable tips for getting the most out of con.

You will get some crossover on guests and advice between these two podcasts, but only a little. The advantage to listening to the Dragon Con Khan Report is the early start date bringing you updates, advice, and general information throughout the entire year. The advantage to listening to 50 Days of Dragon Con is you will get the absolute most up to the minute updates and information on the con in general as well as on the activities being set up for the various tracks. Together, these two podcasts will tell you almost everything you need to know about getting ready for con and making the best out of it while you’re there.

Even if you’re not going this year, go into their archives and start listening to some of the shows for this year’s convention. Many of the general convention tips will still apply to getting ready for next year’s con and it will give you a better idea what you’re in for.

Throughout the rest of the year, go to social media and join these groups or follow these pages. You will find a great deal of information on these pages and in these groups, and anything you can’t find can be asked there with some assurance of getting a good answer in very short order.

Here, this is the Dragon Con Newbies page. These are the Dragon Con Rooms and Dragon Con Hotel Connection groups. Start with these. After that, move on to the recommended groups and pages you are told about there.

Other than that? Well, there’s the general survival information. Some of it may seem so common sense as to come across as funny that someone is actually telling you to do these things. However, you’ll find that Dragon Con does odd things to you when it comes to the passage of time while at con and your ability to do things you normally don’t think twice about but might have to remind yourself to make time for at con. 

#1 – Get the App

Watch the Dragon Con website and follow their social media. They will announce when the app is available and they will tell you how to get it. The app is a great tool.

You can create your personal schedule on the app, it covers the entire schedule of events, it covers the daily updates and schedule changes, and it has a very handy search function. Learn how to use it this year so you’re not learning at con next year.

#2 – Hydrate

Yeah, I know. It sounds like a basic no-brainer. It’s still high on the lists of advice that many people give to first-time convention attendees. There’s a very good reason for that.

You’re going to be enjoying Dragon Con with somewhere around 85,000 other people. Even as spread as the convention footprint is, that’s a lot of bodies in enclosed spaces generating a lot of heat for the hotel AC to try to fight. In addition, you’re in Hotlanta. It lives up to that name and then some. Plus, Dragon Con can mess with your senses a little bit. You might not notice that you’ve been sweating quite as much as you actually have been or that you haven’t been drinking as much as you should be until the thirst hits you hard.

Drink. Make a point of doing it even when you don’t think you need to. Carry a water bottle with you and make it a point to take a sip on a regular basis. You will feel much better for it.

#3 – Eat

At Dragon Con, it’s easy to get so caught up in the running and doing so much that what feels like an hour has actually been six or seven hours. Other people will tell you the same thing. It’s easy to lose track of time trying to keep up with all there is to see and do.

Pack some snacks to take with you. By snacks, I don’t mean the stuff from the average vending machine. Try to avoid the pure junk food snacks and even a lot of the popular meal/protein bars that are really just so much junk with a sweet flavoring and a chocolate coating. I’m an almond person, so I’ll usually have some of those squirreled away in a Ziploc bag. Things like that can help a lot.

Nevertheless, those are still just snacks. You need food. Make time for breakfast. It can be a late breakfast, but eat a real breakfast early in your day. After that? Well, you’re not exactly on a six-week vacation here. You can skimp a bit during the con without too many ill effects, but try to get in at least one other full meal each day of con.

The layout of Dragon Con itself makes that easy to do. You have more than a few places in the convention hotels where you can grab food and, of course, there’s the Peachtree Center Food Court. Bonus – The food court is physically connected to both the Hyatt and the Marriott by two sky bridges. Moreover, there are many places to eat all around the area.  

Unless you’re a one-fandom person, you will be walking a lot and no matter what you will be spending a fair chunk of time in lines. This will be a substantial part of your Dragon Con experience. It will kick your butt if you let your blood sugar get lower than the sublevel parking decks under the hotels.

#4 – Pace Yourself

My first Dragon Con was still in the three-hotel version of Dragon*Con and it was about 60,000 attendees less populated than it is these days. You could still blow yourself out by Day #2 back then if you weren’t careful. Certainly, others and I have done so in some years since then.

Dragon Con is five days and packs in over 3,500 hours of programming. That’s not counting other events before, during, and after con that aren’t official Dragon Con events. The simple fact of Dragon Con is there is no way to see and do everything you’ll want to see and do. Resist the urge to try. It’s a cliché to say it, but it’s absolutely true here. Dragon Con is a marathon and not a sprint.

Look at the schedule. Sit down and find the highlights that you absolutely feel like you have to see, but spread them out a bit. Find a few things that you think are interesting to fill in some of the gap time between your highlights. Have alternates ready for the things in case you can’t get into the panel or event you most want to see. Also important? Leave yourself some downtime.

By downtime in this discussion, I mean giving yourself the time to leisurely explore other parts of the convention. Yeah, you know what you want to see, but you have no idea what you’ll come across at Dragon Con you’ve never heard of before but will become something you’ll want to see or do. There’s not a single Dragon Con I’ve been to where I did not discover something I’d never heard of that became a new favorite.

Things, be they panels, performers, or other activities, aren’t the only reason to have a little downtime with which to explore. There are the other attendees at Dragon Con. Give yourself the time to meet people and make new friends. Some of the other attendees showing up at Dragon Con can sometimes be the best part of Dragon Con. Give yourself the time to meet new people and make new friends along with finding new favorite things.

#5 – Personal Hygiene

Shower once a day. Really. Shower. It’s necessary. You will be sweating more than you think you are and body sprays won’t cut it. Everyone will thank you for it. In addition, hey, if you happen to be single you might end up meeting someone who’ll likely find you much more attractive if you smell a little less on the ripe side.

Wash your hands. Wash your hands when you go to the bathroom. Wash your hands before you eat. Bring a little travel hand sanitizer for times in between. You needn’t act germ-phobic, but this will go a long way in helping to reduce the odds of you coming home with con crud.

Oh, and shower once a day. Yes, I already said that. However, you will learn how easy it is to spot the people at con who don’t. Don’t be one of those people. Schedule yourself time to get a shower in during the day.

See you at Dragon Con.

 

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Comments
  1. Mike Faber says:

    Great Job Sir, very informative and hope it helps with folks coming to the con, and yes we are now officially monthly January through September. Will not slip at all this season!!! Enjoy!

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