I started attending Dragon Con in 2003 and haven’t missed a year since. Back then, it was able to be contained within only two host hotels and attendance was a mere 15,000 people. In the following years, Dragon Con has ballooned to five official convention hotels, additional exhibit space, and nearly 60,000 attendees. Though on the surface, the convention looks much different than when I first attended twelve years ago, the spirit of Dragon Con remains in tact.
I am by no means the authority on all things “Dcon” (it was first held in 1987), but I have learned quite a few things along the way. And despite ever-increasing attendance that can add to wait times and increased stress levels, I have been able to make each year as enjoyable as possible. There are many convention “survival guides” out there that list important steps such as staying hydrated, getting at least 5 hours of sleep, etc. Instead of making another such list, I instead would like to offer up some of the things I have learned in more than a decade of con-going to help make your Dragon Con experience better. Whether this will be your first or your fifth Dragon Con, here are a few things to consider to make the most of your Labor Day weekend.
Celebrities Are Only Part of the Appeal
When I first started coming to Dragon Con, I was totally enamored by the allure of hollywood stardom. I grew up in Mississippi with limited exposure to glitterati, so the fact that these people I had only seen in movies and on television were standing right in front of me – and I could shake their hand? I was, well, smitten. My first few cons were spent attending any and every panel packed with the most big-name guests, and I spent way more money than I should have grabbing autographs at $20 a pop. I had a great time those first few years, but I was missing out on so much more the con had to offer.
Dragon Con is great because it is more than just a Hollywood affair. At its essence, Dcon is a fan convention. There’s stuff to appeal to almost all areas of fandom, and programming at the convention mirrors all those nuances. There’s writing workshops, musical performances, scientific presentations, comedy shows, film screenings, fencing demonstrations, costuming galore, quiz shows, debates, gaming, and more. Don’t limit yourself to celebrity panels. Seek out the smaller, more intimate parts of the con. You’ll thank me later.
Time is Precious. Don’t Waste Most of it Sitting in Lines
Although the wait times for big panels at Dragon Con don’t compare to the mind-boggling lesson in patience seen at San Diego’s Comic Con, a large portion of your time could be wasted sitting in lines if you’re not careful. Fortunately, the Dcon planners have already identified what they expect to be the most popular programming and will broadcast those sessions through Dragon Con TV which can be viewed in the comfort of your hotel room. If you simply want to be in the presence of your sci-fi heroes, take a gander at them in the flesh at the walk of fame – or better yet, introduce yourself and shake their hand.
Additionally, it is important to note that many of the celebrity panels aren’t thoughtfully cultivated interviews such as those moderated by Chris Hardwick at Comic Con. In my experience, most panels are at least 90% audience Q & A, and as such, are can be hit or miss. Again, if seeing your favorite actors or actresses in the flesh is your bag, see if they will be attending any of the other smaller programming options such as quiz shows or industry panels. Those often have shorter wait times while still featuring the personalities of your favorite guest. If you’re able to attend the entire weekend, try to attend your favorite celebrity panel on Friday or Sunday when attendance is lower. Lastly, it is important to note that Dragon Con staff makes sure each ballroom is cleared out before allowing the next event’s audience inside, so even if the line for your event is long, you will most likely make it inside.
Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
If you had told me ten years ago that my most anticipated event at Dragon Con each year would be Friday night’s DCW wrestling event, I would have thought you were insane. To be clear, I am not a regular fan of wrestling. I don’t watch it on TV (at least since I was 11, that is). I don’t attend live events. However, each year, my friends and I sit down for two or three hours of some of the most insane fun at Dragon Con.
We wouldn’t have gotten to enjoy so many years of DCW fun had it not been for a pledge I made to myself to try something new each year. Like I mentioned above, early on, my Dcon days were spent attending celebrity panel after celebrity panel. Once I decided I wanted to get a bit more out of my Dragon Con experience, I intentionally set out to find something new and different each year. Over the years I have stepped outside my comfort zone and gradually embraced costuming, attended a burlesque show, enjoyed tabletop gaming with strangers, and even walked in the Dragon Con parade! If you’re looking through your program guide and wonder to yourself, “What’s that all about?” Don’t hesitate. Go check it out. It may just become your favorite part of the con.
Explore the Depths
If you only spend your time in the large ballrooms attending marquee panel after marquee panel, you’re missing out! Dragon Con has become so large, there are plenty of nooks and crannies in the event venues to check out. Be sure to head to the lower depths of the Hyatt for pick-up games of “Are You A Werewolf” late at night or for a steady stream of cult movies 24 hours a day. Also in the Hyatt, be sure to head up to the con suite to enjoy free snacks to replenish your con-going experience or sit back and relax while watching some never-before-seen films in the Dragon Con Film Fest in the Learning Center. If you’re in the Hilton, make sure you explore the basement to enjoy board gaming, battle your friends in MechCorps immersive mech warrior video game, or make a meaningful donation to Life South’s annual Dragon Con blood drive.
The Night Time is the Right Time
To rip off an ad slogan, what happens at Dragon Con stays at Dragon Con, particularly once the sun goes down. Let’s just say they don’t refer to Dcon as “Nerdi Gras” for nothing. If you are into costuming, then this is the time to show off your hard work. Particularly in the Marriott, people from all walks of life gather together to show off costumes, take pictures, and engage in general merriment. If you are coming to the con with kids, it may be time to put them to bed because as the night wears on the more adult costumes come out. If you want to take photos of cosplayers, remember to ask permission prior to snapping a picture.
Also, although there are mini-concerts throughout the day, late night is when the bands come out to play. Be sure to rest up at some point during the day because there are concerts going on in numerous hotels late into the evening. Even though you may not have heard of any of the bands scheduled to perform, be sure to give them a listen. You never know when you might find your new favorite band.
One of the greatest things about Dragon Con isn’t the programming, but the people. Everyone who attends the show does so out of love for one particular fandom or another. Whether you consider yourself a Browncoat, a Trekker, a Furry, or just an ordinary geek like the rest of us, there are other folks who are attending the convention with the exact same passion. Get to know some of your fellow con-goers by playing a board game with new friends down in the tabletop gaming area, speak to your line buddy in front of you waiting for the same panel, try your hand at speed dating, or attend one of the numerous late night parties. You’ll never know what new friends you’ll make if you don’t at least attempt to reach out.
With so much to see and so much to do at Dragon Con it can seem overwhelming at times. Highlight a few “must see” events over the course of the weekend, but otherwise be loose and see where the mood takes you. Each year at the con is different, but by following a few of the tips above, I hope this year is your best Dragon Con yet.
Follow me at @nocashvalue80 on twitter to keep up with me at #DragonCon! See you at the con!