So. You’ve thought and thought about it. You’ve gone to other Cons, and had a good time. Maybe some were big (ComicCon, WorldCon), maybe some were smaller (LibertyCon, Boskone). And now, you think, it’s time to tackle the wildest, weirdest one of them all: DragonCon.
Well. Here’s some practical advice, mixed with some reviews, of the latest rendition, from ground level as it were. Please bear in mind this is based on MY experience and are MY opinions; take that as you will.
Getting There: Driving. This might not be practical for you, and that’s just fine. It was a two-day, 22 hour, 1250-mile odyssey to get there for me. Unless you plan rest breaks, hotel stops, and have a co-driver, I would not recommend a multi-day drive. That being said – if you can, do it! You never know what you might see on the way! Sticking to highways isn’t as boring as you might think, and the overall cost in gasoline, well, that depends on your car. Just make sure that any hotels you book ahead are aware that you might arrive very late. In addition, you have the problem now of what to do with your car while you’re at the Con, and if your hotel provides free parking; on the plus side, you now have a car to get to OTHER things in Atlanta.
Alternative: Flying. Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is THE busiest airport on the planet. If you can’t find a flight, you haven’t looked hard enough. Obvious downsides include (but are not limited to): TSA; cost of the ticket; cost of the luggage (especially if you’re an intense cosplayer; have you ever tried to get an eight-foot replica spear through security??); changing planes at a stopover; making sure your luggage arrives; getting to your hotel; not having a car. On the plus side, well, you get there fairly quickly (if not necessarily exactly when you expect to arrive), you don’t have to worry about navigating, and now you can just enjoy the Con.
Staying There: There are three alternatives for 95% of the people (the other 5% know someone who lives in Atlanta or nearby and can crash there):
The Host Hotels are THE scene – the Westin, Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, and Sheraton – all within about four blocks in the heart of downtown Atlanta. ALL the tracks, ALL the panels, ALL the events – right inside the hotels. It makes for a GREAT sense of community, as 50,000+ people all come and take over the area. Downsides? Well, trying to get up, down, or around the hotels. Elevators can take, oh, hours to get. The crowds are insane in density (especially in the Hyatt and Marriott), and gods help you if you need to go against the flow. Saturday and Sunday are particularly bad, but NO day is especially good. And these hotels sell out FAST – as in, two of the five are currently sold out. Now. Oh, and the prices are strictly supply and demand – and brother, is there a lot of demand!
Overflow Hotels are those in the immediate area (such as the Melia, Holiday Inn Express, Hilton Garden, Ritz-Carlton, etc) which have a relationship with the Con. These are located close enough to walk easily to the Con, or you can catch a shuttle bus which runs a route around the area. Prices can range from good to exorbitant, but at least you’re in the area and can stagger home at 2am. No events take place in these hotels, but there are lots of people trying to get these rooms, too.
Other Hotels are just that. Any other hotel in the Atlanta area will be happy to take your money, though they might well charge you more than any other time of the year – after all, it IS Labor Day weekend. This year, for example, there was a major college football game at the Georgia Dome which pushed the number of available rooms way down. BUT, if you can find a hotel close to a MARTA station (the local underground system), then you have transportation from about 5am to 1am for a couple bucks a ride. And you can pay MUCH less for your hotel, this way. But you are away from the Con, you have to plan your departure, and you can’t miss it.
Registration: PRE-REGISTER! I cannot possibly emphasize this too much. Whatever it takes, purchase your membership as soon as possible (the price goes up roughly $10 per month until you get to the full price; as of this writing, the membership will cost you $75)! ‘But I’m not sure I’m going!’ you might say. Two points to this: First, spending the money and making the commitment makes it more likely you WILL go; and Second, worst case scenario there IS a way to permit someone else to pick up your membership pass (I won’t get into that here, as the Con officially frowns on it. But it CAN be done).
Then plan to spend time waiting in line to pick up your badge. Doesn’t matter when you arrive, Thursday, Friday, whenever. There WILL be a line (don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. Or go insane. One or the other). If it’s hot (and it probably will be), bring water and dress for the weather, because you’re going to be in it for a while. EXPECT a computer glitch or two, but bear with them. With few exceptions, the Con crew are volunteers, doing the very best they can. And once you get inside, you will move through the line pretty quickly.
Talk to your neighbors in the queue. Everyone is there for the same reason; have fun, make friends.
Planning: The Con will send you a guide as soon as they have their guests and the tracks lined up. This is NOT to say there won’t be changes; there will be. This is life, people; things happen. Sometimes good, sometimes not. But roll with it; you can’t change it.
There’s also an Android app, which allows you to view events by date or track or guest and program a schedule. DO THIS!! If not, you might find that you’ve found two events that are a half hour apart but in the two farthest hotels; or, worse still, you have to get from the Marriott to the Hyatt!
BE FLEXIBLE. Don’t lock yourself into the schedule you’ve planned; if you find something you want to do, DO IT! (Personal experience: I walked into Larry Niven’s panel about 20 minutes in, just because I had time to kill – and listened avidly as he dispensed advice based on HIS decades of experience! One piece, which HE got from Heinlein, for all you writers: Once you finish your book, go back and throw out the first hundred pages and redo it.) You never know what you’re going to run into, or when.
Okay, so what did I do there?
Friday. Let’s look back. Garrett Wong (director of the Trek Track) presenting George Takei in Sulu Solo. Very entertaining, listening to Mr.Takei tell tales of his years in the business, not just on Star Trek but other places.
Top Gear (part of the BritTrack). Well, disappointing is how I felt. I’m a fan, yes, but I had hoped for someone directly connected with the show. Instead, there were three other fans, of a more dedicated bent, expounding on the show. Not quite what I expected.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Great panel, with Garrett again presenting. His guests? Cirroc Lofton, Avery Brooks, and Terry Farrell (making her first appearance at DragonCon). Good discussion of life on and off the set of DS9, with Farrell visibly excited and practically bouncing in her enthusiasm.
Then a break, a tour of the Walk of Fame – which deserves more than a mention, so here goes. The Walk of Fame is a ballroom in the Marriott where the various guests from TV, movies, and authors all gather to schmooze with the fans, sign autographs, and take photos. Don’t feel like shelling out $40 for a signed picture? No problem; every one I approached (lessee, Peter Davison, Avery Brooks, Garrett Wong, Tamoh Peniket, Erin Gray, Malcolm McDowell, Richard Hatch, Herbert Jefferson, Edward James Olmos – there were more) was perfectly happy to shake hands and just chat for a minute or five.
And then, to wrap Friday, was a panel with Peter Davison. Again, a lively discussion and Q&A session, with the sense that yes, this is EXACTLY where he wanted to be on Friday night.
Side note: One aspect that D*Con excelled at was allowing questions from the audience directly to the panelists, which made for a much more engaging panel, instead of simply a talking head with a guest.
Saturday. BIG day. I had planned to do SIX panels (of an hour each, with a half-hour in between each) but ran out of steam by 5pm – so only made it to four. But the first was the big enchilada:
I hate to say it, as a long-time Trek fan though many of its incarnations – but while Shatner had some good things to say (notably: We, as humans, are all hard-wired to be curious, to wonder what is out there, and so we create fantasy and science fiction to try to answer that), too much of his presentation was about himself and his current projects (which I won’t mention here). In this case, there really should have been a presenter to channel his energy and enthusiasm. Still, I can now say I’ve seen him and heard him.
Then Lee Majors – possibly the most down-to-earth actor of the entire weekend.
While waiting for the next panel, I wandered into see Larry Niven – a Professional Writer if ever there was one!
Next, a panel of Battlestar Galactica – Edward James Olmos, Richard Hatch, and Kandyse McClure. VERY thoughtful (McClure’s thoughts on playing a character’s suicide was moving) and surprising (look up Olmos speaking to the UN regarding the use of the word ‘race’). Well-presented!
Sunday, well, that was tied up with friends visiting and a dinner with the Barflies. Then, Monday, was an early departure for the two-day drive back.
What, you thought I forgot?
Okay, okay. Cosplay is a MAJOR aspect of DragonCon – all genres, all tracks, all genders and species. People spend dozens of hours perfecting their acts – I can’t just say ‘costume’, because while they are wearing them, they BECOME that character – and then spend the weekend showing off.
I can’t do them justice in words. I really can’t. You’ll just have to look at the pictures.
So. To sum up:
DragonCon is hot, sweaty, tiring, demanding, has endless lines, can feel like a badly-run fire drill – and one of my favorite weekends of all time!
See you there next year!