Your First Dragon Con: Tips for the Weekend

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Atlanta panorama
View of Atlanta from Marriott, CC BY Payton Chung

You’re embarking on your first Dragon Con? You’ve picked quite a year! It’s the 30th anniversary, and there’s a lot going on. I know you don’t want to miss any of it, but I have bad news. You’re going to.

Unless you have a Time Turner (in which case, I’d like your supplier’s information; please PM), you can’t be everywhere at once. Which brings me to my first tip…

The 3-2-1 rule

Three hours of sleep, two meals, one shower, every day, no exceptions. That’s the basic rule of con life, for your health and everyone else’s sense of smell. This is Atlanta on Labor Day weekend. To the person I saw ask a few weeks ago on Facebook, “Is it hot?” here’s a rough estimation of walking the streets of Atlanta in the summer:

Fire gif
Source: http://giphy.com/gifs/loop-xXvIkTu08XQLC

Good news: There are habitrails!

Skyway, pedestrian bridge, whatever you’d like to call them, they’re habitrails. (Even moreso if you can get together a batch of Squirrel Girl cosplayers!) Three of the main host hotels–the Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton–are connected by these walkways, and the Marriott and Hyatt also connect to the Peachtree food court. You’ll miss a couple of hotels of programming and the vendor’s halls, but you could conceivably not see the sun for five days, which I know is appealing to some of you. The Dragon Con Wikia can offer you a map of the habitrails, but if you have time, you’re best off taking a quick walking tour as soon as you arrive to get oriented before the hordes (and Alliance) arrive. You can do it on your own, or see the link at the end of this post for a guided Newbie Walking Tour.

It’s 24-hour costume time.

The phrase is “constant cosplay.” A lot of first-timers ask one of two questions: “Will I feel weird in [costume] at [time]?” or “Will I feel weird not in a costume?” This all depends on you. I can’t imagine ever feeling out of place in costume at Dragon Con. Whether you feel lacking without one depends on your sense of jealousy when you see something awesome you wish you were wearing. But don’t worry–there are plenty of folks costumed as ordinary geeks, sys admins, Loot Crate subscribers, and the occasional Muggle.

Woohoo! That mean’s it’s naked time!

No. No, it is not! Dragon Con is still reasonably family friendly. I say “reasonably” because if you’re out with your five-year-old at 11 p.m. in the Pulse Bar at the Marriott, you’d better be prepared to explain a lot of things. There will be people wearing nothing more than the law requires. They will generally refrain from doing so until after 8 p.m., possibly 9 or 10. But if you’d like to avoid awkwardness all around, get your kids inside your room before then.

If you are the person excited to gallivant about in pasties, please hold off until the late hours. Some people did bring their kids.

But you don’t have to miss out, even from your room.

This year, for the first time, you can add streaming DragonConTV to your membership. I’ll be writing more in a separate post about how cool this is going to be, but in short, if you’re not in a host hotel, or if you’d like to keep Dragon Con rolling for another three months, you can do so in 720p for $10.

Don’t want to stay in your room? There’s a party for that.

For the rest of you, you didn’t pay all that money for a room to use it, did you? It’s only there to store your costume changes! If you’ve been to other cons, you’re probably accustomed to the programming ending at 7 or 8, or maybe even 10 p.m. That’s not how Dragon Con works. First of all, there’s scheduled programming very nearly around the clock. And even if there’s not, there’s probably a party somewhere. Don’t know anyone? That’s OK! DConParties.com is your new friend.

Nerdy New Year

As I mentioned, it’s Dragon Con’s 30th anniversary, which means there needs to be a party just for the occasion, and it’s the Nerdy New Year. Some people mark each year with some arbitrary month like January, but for the long-time con-goers, it’s all about the countdown to Labor Day. Ring in the new year with us on Thursday night, and you’ll start to see the calendar in a new way, too.

Find your tribe.

Possibly even if your tribe is The Tribe, but what I mean is that there are a lot of packs of like-minded nerds who aren’t on the schedule. For example, the Dragon Con Mers are planning group swims at the Sheraton while the Mass Effect cosplayers are having their own pool party in another hotel. There are weight loss groups, con-goers over 40, singles, singles over 40, a Deadpool conga line, Moulin Rouge fans, people dressing as John Barrowman in his little blue dress, and people who really like this drink in the Hyatt.

What I’m trying to convey is exactly what makes Dragon Con so amazing. Regardless of what you’re into, there is somebody–probably a lot of somebodies–happy to share that geeked-out squee with you.

Yeah, it’s a lot of people.

What’s “a lot”? They’re expecting more than 75,000 people this year. It’s hard to describe how many people that is, though, because it doesn’t compare to events of similar size. I’ve been to Denver Comic Con, which this year says they had 114,900 attendees. Dragon Con feels like ten times as many people because it’s a very different event. You’re not one of many flocking to a convention center from around town and leaving at the end of the day. This is truly what sets this con apart and makes it magical. A lot of small cons are also in the hotel where everyone is staying, but those rarely have 75,000 attendees. These host hotels are packed all day, every day. Here’s what it looks like on a light morning–I say “light” because carpet is still visible:

Dragon Con crowd
Courtesy Dragon Con Photography (c) 2016 Dragon Con, Inc

If you want a better idea, just look at this Google Image search for “dragon con crowd”.

I don’t mean for this to scare you. Just be prepared. It will take longer than you think to walk wherever it is you want to go.

Oh, speaking of carpet, these people have strong feelings about it.

You may notice in that image search, there are a lot of people dressed as the carpet from the official Dragon Con photo above. You’ll notice when you get there that you won’t actually find that carpet anywhere. It used to be in the Marriott. People developed strong attachments to this carpet. They made costumes and vehicles (large and small) inspired by it. Many of them bought rescued scraps of it (yes, they paid a lot of money for scraps of used hotel carpet) on eBay and are hoping to temporarily reassemble it.

If this is your first Dragon Con, this probably sounds completely insane. If this sounds like exactly the sort of wacky activity you wish you were involved in, you are clearly coming to the right place.

That’s not all.

Because I really can’t fit everything that you’ll want to know as a first-timer into a single post. I’m honestly not sure at this point that there’s anything to truly prepare you for what you’re about to experience. But I promise that you’ll love it. I guarantee there is something there for you. If you’d like help getting oriented, check out the Newbie Walking Tours on Thursday.

Finally, if you still have fears, concerns, or questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to point you at help. See you soon!