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Dragon Con - Top 10 Tips For Newbies

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Dragon Con is a yearly fan convention that takes place in Downtown Atlanta, Georgia every year over the Labor Day Weekend. The event welcomes nearly 100,000 fans and boasts hundreds of guests spanning from television to movies to artists. It is driven by the fans and for the fans and is a wonderfully fun weekend. This was the first year I was able to attend and I learned a lot that I felt was worth passing along for any of you thinking of attending next year. So, here are my Top 10 tips for a Dragon Con newbie.

1. Be Prepared To Walk A Lot
Dragon Con takes place over a hilly roughly six block radius in Downtown Atlanta. There are 5 host hotels (Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Sheraton, and the Westin) where panels and other events take place. Three of the five hotels are connected by sky bridges, but the Sheraton is a block up the road and the Westin is several blocks up the road from the main grouping. Fair warning about the sky bridges, during the peak of the event they are slow going. It is in many cases easier to make your way to the street level and cross that way as it tends to be faster to get places that way.

2. Crowds
It’s a major fan convention where tens of thousands of people are crammed into a single area. Be prepared to encounter crowds every single place you go. Restaurants are crowded as well, so if you want to treat yourself to a nice dinner after a long day at the Con then be sure to plan an early dinner. After around 7 pm the lines at restaurants tend to get nearly as long as waiting in line for a panel.

3. Waiting In Line
Be prepared to wait in a lot of lines. For big panels, I would suggest arriving at least 2 hours early and even then you will likely find yourself waiting outside. I didn’t attend any events at the Westin, but I’ve been told that due to fire safety regulations they don’t allow you to start lining up until about a half hour to an hour before the event begins. Make sure to respect the rules at the individual host hotels as each is bound to their own set of fire regulations based on the setup of their ballrooms. Be aware that you will be waiting outside a lot and Atlanta humidity can be brutal. Bring cooling devices and lots of water to stay hydrated. But the best part is the people you meet in line. You are all there for the same thing and automatically share something in common. Get to know the people you’re in line with as they’ll help the time pass faster.

4. Walk Of Fame
This is where you can meet all of your favorite celebrity guests and get autographs and selfies or just have a fun conversation. Note that there aren’t really set schedules for when stars will be there. It is up to their discretion how much time they want to spend there and when. Usually, at a panel they’ll make mention of it, so be on the listen for that, but be aware that tons of other people heard the same announcement so they’ll all be flocking there too. This is one of the most consistently popular places at Dragon Con, so at times it can be hard to get in, but it is so worth it when you do. Be aware that most celebrities take cash only, however, some have started to make the transition to accepting credit cards. Bring plenty of cash, but make sure to take advantage of the ones that accept credit cards and save your cash for those that don’t. A little first timer hack, try to get into the Walk of Fame Thursday evening and early Friday to get as many autographs and selfies as you want. From my observations those two days were the easiest to get into the Walk of Fame and when stars had more time to spend with people individually. After that, it gets quite chaotic and busy. Most importantly, respect the guests. You may see them walking around on the streets, but please respect the fact that if they aren’t in the Walk of Fame or at a panel then they likely aren’t working, so don’t bug them. They are giving their time at the Walk of Fame, so go there are get to meet them in an appropriate environment where they are prepared for fan encounters and excited to meet you.

5. Scheduling
This may very well be the single most important tip I can give you. About a week prior to the event Dragon Con updates their mobile app with the full schedule of panels and photo ops and such. Take some time and go through everything and plan out your schedule. They have “Tracks” which are basically a grouping of events. The “X-Track” tends to be for the television and movie based stuff and they have tracks for fan discussion panels and a gaming track. There is something for everyone, but you need to look through and plan ahead to maximize your enjoyment of the event. That will take so much stress off of you when the weekend finally arrives. Just be sure to check the app often because everything is subject to change. This is also when you should try to plan and purchase any photo ops you want so that you can make sure to get them noted on your schedule. Also, for your first time don’t try to overdo it. The event can be overwhelming so use your first year to just get used to everything.

6. Accommodations/Food
As noted above, there are 5 main host hotels, but they fill up extremely fast once booking opens. Staying in the host hotels is extremely convenient because they are in the middle of everything. That same fact also means that the party never really stops at those hotels, so just be aware of that. If you don’t mind walking a bit then there are all sorts of great hotels that are on just the outskirt of the event. Those hotels also tend to be a tad cheaper and quieter at night. It’s really all about what you want your personal experience to be at the event. If you want to party all night then definitely try to get into one of the host hotels. If you want more of a laid back experience then look at the other hotels. To those that are local to the Atlanta area, I’d still recommend trying to stay in a hotel simply because getting in and out of Downtown on this weekend is a nightmare. You can also take MARTA if you have easy access to one of the stations. There are plenty of stops around the event, so that’s an option. But staying in the heart of the event makes for a wholly unique experience. Also, as is expected at any big event the food and drinks are expensive. You can get pizza every day in the main lobby of the Marriott, but it’s roughly $6 a slice. I saw some people bring coolers of their own food and have a mini-picnic on the lobby floor. They brought/made their own sandwiches in their hotel rooms and packed them up in coolers for the day. This might be something easier for those staying in the host hotels, but it’s a good hack that I wish I’d thought of myself. Just something else to think about when planning out where you want to stay.

7. Cosplay
You will find some of the most incredible cosplayers at this event. Dragon Con is a people watcher’s dream come true. It is clear that the cosplayers who attend Dragon Con put some serious time and effort into creating beautifully authentic costumes. Be respectful of these artists and don’t ambush them while they are eating or using the restroom. Other than that I noticed that they want to be stopped and have their stunning work appreciated. If you are a cosplayer, then I’d highly recommend you try to stay at one of the host hotels as it’ll make things so much easier for you.

8. Finding Your Way Around
Most conventions are confined to a convention center or a singular building, but that isn’t the case with Dragon Con. It is spread out across a roughly 6-block radius, so spend some time walking around getting familiar with the area. Come in early on the Thursday before and get situated and walk around getting familiar with where everything is. Knowing where panels are taking place will be a monumental help to you when you are fighting through the crowds to get places.

9. America’s Mart
This is where you can go to buy all of your fun souvenirs and original artwork. It is a four-story convention center where all the booths are set up where you can buy fun memorabilia for your favorite shows. There is an entire floor dedicated to artists and it is something I recommend you trying to fit into your schedule because the artists that come are insanely talented and have extremely reasonable prices on their artwork.

10. End of Con
The event goes through the weekend with events scheduled right through to early evening on Monday. It can be a test in patience trying to exit downtown along with the hundreds of thousands of other people who flooded the area for a multitude of events. If you have nothing you want to see on Monday then I’d recommend leaving on Sunday and if there is something you really want to see on Monday then you may want to consider extending your stay until Tuesday where it should be a little easier to get out of the city. But before you leave you may want to check out the Dragon Con booth at America's Mart where they pre-sale tickets for the next year at a deep discount. Also, be aware of something called “Con Crud”, which doesn’t seem like something that is real, but from my personal experience, I can confirm that it is definitely a real thing. After a weekend of heavy activity and interacting with thousands of people your body’s immune system isn’t at its peak and you are far more prone to getting sick afterward. Take lots of Vitamin C, drink lots of water, and try to fit in some time to rest during the event to try to help your body avoid this post-Con slump.

I can’t recommend Dragon Con highly enough. My first Dragon Con was an experience I won’t soon forget. It was magical and awe-inspiring and all around just amazing. If you are going for the first time I do recommend finding friends that have gone before to go with because it can all be a bit overwhelming. I luckily had the guidance of a friend that had been before otherwise, I’m not sure I would have been able to take it all in and enjoy it as much as I did. Go and have fun and enjoy the company of others that share your same excitement for these talented performers and artists. And, if you get a chance, you must catch a panel with Eddie McClintock he could give John Barrowman a run for his money on who enjoys Cons more and be prepared because you have extremely good odds of seeing his bare behind at least once if you attend any panel where he’s unsupervised. Flashing the audience is sort of his thing and it’s hilariously awesome. Little fun things like that will have you walking away from the event with awesome stories and amazing memories.

It is a whirlwind weekend with so much going on that it is a sensory overload. It is the best way to meet your favorite celebrities and interact with fellow fans that share your love and passion for these performers, creators, and shows. If you want to attend the 2019 Dragon Con then start your planning now. Be sure to follow the Dragon Con website along with their Twitter page for all the updates and announcements.

Hope to see you at Dragon Con 2019!

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