So you’ve made the decision to come to Dragon Con this year. Congratulations! You are about to embark on the most fun four to five days of your year! Dragon Con is that magical time during Labor Day weekend where nerds from all over the country (and the world!) descend upon a five block radius of downtown Atlanta and take over with amazing costumes and drunken revelry.
The stories you’ve heard from this con about slave Leias, kilt blowing, Doc Hammer being nearly undefeated at Apples to Apples, Steampunk Boba Fett, and a guy named Photognome? They’re all likely true. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
However, Dragon Con can be pretty overwhelming for a first timer. I know it was for me, and I started going when there were only three host hotels! I can’t imagine being a first timer when there is programming in five hotels and dealers and famous people in the America’s Mart. It’s a lot to take in! That’s what I’m here for though! This is your official Nerdophiles Dragon Con survival guide! Let’s begin with…
5-2-1 is a good rule for any convention, but for a con as large as Dragon Con, it is essential. What is 5-2-1, you ask? Well, it’s short for 5 hours of sleep, 2 meals a day, and 1 shower.
Now, I know people that can function on 3-2-1, but I know I need at least five to seven hours to function like a human being. The sleep can vary on your own personal limits and whether you’re going to be participating in Dragon Con After Dark, but do get some sleep! Sleep is what helps keep the con crud at bay.
Food and showers are practically non-negotiable at this con though. When you’re going from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m, going to bed, then doing it all over again the next day, you need to eat. Pack snacks to take with you, buy groceries for your room, and be sure to schedule time to sit down and eat. There are places to do so all around the con, even if it’s just in the Peachtree Center Food Court.
There’s also the con suite on the second floor in the Hyatt, which will have at least some sort of snack food at any given point of the con. What the room smells like at any given point of the con is up in the air though. Discretion is advised. Oh, and drink plenty of water too!
As for showers, that is pretty self-explanatory. There are 30,000+ people at this con. Many of them will be packed into a small space with you. You who has been moving around a lot and might be kind of sweaty from the Georgia humidity. Bathing at least once a day at this con will make everyone around you just a little bit happier as they wait in line for their John Barrowman autograph or make the trek across three hotels for the specialty nerdy drink from Caribou Coffee they’ve waited all year for.
Lines, Crowds, and Traffic! Oh My!
If you accept now that there are going to be a lot of people wherever you go, your con experience is going to get a lot easier. Lines for all things are long. Foot traffic creates moving masses that make it hard to get through if you’re in any sort of hurry and elevators are a claustrophobic nightmare after spending ten minutes waiting for one.
However, there are some basic rules for surviving the mass of people:
ONE: If you’re in the core hotels (Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton), there are multiple ways of getting to each hotel. There’s the skywalks, the Peachtree Center hamster tubes, and going outside and crossing the street. The skybridge gets a bit crowded during the day, so the more expedient route might be to cross the street if the weather is okay.
Just be wary of the stairs from the Hyatt pool down to the Marriott. If you’re taking the skybridge though, the Hyatt-Marriott one lets out into the Atrium level of the Marriott and you have to go down to the Marquis level two levels down in order to find the Marriot-Hilton skybridge. Just follow the blaring sound of the Cruxshadows to find that level. You can’t miss it.
TWO: Waiting on elevators is a way of life at Dragon Con – especially if you’re waiting on a specific direction. My suggestion is to take whatever elevator you can get and ride it out. However, please pay attention to anyone with special needs that either needs to get on or off. And if it’s just a couple of floors and you’re able to do it, take the stairs or an escalator if one is available.
THREE: If you need some place quiet for a bit and you don’t have a room, a lot of the lower levels of the Hyatt are pretty low key depending on what’s going on in them. Plus, if you go late at night, you might get involved with a game of “Are You a Werewolf?”
FOUR: Really excited about that DS9 panel that you’re willing to wait all day for it? Sorry buddy, you can’t do that. Dragon Con has a strict no camping policy when it comes to panels. Each ballroom is cleared out between panels and the line for the next panel begins as soon as the one before it starts.
Meaning if you really, REALLY want to get to that Torchwood panel, pay attention to when the Battlestar Galactica one starts. Also, when the panels clear out, a ton of people are trying to move out of a room, so don’t be in too much of a rush. You’re moving just as fast as the person in front of you.
FIVE: If you want to take a picture of a cosplayer (or someone wants to take a picture of you), get permission, then move out of the way of traffic. It’s a simple thing to do that will be less stressful on everyone around you.
The program is your friend.
Love the program.
Getting around Dragon Con your first year can be daunting. You have five hotels and an extra building just for dealers. There are plenty of things you’re going to want to do in the 24 hour period of any given day and the knowledge that you’re not going to get to do them all. I know that the programming changes are going to throw me off for the first day of con or so, and I’m in my seventh year.
But this process of finding your way around gets so much easier if you have the Pocket Program!
The Pocket Program has every schedule at a glance and maps for all the hotels. You can get it as a PDF or in person at the con at the information booths. If paper is too much for you, there is also the Dragon Con app for iOS and Android, which makes it a lot easier to browse the schedule by track and bookmark the panels you want to go to.
You can even share with friends! Though, if you use the app, you may want to make sure you have a charger on you at all times. For schedule changes, be sure to pick up or follow The Daily Dragon.
Of course, if you still have a hard time finding where you are, there are plenty of volunteers who will help you. Just look for the red lanyards!
If you see something, say something.
I’m going to level with you here. As great as Dragon Con can be, there has been a rise in issues with harassment of con attendees in the past few years. Some of it comes from the college football fans who come down to downtown Atlanta for pre-season games, but some of it has been internal as well.
If you have been harassed or see someone being harassed, speak up, find a volunteer or go to security ops. Dragon Con is cracking down on harassment this year, but we still need to work as a community. So again, if you see something, say something!
For more on this policy and other convention rules, read this page.
Even with all the crowds, Dragon Con is a whole lot of fun that cannot be described, only experienced. Since my first Dragon Con at the tender age of 16, going to this convention has changed my life in little and big ways. It’s something I wouldn’t change for the world and it’s something I want every nerd to experience. It’s the best kind of sensory overload. It’s not just a convention or a party, it’s a family reunion.
Welcome to Dragon Con! Hope you have an amazing time! So say we all!