I was stumbling back to the Space Track in the Hilton Hotel, where my husband was part of the track staff, around midnight. I had attended the Mighty Fine Shindig, a Firefly themed party at the Weston. Suddenly I noticed that the man in front of me with the green face was shuffling even more than I was. Looking around, I realized I was in the midst of a line of people dressed as zombies. I wondered if they even realized I wasn’t one of their crew.
These moments happen at DragonCon. Everywhere you look, there are ordinary people of all ages and sizes, from babes in arms to senior citizens and every age in between, mixed in with people with wings, people with animal ears and tails, Victorian ladies and gentlemen, anime characters, Storm Troopers, and robots. It’s a wild extravaganza, and the thing that holds it all together is that practically everyone, no matter how tired, is having fun.
People come to DragonCon for many reasons. Some, like my husband and me, have been coming for many years and many, also like us, usually volunteer as staff. DragonCon is the largest volunteer-run convention of its kind, with only a handful of paid board members and everyone else doing it because we love the Con.
Others are obviously coming for the very first time, since the estimated attendee count this year was 55,000, around 10,000 more than last year.
Everything is different at DragonCon. For four days, time operates differently, too. Things like sleep and meal times happen whenever you can find time for them. It’s good to try to get at least six hours of sleep, and those of us who have been around try to do that. But I think the girl we saw sleeping near the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Literature Track in the basement of the Hilton, curled up next to a post in the middle of the passageway with people moving all around her, probably forgot to sleep until she just dropped.
For me, food was an issue this year because I wanted to see so many panels and I didn’t want to take time to go to the Con Suite, where director Joe Campbell and his staff were doing a great job of providing real free food for Con-goers. When I did eat, I ate about two meals a day there, including breakfast. We tried to get one substantial meal at the food court in the mall attached to the Hyatt by a walkway, and managed every day except Monday, when I didn’t actually eat anything but protein bars until dinner time after the Con was over. I suggest bringing food with you in a backpack so you don’t have to stop, although I admit I never take that advice myself.
What you do at DragonCon depends on your taste. Some people dress up, hang out, and party for the entire four days. Some attend panels on everything from science and space to the paranormal and every fandom you can imagine, including British Media, The Whedon Universe, Trek Track, Alternate History (Steampunk), and many, many more.
Personally, I spend a lot of time in Sci-Fi & Fantasy Literature, Science and Space, and Paranormal. (Yes, I like Science and the Paranormal and don’t find that a conflict.)
This year, I also hit the Writer’s Track a lot. That is because after all these years I’ve seen a lot of celebrities and I prefer, for the most part, to see my favorite authors and to learn new things. The only parties I hit now are official ones, like the aforementioned Shindig where my longtime friend Mark Gunn entertained, and The Mechanical Masquerade, a steampunk extravaganza staged by the Alternate History track that had excellent entertainment from my favorite new group of the year, This Way to the Egress.
Who else did I see? Well, I saw both a real astronaut, Captain William Shepherd, the first American ISS commander, and Stan Friedman, a foremost expert on UFOs. I saw my favorite writer, Mercedes Lackey, and other authors like Robert Salvatore, Sherrilyn Kenyon, John Ringo, and Kevin J. Anderson. I saw Steve Gonsalves and Dave Tango of T.A.P.S (Ghost Hunters), as I have many times before. As for celebrities, I did catch Richard Dean Anderson (my husband and I are both big MacGyver fans) and Felicia Day and John Barrowman.
Of course, I also saw the DragonCon parade Saturday morning, Atlanta’s largest parade of all, and there I saw other celebrities, such as Dean Cain and Lou Ferrigno, along with fantastic vehicles and hundreds of costumed marchers. I took over 200 photos of the parade alone!
There were 250 guests, so I’m sure everyone saw someone they had been dying to meet.
Celebs at DragonCon generally enjoy themselves too. Many times, they attend the late-night parties their tracks throw, and they can be seen walking around taking photos of costumes and having a fine time. Nearly every celebrity I’ve ever met at DragonCon over these many years has been very nice.
I have to say a word about Disability Services. This is only the second time I have needed to get around with a cane and not been able to stand in long lines. The track directors and the staff of Disability Services were wonderful. All I did was go to the Disability Services area in registration, explain my situation and get a sticker on my badge, and I never had to stand in line. There were always chairs at all main events for disabled people to sit while waiting, and we got priority seating. So if you have a disability, you may need to do some advance planning about getting around, but you will find it much easier to attend the Con than you might think.
About toddlers and children: It is fine to bring them during the day. There is programming for the young in the Kaleidoscope and Young Adult Literature tracks, and Science, Space, and other tracks also have events specifically for them. However, at night, it is generally best to take them home, although I did see one very young girl, probably around three years old, at the Mighty Fine Shindig, and she was having a great time. The Westin was not as crowded, and I guess her parents felt it was all right to give her a late night for DragonCon.
The five hotels where DragonCon is held are the Hilton, the Sheraton, the Hyatt, the Marriott, and the Westin. The Westin and the Sheraton tend to be much easier to navigate. Avoid the Marriott in particular at night if you do not like very large and boisterous crowds.
We attend a number of smaller cons each year and we love them, but DragonCon is always the most special event of our year, far better than Christmas. Every year I say this one was the best, but this time, I think it really was. I can’t wait until next year!
If you want to attend next year, and you really should, make sure to get hotel registrations as soon as you can. The host hotels are usually completely sold out before December each year for the next convention, which is always Labor Day weekend.