The Dragon Con Experience, Part 2: What to Expect

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Stef Watson
| April 15, 2024
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In “The Dragon Con Experience, Part 1,” I gave a brief look at how the massive annual convention known as Dragon Con grew out of a tiny seed planted by Atlanta-area sci-fi and fantasy fans back in 1987. In Part 2, I want to offer a small slice of what to expect if you attend the con and how to stay looped in with the con culture all year round!

Ten Things to Prepare For

The typical convention FAQ is covered on the website and other Dragon Con news sources. Here, I want to mention ten things they might not prepare you for:

  • 1 – “Wednesday is the new Thursday!” Arriving on Wednesday can help you maximize your convention experience. That’s because there’s badge pick-up and parties on Thursday and plenty of time to get used to the convention layout before the larger crowds pour in on Friday morning. When you’re booking a place to stay anywhere near the convention footprint, keep this in mind.
  • 2 – “So… many… people…” Inside and outside of every con location, people will be standing close to you and brushing past you. Count on threading your way through heavy crowds to get between events and panels from early morning to late at night. Most of us show grace to those who accidentally bump into us because we’re all going through the same struggles!
  • 3 – “I should have worn my other shoes!” Bring comfy footwear or have a reliable wheelchair setup because you’ve got a lot of physical ground to cover. Remember that the convention stretches across five hotels and a multi-level marketplace spanning multiple city blocks. At street level, prepare for walking uphill and downhill, too. Maybe save that heavy armor or those 3-inch spike heels for when you have one event or location that you’ll be staying at for a while!
  • 4 – “This party doesn’t sleep!” There are convention events and impromptu hangouts happening around the convention space at all hours. Want to watch horror movies at 3 a.m. on Sunday morning? Check the event schedule to find out where! The best way to keep an eye on the vast schedule of events and latest changes is by using the Dragon Con app. (The schedule for the upcoming year is typically posted a week or two before the con.)
Just one of many spots around the con that features a Thursday night party. (Dragon Con Special Events)
  • 5 – “Don’t expect to make every panel you want to see.” I’ve timed my walk between the Hilton and Hyatt on Fridays and Saturdays, and I count at least 30 minutes to get between the buildings using the inside routes or about half of that walking in the heat outside. That doesn’t count weaving my way to a panel room or waiting in lines. Prioritize your “can’t miss” panels and make sure there is at least an hour between them. And, for big celebrity panels, plan to get in line 1-2 hours prior.
  • 6 – “Some of the best moments are unplanned!” In spite of the crowds and the lines, some of the most memorable experiences I’ve had at Dragon Con happened while standing in line, riding an elevator, or being present in the common areas of a hotel. I even have friends I met at Dragon Con and keep in touch with throughout the year. If your only goal for attending is to meet celebrities, you might find all this excessive, so check out their schedules at other cons instead. On the other hand, if you’re eager to celebrate geek culture, meet like-minded folk, or see some amazing cosplayers, Dragon Con is the ultimate experience! 
  • 7 – “Map out your routes!” Dragon Con isn’t laid out the same way as the “franchise” fan cons (Galaxy Con, FanX, etc.). For example, the vendor hall, the “Walk of Fame” for celebrity guests, the celebrity photo ops, and the “Artists Alley” are all separate events, each with its own location. If you’re eager to meet an artist or celebrity, check out their schedule in advance (e.g., on the Dragon Con app) and pay close attention to where they’ll be and when.
  • 8 – “Shopping the vendors will take up most of your day.” Unless you have an exception from Disability Services, the line to enter the vendor hall wraps around the building (and then some) and may take 1-2 hours to get through, even at the slowest times. Once inside, you could spend a couple of hours exploring the multiple-level setup. Then, once you leave, you can’t re-enter without standing in that line yet again. There are some food vendors, fortunately, but it wouldn’t hurt to pack a snack and a water bottle if you decide to clear your schedule and spend a chunk of your day perusing vendors. 
  • 9 – “Go early to grab your spot to watch the parade!” The Dragon Con Parade crowd is more than just convention attendees; people from all over Atlanta drive in to check it out. So, stake out your spot along the parade route a couple of hours early. That makes for a really early Saturday morning, but it’s worth the wait! (Bonus if you can park in a parking deck on the parade route and watch from up there.)
Aviva by Kameel is a beloved Atlanta eating spot in Peachtree Center, and it’s mandatory for my Dragon Con experience to grab a meal and say hi to Kameel! (Happy Cow)
  • 10 – “I need food!” The food court in Peachtree Center is accessible from skywalks from both the Hyatt and the Marriott, and there’s a street-level entrance from Andrew Young International Blvd. There are many restaurants around the hotels, but the food court is a great place to quickly grab various kinds of food and sit and rest a bit. Unfortunately, some people do the “sitting and resting” part just a little too long for my liking. (Come on, people! Can we use the table now?) When all the other eateries close, though, and you’re not in the mood for the not-so-fresh pizza from those hotel vendors, don’t forget that the Metro Diner & Bar is open until the wee hours!

Cosplayer Brilliance

One of the things I most look forward to when attending Dragon Con is the brilliant artistry on display from cosplayers all around the con. Some of it is beautiful and intricate work from cosplayers who spent months or even years perfecting their outfits. Others are fun mash-ups and pop culture tributes that can make a big impact on that particular year’s con. Some cosplayers even become famous for their mash-ups, parodies, or general brilliance.

Dragon Con 2023 featured a number of Barbie mash-ups like this Jason-Barbie and “Barbie”-lorian. Plus, this “MAGA”-lorian shows how mash-ups can parody the real world, too. (Hoot)

The mash-ups are my favorite costumes to find around the con. This isn’t just a treat for viewing but helps us feel connected to someone who shares two or more of our fandoms! For example, in 2023, when Barbie costumes were huge, Barbie cosplayers throughout the con shouted “Hi, Barbie!” at each other across the room, mimicking the opening sequence in the movie. Plus, every year, Deadpool, Stormtrooper, and Mandalorian cosplayers arrive with crossovers inspired by both pop culture icons and popular characters in other franchises.

Dragon Con TV

If you’re staying in one of the host hotels and chilling there in your downtime, you can turn on Dragon Con TV for something fun to watch or for entertaining background noise while you’re getting in and out of costume. There are hilarious sketches and bumpers constantly rolling when there isn’t a live televised feed of one of the larger panels happening at the con. Each of the five host hotels should have a TV channel reserved for DCTV, so ask someone what channel to go to, or click through until you find it. If you’re not in a host hotel, you can also subscribe to the online stream to watch on a laptop or mobile device. DCTV also makes recorded panels available online throughout the year in case you missed one or just want to rewatch it.

Keeping the Shenanigans Going Year-round

Currently, Facebook is the most common platform that Dragon Con topic tracks and interest groups use to socialize throughout the year and plan upcoming events. There is a general-purpose Dragon Con (Official) group combining con marketing and socializing. There are also track-run groups, like Star Wars @ Dragon Con for the Star Wars track. 

However, there are even more “unofficial” Dragon Con Facebook groups you can join. Some are specific to networking around the con, such as various photo op meet-up groups or the Dragon Con Rooms to discuss exchange room reservations in the host hotels. The most popular of the unofficial groups, though, is Dragon*Con (unofficial), with a membership of over 26,500 people. Named using Dragon Con’s old asterisk notation, the group has become a preferred way for many fans of the Dragon to connect year-round. The group strives to keep the spirit of the con going in an online form and honors significant events in pop culture throughout the year.

Chuck Corum stands vigilant in the Dragon Con (unofficial) Facebook group, ready to apply his Ban Hammer! (Corum)

Dragon*Con Unofficial has grown some of its own traditions over the years, too. For example, one of the admins of the group (and George R.R. Martin look-alike), Chuck Corum, is well known for his firm-yet-clever follow-up posts after banning someone for stirring up trouble or not conforming with the group’s rules. The group lauds Chuck’s vigilant use of his “Ban Hammer.” This prompted him to start carrying a Mjollnir prop (from Marvel’s Thor) with the word “BAN” on the side. We all now look forward to seeing Chuck around the con (usually in the Hilton) and grabbing a photo op with him and the Ban Hammer.

That’s it for this little slice of what to expect at Dragon Con and how to stay connected to con shenanigans throughout the year. You can find many other articles across the internet, too, that add to what I’ve covered. And if you’re still asking, “What about all those cults, like that Marriott Carpet thing?” don’t worry, I got you! Keep an eye out for Part 3 of this article series covering some of the cults and traditions of Dragon Con.

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