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Helpful Hints for the Infrequent Conventioneer

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In case you are one of the vast majority of Mankind who does not regularly read my missives here, I regularly attend a lot of events--particularly conventions--of a variety of subjects and emphases. As we are once again approaching Disney's arguably largest event, D23 Expo, I thought it might be useful to share some general observations that might help people organize their thoughts for enjoyable con-going.

Failure to Plan is a Plan to Fail:
Yes, this is a trite saying, and it also is a true one--painfully so, as many attendees of many conventions can attest. Unless a convention is a reasonably small affair where guests are pretty much guaranteed to be able to see every offering, there will be far more going on than you could possibly see or do, and far more people wanting to see or do each thing than could possible fit in the event's capacity. Consequently, it's a crucial thing to try to figure out your goals in advance. Do you love shopping and merchandise? Are you an autograph hound? Is your passion checking out exhibits? If you don't go over the schedules and lists of what's available, you'll run a good chance of missing out on the things you really want to see.

Personally, I mainly enjoy watching as many presentations on different topics as I can, which offers its own unique challenges. As a general rule, programming schedules are often set up to force choices between popular panels in order to break up crowds and lines. You need to prioritize the things you want to see vs the things you don't care about so much, vs the things you would sell your mother to see.

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Some things you might want to consider:
--Make a list of the panels you want to see. Then make a "plan B" and sometimes a "plan C" in case you don't get into the panels you want to see.
--Be realistic about your "plan B" and don't make it the same time as "plan A," because by the time you find out "plan A" isn't going to work, you'll have already missed your opportunity for "plan B."
--Look at a map and see how far apart the rooms are. If you want to see two panels twenty minutes apart and one is on the third floor of the convention center and the next one is in the ballroom of a hotel three blocks away, you are probably not going to make it.
--Have a sense of how popular the panels are going to be. Looking at the Expo schedule, there will be one panel on Disney Studios' Live Action films. Given the popularity of the MCU, and that they've already announced that "Star Wars" won't be making an appearance at SDCC this year, there will probably be a huge amount of interest in this, and likely a lineup that will start the night before. On the other hand, the Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media are doing Pancake Art demonstrations several times a day each day, so expect an easier time seeing that.
--Go all in, or not at all. If you know you have to see a thing, then get there hours (sometimes a day) ahead to scope out how bad the line is. If you blow that opportunity, then my best advice is to just show up 10-30 minutes beforehand and hope for the best. At least then, if you don't get in, you didn't invest that much time in finding out and were available to do something else in the meantime. What you don't want to do is start waiting an hour or two ahead of time in a line where everyone who is going to get in lined up three to four hours ago. I once spoke to a mother and daughter behind me in line who said they had spent their entire Expo day going from one line to the next, waiting a couple hours, and then not getting in. Don't Be Those People.

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Know How To Get What You Want If What You Want Is To Collect Things:
Check in advance whether your favorite companies or product lines have booths, and whether they are offering any limited edition items you want. If you know you will die coming home without that specific one-day-only-special-edition thing, you also need to look at a map of the floor and find out where that booth is, because you will likely only get one shot to safely hustle your way over there first thing at opening to get in line for it. Check official twitter accounts and webpages that are live reporting such things to see what the lines are like in advance--at SDCC, people regularly sleep out overnight to be the first ones into the Mattel or Hasbro booths, so this can be serious business. Know also that booth lines are not necessarily at the booths: In order to free up the passageways that can get clogged with huge lines, people are frequently lined up against the walls of the exhibitor's floor and then walked over in groups as people leave the booth. If you rush over to a booth for a popular item, and then realize the line is actually halfway across the room, it's probably going to be capped by the time you get over there and find it.

Also try to do the bulk of your shopping as early as possible, hopefully before the convention actually starts, if you can. Recently, I've been seeing a marked increase (even at Disney events) in sellers bringing merchandise in woefully insufficient amounts, often selling out by the end of preview night. While some booths will only sell a certain amount each day and then restock each night, some, either by design or accident, will just blow out all their goods immediately and then, I guess, just take a nap for the next couple days. Check sizing as well, if you're looking at t-shirts: Mickey's of Glendale and PIXAR are notorious for selling women's shirts in styles that run considerably smaller than most.

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...But Maybe You Shouldn't:
There are a lot of booths, and most of them will be giving away something: Art lithographs, posters, brochures, shirts, books...sometimes even chairs. In every case, as soon as people see there's something being passed out, huge mobs will form to try to get it. If you're desperate, you can usually tough it out in line, or haunt a given booth to try to time when they start distributing. Unfortunately, after a certain amount of time, it can be hard to know if you are desperate because you actually want something, or just because the crowd mentality has driven you insane and made you believe that it's reasonable to stand in line for 45 minutes for a paper tube (PSA: I've done this.) Sometimes you should step back and really consider whether it's worth spending your time and effort to get something that's just going to sit untouched in the free convention-provided tote bag in the corner of your room for the next five years.

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DO AS I SAY NOT AS I DO

Security Might Not Make You Safer, But It Will Make You Late:
With the increased anxiety everyone has nowadays about security, measures to get into different panels and the convention itself have gotten increasingly elaborate and time-consuming. Unless you have some sort of priority access to entering in the morning, you may want to consider showing up hours early in case the given event decides it needs to search your bags, make you go through metal detectors, etc. As you remember from the airport, this takes forever with just your every-day people, but at a con where every third cosplayer has multiple bags with food, electronics, and prop weaponry, this can stretch into an eternity. I just finished attending one event where some people waited over five hours to get in the first day, and the lines stretched over blocks, snarling traffic so bad it took me 90 minutes just to circle the building to find parking. Few hate mornings more than I, but this is one time where you have to bite the bullet if you want to maximize your time.

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Everybody Has To Eat:
Eventually, you are probably going to expect to eat during the day, but where? And when? If the eating options in the convention center are limited, expect long lines that may cut into the event you wanted to see afterwards. It also goes without saying that the prices will be higher than normal, and the quality somewhat lower. You can bring your own food, assuming you have the energy and time to do it when you stagger back home exhausted each day, but then know that a lot of meeting rooms won't allow food or drinks. There may be only a comparative handful of tables and chairs in any convention center, and by and large you can't even sit on the ground most places, or people will come and yell at you to leave before the Fire Marshal declares you a hazard. I'm particularly bad at meal planning and have spent more than one con week subsiding on a diet of M&Ms and kettle corn.

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...But Maybe You Shouldn't:
Look, there's no doubt that the healthiest thing for you is to eat regular meals, but just be aware that any time not spent getting in line can make or break you for the next thing. I remember being in one panel and discussing with the woman next to me that we both wanted to go to the book-signing right afterwards. She went to the restroom and I didn't, and that's why we ended up meeting again, this time on opposite sides of the line cut-off rope.

On Q&A:
I have seen a lot of Q&A in my time, and some of it has been very insightful, and some of it has been at least interesting, and a WHOLE LOT of it has been reeeaaally bad. People are entitled to say whatever they want, of course, but for all that is Holy, I beg you to reflect on this.

Your question might be a bad question if:
--You start off saying "well, I guess this isn't really a question..."
--The topic can really only be of any interest to you and your immediate family.
--You are requesting one of the panelists touch you in a sexual or even non-sexual manner.
--You have been talking for over five minutes and have still not gotten to anything remotely close to a question.
--What you are saying is insulting/hostile/demanding/racist/sexist/terrible.
--The moderator tries to stop you by saying "we're not answering questions on that today."
--The moderator tries to stop you by saying "NO, DON'T COME UP HERE."
--You want someone on the panel to take a selfie with you or autograph an item.
--You are rapping.

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As Long As You've Got Your Health:
Con crud is a real thing. You're going to be stuck in a number of rooms and corridors with literally thousands of other people, some of whom are going to be Patient Zero for some horrific disease. You're going to be jammed into crowds where you can barely move because the cast of "Agents of SHIELD" are out on a table signing autographs and everyone wants a photo and the guy next to you is coughing non-stop into your face. Pity the poor celebrities, who are constantly assaulted with pleas for hugs/kisses/handshakes from everyone--no wonder they all charge >$100 for a picture nowadays. I actually found it fascinating that at Anime Expo (a convention I'll talk about in another blog soon) most of the predominantly Asian celebrities specified for autograph sessions "NO HIGH FIVES."

To a certain point there's nothing you can do. If you crap out and it's your turn to get some debilitating cold, you're going to get it. The best you can do for your immune system is to get as much sleep as you can, eat appropriately, and use hand sanitizer liberally. I'm also a huge believer in just holding your breath as long as you can in ultra crowded conditions--I've also considered using masks as they do in Japan, although those are more effective if the sick people use them.

As always, nothing is universal, and for many people none of these suggestions will be applicable. Some people don't have any goals or expectations going into these things, and are content to just wander around taking in the sights and then going home when the crowds become oppressive. Other people purchase priority access memberships ("Sorcerer's Package" for D23 Expo and "Master Jedi VIP" for Star Wars Celebration) which enable them to bypass the worst of the lines at a sizeable cost. That even at $2,250 the Sorcerer's Packages sold out in seconds is a measure of how valuable people find that advantage. Here, as is often the case, "money talks" and the rest of us...wait in line.

See you at the Expo!

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The previous post in this blog was Disneyland Resort Updates from June 30.

The next post in this blog is D23 Expo: "Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios: The Upcoming Films".

Comments (3)

My goodness. So perhaps I'm just naïve as I knew the convention was insanely crowded; but when you mentioned the mother and daughter waiting two hours and never getting into anything I have this horrible feeling that I'm just wasting my time going to this. I love Disney. I love conventions; but I'm simply not staying overnight on a concrete floor just to see a panel; its not worth it. If that's what this show is like then I'll just enjoy the entry gift and read the announcements from the AllEars twitter feeds. Just disappointing really.

Jeanine: I'm sorry I'm giving you such a bad impression of it--the reality as I know it, is that it all depends on what you want to do. If you want to go to the big presentations (mostly Walt Disney Studios and Parks and Resorts) then I'd rather you knew in advance what the obstacles are so you can be prepared...but there is a ton of other stuff to see and do there and a lot of it won't require a huge ordeal to experience. The floor exhibits, particularly the WDI and the Parks and Resorts booths are always terrific and after the first initial rush are usually pretty easy to access. Many of the smaller programs won't be as busy and you can often just walk in and find a seat. PIXAR and WDAS will be having presentations at their floor booths and I imagine those will be able to be heard even outside the formal seating areas. I think bottom line (lol) if you don't want to deal with the major lines there's still a great deal you can still enjoy at Expo.

TikiStitch626:

Thank you for this informative post! I learned a lot from last year's D23 Expo, as I was also one of those people who waited hours in line just to be turned away and leave with nothing. I wanted to better strategize for this year's expo, but I'm having a harder time finding information on what will be there. Last year's app was a big help. Do you know of any other resources for this year's event?

Jeanine: They've recently released an app for this year's Expo as well, which has a pretty extensive schedule of what's going on both in the main presentation rooms and the exhibitor's floor. There's also a schedule on the D23 webpage at https://d23.com/d23-expo-2017-friday-july-14/ Happy planning!

Carla:

Really interesting read, thank you. We've never been able to attend a convention like this, but have watched a few streamed online. Do you know if any of the big panels will be streamed online for D23 and where we find them?

Jeanine: Hi--sorry I didn't catch this until afterwards, but a lot of the panels are online now on various official and unofficial YouTube channels. I know the video game presentation was live streamed, but I'm not aware if the studio or parks panels were as well--we weren't allowed to record in either of the big studio presentations.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 9, 2017 11:38 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Disneyland Resort Updates from June 30.

The next post in this blog is D23 Expo: "Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios: The Upcoming Films".

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.