There is a difference, a big difference between wanting togo to a ‘con and actually going to one. If you’ve never been to one, then you owe it to yourself to go at leastonce.  I had the great opportunity toattend my first big ‘con this past weekend, DragonCon 2011 in Atlanta, GA.
Before DragonCon, I had only attended small ‘cons that in noway compare to something of the size and scope of what DragonCon is.  I can only imagine just how huge San DiegoComic Con really is based on what I experienced in Atlanta.
After covering and reading about events from SDCC this year,I thought I was prepared for what I would encounter in Atlanta.  Let me tell you that nothing you read will everprepare you for the actual experience of being there in person.  I never felt more welcome and at peace withmyself than I was surrounded by thousands of my fellow geeks and nerds.
The last estimate I heard about overall attendance this yearwas 46,000.  I’m not certain if thatcount is accurate or not, but if it is anywhere close to being right, then thatnumber may make you realize just how big it was.  The event spans four days and is spread outover five hotels, that’s nearly four city blocks covered in fans.
The decision to attend was fairly last minute for me.  Last minute meaning I started planning abouta month in advance.  I will tell you nowthat it wasn’t enough.  I should havestarted planning six or even eight months in advance.  The biggest lesson I learned at DragonConthis year is that it is never too early to plan for this event.  I started making plans to attend next yearwhile I was there.
Once my wife and I got there and settled into our hotel, wemade our way into downtown.  And here iswhere planning ahead would have paid off. We didn’t buy tickets in advance so we had to stand in line almost twohours to purchase tickets.  At one point,the line for tickets wrapped through various parts inside of one hotel andcomplete around the outside of the building.
I did pick up enough during my coverage of SDCC to plan forwaiting in long lines.  I packed snacks,iPods, reading material and other distractions to make waiting in line morebearable.  The big mistake I made on thatpart was that I packed too much into my backpack and after a while, I felt likeI was on a forced march.  I got tiredreally fast having to carry all the unnecessary items.  But we didn’t get bored, hungry orthirsty.  Lucky for us there were placesthat provided free water so we could fill up our water bottles.  Plus there were hot girls giving out free RedBull on nearly every corner so a quick recharge to the system was only a fewfeet away at any time.
Once we made our way through the seemingly endless line fortickets we ventured into the depths of the ‘con itself.  Having missed the first few panels waiting inline for tickets, we kind of stumbled into the line for the Star Trek: DeepSpace Nine panel.  That too was my firsttime attending a panel, so I was extra excited. It was fitting that it was DS9 since that is my favorite Trekseries.  I even got the chance to ask thepanel a question.  I posted a short videoof me asking the question here on YouTube.
Since we were ‘con newbies we really didn’t have a clue asto where we were going or what we should do. Here’s where a little more planning ahead would have been helpful.  Probably a good chunk of the first day wastrying to figure out where to go.  Wewalked around aimlessly for a while until we got our bearings and figured outwhere certain things were located.  Oncewe figured that out, it got much easier to roam around from hotel to hotel tofind the things we were looking for.
The next stop was to one of several vendor rooms.  This was the one of the parts I was mostlooking forward to.  I am a t-shirtjunkie and I knew I would be able to find the mother load in cool and uniquetees.  There were so many awesome thingsin those vendor rooms, I could have spent a life’s fortune there and still notgotten everything I wanted.  I was ableto pick up two missing pieces of a collection I was trying to put together, soI was extremely happy about that.
Our next panel was True Blood, one that my wife was reallylooking forward to.  It’s probably one ofher favorite shows and she was excited to get to see some of the cast membersin the flesh.  Each panel lasts about anhour and I have to admit that I really wasn’t interested in panels coming intoit.  After attending three of them, Ihave changed my story.  The panels aresome of the best things about these ‘cons. Getting to hear other fans ask the panel guests questions and hearingtheir responses is really very interesting. That was probably the highlight of my entire ‘con experience.
The rest of the day we wandered around from hotel to hotel,had some dinner and took in the sights. This was an excellent opportunity to do one of my absolute favoritethings at ‘cons, see the cosplayers.  Thepeople in costumes are my favorite part of these events.  The time and dedication people put into theircostumes is really something and I admire them for it.  I took what I thought was hundreds ofpictures, but only turned out to be a couple of dozen.  So the next time I attend one of theseevents, I will make an effort to take more pictures.
The first day was the most grueling for us.  There was a lot to do and see and we had toget over our initial shock of having so much in front of us with nodirection.  I can’t stress enough thatplanning ahead can save you a lot of headaches. Another thing to mention is to have back up plans and back up tothose.  There is simply too much to doand you will not get to see and do everything. By leaving yourself options, you can at least get to some things andavoid just standing around with nothing to do.
The second day, which was Sunday for us, was probably themost memorable.  We got into the Buffy theVampire Slayer panel which was by far the most entertaining panel weattended.  It was also the longest wespent in line during the entire ‘con.  Wehad quite a bit of luck showing up for panels about an hour before they startedand were able to get in.  Had we not goneto check on the Buffy panel about two and a half hours before it started weprobably wouldn’t have gotten in.
Our last stop before heading home was another visitto the dealer’s rooms to purchase all those goodies I spotted the daybefore.  I picked up a couple of nifty tees for my collection, some interesting refrigerator magnets which I also collect and some gifts for friends.  Then it was a long walk back tothe car to strip off all the gear, dump the bags and pack up.  It was an exhausting weekend, but it was wellworth it