Dragon*Con is one of the largest pop-culture conventions in the world, with four days of events broken up into "tracks" of interest covering everything from science fiction, fantasy, gaming, comics, film, theater, literature, and art to music, robotics, engineering, space exploration, and paranormal investigation. Held annually over Labor Day weekend in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, programming includes celebrity panels, autograph sessions, workshops, screenings, concerts, art shows, contests, beauty pageants, a film festival, a parade through downtown, a blood drive, and attempts to enter the Guinness Book of World Records.
Dragon*Con welcomed over 77,000 attendees Labor Day weekend for its 30th anniversary in 2016, breaking its previous year's record of 70,000. Fans from all 50 states and countries around the world journeyed to the Peach Tree State to celebrate everything pop culture, with featured guests including Gillian Anderson from The X-Files, William Shatner and Karl Urban from Star Trek, Alan Tudyk from Firefly and Rouge One, Karen Gillian from Doctor Who and Guardians of the Galaxy, cast members from Mythbusters, and the puppeteers of BB-8, the new droid in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Relfecting the trend of attendees arriving late Wednesday or early Thursday, Dragon*Con offered substantial programming on Thursday for the very first time. They also launched a fan-driven awards program called the Dragon Awards, which recognized the creators of science fiction and fantasy in movies, television, literature, comics, and gaming. The convention also further expanded its space in the AmericasMart, including not only dealers room space but also programing and panel rooms, which helped alleviate some of the congestion in the main hotels. The convention also raised $98,000 for its annual charity, and attendees donated over 6,000 units of blood during its blood drive. Although the convention remained very crowded, the staff and hotel security did a good job of keeping people moving and gawkers who weren't attending the convention out of the hotels. Part of managing this also involves attendees knowing its most crowded times; we avoided the worst of the crowds by attending the Georgia Aquarium party Saturday night rather than milling about the hotels. For better or worse, the crowding aspect can never truly be fixed with a change in venue; Dragon*Con's sense of community and charm is based upon its interconnected hotel location, so it will likely never expand to a convention center.
Sketch, EllyStar and I flew down to Atlanta at the crack of dawn Thursday morning and met up with Punzy at the airport. We enjoyed our annual ritual of checking in before the crowd, standing in a short line for badges, and then having a leisurely breakfast at Caribou Coffee. Sketch and I spent the afternoon exploring the Buckhead area of Atlanta before joining our roommates in a pre-game nap and then changing into our Mal and Inara costumes from Firefly for a photoshoot with UV Photography. We enjoyed our shoot, and then met up with the crew for delicious sushi dinner at Pacific Rim Bistro! Afterwards we enjoyed an evening and drinking in costume in the Marriott lobby, and just missed Joey Fatone who showed up at the Pulse bar right after we left!
Friday morning Sketch and I slept in, got dressed in regular clothes, and walked a few blocks, coffee in hand, to the AmericasMart to get in line for the dealer’s room complex. Once the line moved to let us in, we made a beeline for Yaya’s booth to pick up orange horns and wings for Scarlet, who was flying in tomorrow and needed them for her Figment costume. It was a good thing we went early; we bought the only orange ones they had! We then headed to Arda to grab a wig for my Lenne costume, which I realized I didn’t have one for while packing despite my bin full of brunette wigs. Essential shopping complete, we decided to come back to browse later and instead attempted to get into the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine panel which was also being held at the top level of the AmericasMart. Our attempt was unsuccessful, so we went to the food court for lunch and then hit up the art show instead. That afternoon Sketch and I got into our Han and Leia costumes for a photoshoot with ChezPhoto, who was amazing! Afterwards we wandered the Marriott and checked out the Walk of Fame before meeting up with the crew and trying the Mediterranean place inside the food court for dinner – it was absolutely delicious! Later that night we pre-gamed with cocktails in our room while Punzy and I got into our Songstress Lenne and Yuna outfits from Final Fantasy X-2. Sketch was pretty drunk at this point, and it was hilarious watching him try to help us fashion tape our arm ribbons. We headed to the lobby and did a photoshoot by the fountain before going back inside and partying. Someone had some awesome dance tunes blasting and someone else had rigged up a remote control stripper pole on a hoverboard in the middle of the lobby, and a circle had formed of people taking turns dancing on it. It was hilarious! We had a great night dancing in the lobby and hanging out with friends.
Saturday morning Sketch was super hungover, but the rest of us got up and watched the parade on TV as we ate breakfast. This was the first year they were broadcasting the parade on network TV in addition to Dragon*Con TV and the announcers were excellent, and much better than the DCTV ones. Scarlet arrived from the airport and we all got dressed in our Sailor Senshi winter school uniforms and met up with Lionel at 2pm for a fun shoot. Once we were done Sketch was feeling better and joined us as Richard Castle, and we all grabbed some lunch and took some more photos in the Hilton. We took a nap in the late afternoon before getting pumped up to hit the Aquarium party. I got into my Emerald Empress costume while Scarlet wore Figment and Punzy got into Voltron and we walked over at 8PM. We had an absolute blast! We took photos, drank, and danced our butts off to the awesome tunes until the party wrapped at 11PM. It had been several years since we’d gone to the Aquarium party and I had forgotten how much fun it was! The line for the shuttle back was huge so we caught an Uber back to the Marriott with a very entertaining driver who got a kick out of my Eye of Ekron. We hadn’t eaten dinner and were starving, so we all chipped in for horribly overpriced Marriott pizza and ate it in the room at 2AM AND IT WAS DELICIOUS.
Sunday I got into my childhood dream costume: Belle’s yellow ball gown from Beauty and the Beast. It was a last minute idea so I had to improvise the hair out of three different wigs but it came out pretty well. Sketch was dressed as the human Beast and he and I headed downstairs with EllyStar as Snow White. It was my first time cosplaying a Disney Princess, and Sunday morning is peak “bring your kids to the Marriott and get a free Disney Experience” time for parents, so I got a crash course in being “on.” I’d taught little kids in high school so it wasn’t totally out of my wheelhouse and I got the hang of it. While we were taking pics with some kids one little girl ran at a Cinderella coming down the hall, and knocked her flat with a hug. Another five-year-old girl came running over to me saying “Belle! I’m so happy you’re here!” which was adorable. After a few hours of working the floor I got a smoothie at the food court and did a photoshoot at the columns before hitting up the Dealer’s Room. Rob and I were struggling by 4pm and went back to change into regular clothes. We enjoyed the costuming museum set up by the costuming track, got a late sushi and milk tea lunch and hit up a 3-D printing panel in the Hilton which was really informative. That night we changed into Disney poodle skirts for EllyStar’s group, MST3K’d the masquerade while drinking, then went to Metro Café for dinner before hanging out in the lobby. Around midnight I didn’t feel well; I ended up going upstairs before 1am. I woke up Monday with a slamming case of con plague that would knock me out for the next week, but we had a blast so it was worth it. I considered it a fair trade-off considering I’d had a healthy Katsucon and Anime Boston earlier in the year.