In a few short weeks, an estimated 100,000 fans will gather in the heart of Atlanta for DragonCon. Spread across five hotels (the Hyatt Regency, the Marriott Marquis, the Hilton Atlanta, the Sheraton, and the Westin) and two buildings of the America’s Mart, DragonCon is the largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction & fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film. There is something for everyone, from celebrity panels and photo ops, to concerts and gaming, parties and parades, cosplay photoshoots, workshops, film festivals, and more.
It can also be very overwhelming. There is so much to do that you can’t expect to do everything, so decisions will have to be made. So I’m going to take my 15+ years of DragonCon experience to try and break it all down for you, so those decisions are a little easier to make.
Over 400 guests are expected to be in attendance over the course of the four-day extravaganza. These guests include professionals, artists, authors, performers, and, of course, celebrities. And that list of celebrities is particularly impressive this year, including names like Zachary Levi (Shazam!), George Takei (Star Trek), David Tennant (Good Omens, Doctor Who), and the literary guest of honor, Brandon Sanderson.
Additional guests include cast from popular TV shows like Wynonna Earp (Dominique Provost-Chalkley, Katherine Barrell, and Melanie Scrofano), Lucifer (Aimee Garcia, DB Woodside, and Rachel Harris), The Magicians (Hale Appleman and Olivia Dudley), Arrow (Colton Haynes, Paul Blackthorne, and David Ramsey), Supernatural (Mark Sheppard, Samantha Smith, Ruth Connell, Mark Pellegrino, DJ Qualls, Ty Olsson, and Kim Rhodes), Legends of Tomorrow, iZombie, Farscape, Star Trek: Discovery, Gotham, and so many more. Most of these guests will have multiple panels over the course of the convention, photo ops (which will go on sale in the weeks prior to the event), and booths for autographs in the Walk of Fame.
Performances will be held throughout the weekend, from small filk concerts with artists like Tom Smith, Mikey Mason, The Blibbering Humdingers, and the Brobdingnagian Bards, to larger spectacular shows like Cruxshadow or Lips Down on Dixie’s annual performance of Rocky Horror Picture Show. Other musical guests this year include Steam Powered Giraffe, Wesley and the Crushers, Cybertronic Spree, Frenchy the Punk, and DJ Nemesis.
Professionals include writers, game developers, engineers, podcasters, artists, cosplayers, editors, and professors of mathematics and science. While the schedules aren’t finalized, many of these professionals will be giving panels on their areas of expertise and holding workshops on everything from dance to screenwriting. For example, Emily Andras, television producer and writer for shows like Lost Girl and Wynonna Earp, will be having her own workshop called “Grab the Gauntlet: How to Write Good Genre TV for Everybody,” on the Friday of the convention.
While these workshops do cost extra, require pre-registration, and do sell out, it’s not too late to sign up for those last few spots.
Multiple special events are scheduled every night. While official schedules still haven’t been released, you can look forward to DragonCon Night at the Georgia Aquarium (you’ll need to purchase a separate ticket for that event), the Masquerade costume contest, burlesque shows, raves, and themed parties like Zombie Prom, the Yule Ball, the Doctor Who Ball, the 8-Bit Bash, and many more.
On Saturday morning, thousands will line the sidewalks along Peachtree Street for the DragonCon parade. Get there early to grab a good spot, and take public transportation if you can, because this event is free, and people come from all over to watch hundreds of cosplayers, guests, and custom vehicles walk down the popular Atlanta street! This is a must-see event, even if you don’t plan to attend DragonCon itself.
Every year, DragonCon chooses a charity that will benefit from various auctions and events throughout the weekend. This year’s charity of choice is the American Heart Association, in honor of Thom Trainor, the director of the Dragon Con’s Comics and Pop Art division, who passed away last year from a heart attack. DragonCon will match every dollar donated up to $100,000.
In addition to year-long community service work and monetary donations during the convention, DragonCon has partnered with LifeSouth again this year. Throughout the weekend, you can take the time to donate blood and receive an exclusive t-shirt.
There is a lot to do at DragonCon, so the best advice I can give is to plan. According the the official DragonCon Twitter page, the DragonCon app should be updated with schedules and programming 7-10 days ahead of the event. When that happens, you’ll be able to see when and where different events and panels will be happening.
Keep in mind that panels are spread out over 5 different hotels, so it’s important to factor in time needed to walk from one to the next. Line policies are different in each hotel, but generally they don’t start lines until an hour before the panel. Make sure you follow the instructions of the hard working volunteer safety staff — they are there to help!
If you have a disability, make sure you check in with Disability Services. They are usually located next to registration and can help make accommodations to ensure your convention is fun and safe for you. Then, check with the disability staff at each panel — they will make sure your needs are met.
And remember to eat! There are restaurants in the hotels, as well as kiosks with basic fare: there are Papa John’s stations where you can get slices or whole pizzas, food trucks at some hotels, and The Peachtree Center food court. All of these options can be extremely busy, particularly during popular meal times, so make sure you plan time in your day to get some food.
DragonCon is truly unique. It has a party atmosphere unlike any other convention out there. From the Marriott Marquis crowded with amazing cosplays, to watching a bunch of cosplayers do the Cha Cha Slide in the Hilton Lobby, there is rarely a dull moment.