Conventions of all genres (fandom-based or otherwise) are usually held in one of two types of locations: hotels or convention centers. Just like with everything, exceptions exist (I have attended cons on college campuses and heard of others being held on state fairgrounds!), but you will generally encounter them in one of those two locales.
As with the content of Parts 1 (here) and 2 (here), the advice in these posts can be applied to any environment where there will be crowds, or when you are on vacation, or simply away from home for the day.
Let’s start with the more common of the pair: hotels. Most large hotel chains will have convention or conference space with a multitude of purposes, with cons only being one of them. This is a great source of income for hotels, since conferences, weddings, et cetera often come with people who will want the convenience of staying on site. This all accounts to something called attrition that can be a regular thorn in the side of someone renting the space…but that is a whole different topic for a whole different type of blog!
I honestly prefer hotel-based conventions, especially if I am staying in the hosting venue. If I have an attack, I can take a break in my room away from the hustle and bustle of the con (in the case of Omni, where I am usually working, I have a few people who can cover me for a short spell in the event that my attack gets so bad I have to lie down). If I am not staying in the venue, I can usually find a relatively calm corner out of the way to recover.
Another perk to hotel-based events is that they are usually in an area where you have access to all sorts of shops, restaurants, and such (like a drugstore) that you can generally find what you may need without having to travel too far. Not to mention that conventions that are in a hotel are generally smaller (generally) than their convention center cousins, so you have more flexibility when it comes to ability to recover from your attack/flare-up/what have you. I have also noticed that convention centers often feel like warehouses in the ballrooms, since they are used for so many things, while hotel conference have a more elegant feel, since they are more frequently used for events like weddings, banquets, and pageants (to name a few). I know I rarely get migraines from lights at a hotel-based con.
Convention Centers are really great venues for fast-growing events, or larger events in general. However, with more space comes more people, and that could spell trouble for someone with a chronic illness. However, that should not deter you from attending a big convention! The larger cons will have meetups for cosplayers who want to dress from the same series/genre, and will get some big-name guests that you may not have a chance to see at a smaller con. However, if you are new to conventions and have no experience with large cons (and I am talking big, like Anime Expo or San Diego Comic Con in CA, New York Comic Con, Dragon*Con in GA, or Megacon in FL), you need to know what you are getting yourself into! I went to Megacon for the first time in 2002, and it was my first convention, and it was a bit overwhelming. And Mega was small back then if you compare it to the size it is now!
I am going to stick to Megacon for my examples and experiences, because that is the only HUGE con I have attended, and it happens to be in a convention center (not all of the big cons are in convention centers, Dragon*Con takes place in several hotels in downtown Atlanta! It even closes a section of the city down for it’s annual parade!).
I have also had my fair share of migraine attacks at Megacon.
This is why I carry a huge bag of supplies at Mega, when I would be more likely to just carry a few snacks and a bottled water at Omni. I can easily run to my room at Omni, when I typically commute to Mega. The Orange County Convention Center is also a huge venue on International Drive, and if you want to ensure you keep your parking space there, you have to walk to get anywhere.
Any Orlando native will say that walking around I-Drive in full costume is an adventure. Not that it is inherently dangerous, you just get stopped by tourists wanting pictures, or you’ll encounter large crowds of people who won’t understand that the staff you are carrying cost you $XX.xx to build or whatever. The people who work in the area, like at the handful of restaurants nearby, know when Mega is coming (it is a big deal), and are generally one of two things when you encounter them: enthusiastic that cosplayers are at their establishment, or completely unfazed by your bright green wig and platform boots.
Food options in the convention center itself is limited, and often overpriced (think theme-park overpriced). If you are like me and have to be careful with processed or fried foods, I recommend bringing a pair of comfortable shoes to walk off site for food in, or bringing enough snacks to get you by (don’t forget to hydrate!). As I said in part one, don’t be afraid to carry a big bag! You need to take care of you, first and foremost. Do what it takes!
As I had mentioned, my first Megacon was in 2002, and I have only skipped one or two since then. 2013 had a pretty decent sized crowd, but the attendee numbers exploded in 2014!
I am not afraid of large crowds, and I am not claustrophobic, but I got pretty overwhelmed at one point on Saturday that year, when I was responsible for getting my sister to and from the event, since she assisted with the anime costume contest at that time. I couldn’t leave, and that is what worries me at large events. If I drive people to the con, and they are busy with this, that, and the other, there is a lot of pressure not to get a migraine (and that level of pressure can cause a stress-triggered migraine 🙄).
In 2014, Megacon hosted a good deal of the cast of AMC’s The Walking Dead, and they had the cast panel discussion on the second floor of the convention center. While the rooms on that floor worked out well enough for the panel, I don’t believe anyone expected the turnout to be quite that big. It was a sea of people, shoulder to shoulder, and you couldn’t get anyway once the panel ended and everyone attempted to leave, or during the previous panel when everyone was queuing up for the TWD panel!
Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast that year, like I usually do at Megacon, but I was glad I didn’t get an attack that day, at least I don’t recall having one (and I remember a bad attack at Mega back in 2006, so the bad ones are stored in my memory). I can’t imaging having a bad attack and not being able to get to a bathroom for a cold compress…or other reasons to get to a bathroom STAT during an attack. 😐 I had friends who visited after a 2-hour commute, only to stay for less than an hour before heading elsewhere because they just couldn’t take it anymore (yes, a chronic illness was one of the reasons, too).
When it comes to a large event like Mega, you need to understand the area the convention center is in. What restaurants are there? Drugstores? Hospitals/Urgent Care facilities? What do you need? What is available to work with? If you need a hotel, which would work out the best for you based on distance, possible transport, et cetera (I will actually be covering this in more detail in a later post). Just remember not to let anything hold you back!
So, go out there and get your nerd on, wherever that may be!
💖Hearts and Sparkles!💖