My blog is still on vacation as far as reviews go – I haven’t done much reading on this vacation – but I wanted to write up some thoughts on the con, as kind of a companion piece to my How to Convention page, going into more details about how this kind of con works. This is kind of wordy, so I shall be kind and place it beneath a cut 🙂
As I’ve mentioned before, these cons are quite expensive (though they are fairly cheap relative to their independent kin) and one of the first things you’ll have to decide is how much money you want to spend. On the super cheap end is General Admission – single day tickets in unreserved seats way in the back. As one guest helpfully put it, General Admission is Siberia to Gold’s America. It’s about $120 to attend all three days in GA. For $30 more you can get Copper Weekend – it has no autographs, but it does have a saved seat in the rows ahead of GA. If you want to watch your budget, but know that you won’t have to worry about losing your spot, it might be worth spending the extra.
On the other end of the spectrum is Gold. These are seats in the first 15 rows and also come with a number of autographs and runs about $400. An extra $100 will nab you a front seat. A nice bonus is that if you would like to go gold for next year, you can save $20 or so reserving ahead – and more importantly, you can pick your seat. It’s a great way to get a better spot, because seats in the first few rows are almost impossible to get, especially if you need more than two seats. As you might expect, Silver is somewhere between the two – behind Gold, ahead of Copper and fewer autographs. That said, it might be the best way to balance budget and experience, as the autographs included come with arguably the ones the most in demand.
For those with extra pocket money, you can bid on the VIP upgrade which will also net you front-of-the-line privileges and 10-minute meet and greets with all the guests. These are sold dutch-auction style and this year set people back $850 on top of the Gold admission. Those who bought it seemed pleased with it, and if you’re the kind of person who would drop $600 on a meet and greet for Ian alone, it may be with considering.
As for photo-op/autograph tickets, there are pros and cons to ordering ahead. The pro side is that if you know who you want, you’ll guarantee that you can nab it. For autographs that aren’t called by row (if you have Gold/Silver and buy an extra autograph ticket you can get the second one signed at the same time as your free autograph) they do call PDF tickets before on-site ones so you can save some line time that way. The con is that they charge you a $7.25 processing fee to order online. Guest announcements have a way of trickling out, so if you order in pieces you’ll socked with multiple fees. Plus, outside of Ian, Paul and Ian/Paul photo-ops, you have to keep bring the PDFs with you – which can be a bit of a pain.
There is a LOT to think about when it come to ordering tickets. Figure out how important it is to be closer to the stage, how many autographs you’re interested in and take it from there. If a good seat and/or autographs are important, honestly, just save up and go Gold. you’ll also save a ton of time in the autograph lines. The autograph session for Ian and Paul went on for an hour and a half or so at least, and I got to spend the majority of it chatting up a friend while everyone else waited. What I’m saying is that Gold will save you some time if you want to say go grab a bite before the next panel.
As for the other tickets, if you want Ian’s photo or Ian or Paul autograph, order them ASAP – even if you’re planning on waiting for your ticket package of choice to open up – because they WILL sell out, Ian’s particularly quickly. Otherwise, if you really want to order ahead, I’d say do so about a month out so you have the best chance of it being a one-and-done. This year, the only thing I missed out on was a photo op with Chris Wood, and honestly, I could have gotten one had I bought it on Thursday night at registration, by the time I decided I wanted one on Friday afternoon (after an amazing panel) it was too late.
[Update – 2/2016 – If you’re considering a Star Trek, Supernatural or perhaps Once Upon a Time shows, I still recommend buying your Gold seat for next year’s show at the convention. However, I no longer recommend it for The Vampire Diaries. This con tour is starting to wind down. There are fewer stops on the tour, stops are getting cancelled, the guest list is smaller and they’re struggling to get any of the bigger cast members to commit to doing the whole tour – most are only going to one or two stops. Before the line up was 90% the same from stop to stop, now it’s maybe 60% the same and the actor you want to meet may just not be appearing. They’ve also not added anyone for this past of the season of the show, despite the last two years adding new actors to the line up. Whatever the reason, be it fatigue on the part of the actors, or if Creation is having to cut what they’re willing/able to pay due to dwindling attendance, I think it’s worth taking a wait and see approach to make sure that you’ll be happy with the line-up you’ll get. Your seat might not be as great as you had before, but it’s better than buyer’s remorse!]
This con is held at an airport hotel. I do think that for the convention itself, it’s a great venue: all the rooms used were nice and spacious so it never felt cramped and they were spread out enough that we were never tripping over one another to get to the vender room or photo ops or the theater.
As far as staying there goes, the one item to remark is that food options at this hotel are painfully limited, with a choice of limited snacks from the gift shop, Starbucks (which closes at 6 pm) and the hotel’s restaurant where a meal can easily hit $20 without drink purchases. The hotel did set up a small area where you could get some lunch food for $10 or so on Saturday and Sunday. It wasn’t the best, but at least it was convenient and they had some lighter options like salads. Luckily, there are a couple of places within a 1/2 mile walk, which isn’t true of all such kinds of hotels and therefore a bonus. People used to going to cons are going to be used this, but it does still suck. Ultimately I would say if you’re traveling that a car isn’t required, but it is nice to have, because there are a ton of options within 3 miles of the hotel.
When to show up
Friday is a light day for the con, because they know that a lot of people work and what not, but I am a fan of the day at con. It’s got a chill atmosphere, and the crowds are lighter meaning you have a better chance to ask questions or maybe grab a few pictures from your seats than on other days. Even more than that, if you are coming for all three days, consider showing up for Thursday night pre-reg. If you aren’t planning on buying auto/photo-ops ahead of time you’ll want to be in line as early as you can be to make sure you can snap up the tickets you want. If you do happen to want to do some sight seeing in the morning or what not, if you take care of registration the night before, you’ll have some time to as the show doesn’t begin until about 2:30 in the afternoon on Friday. If you plan on coming just for a day to see Ian and Paul, keep an eye out for the schedule and show up early to get your wristband. Missing things because you don’t have your badge yet just sucks!
All told, this was a nicely run event with few hiccups. There was one slight scheduling change on Friday that was a bit frustrating in terms of that they told us that it would happen, but not when the new panel would start (and no one at Registration knew), but that was about it. Do be prepared for volunteers being kind of useless and asking you something that you’ve already been asked before and don’t expect panels to run exactly on time. They do try, but there are a million little things that can cause the schedule to be run on LA time (delays of about 5-10 minutes or so). That said, the way they build the schedule, they can often catch up during events like the auctions or the trivia so it’s really not too bad. It can be annoying in the moment (trust me) but honestly, this IS one of the tightest run conventions of size that I’ve been to. Their experience shows.
This year, I think we had a pretty damn solid panel line up. The best of the year for me were: Chris Wood and Chris Brochu (Friday), Sebastian Roche (Saturday) and Ian and Paul’s Gold Panel (Sunday). All three panels highlighted when the con works its absolute best. The guests were relaxed, there was innuendo and slightly dirty jokes, the energy in the room was high. There was laughter and fun and absolute absurdity going on and it was a solid mix of chatting and questions which struck a nice balance. Even though double panels do ultimately mean fewer panels, I do really think they are a good way to go. There just aren’t enough of them that can really work by themselves to make more solo panels viable.
Side note for parents planning to bring kids: panels range from PG to PG-13. Things don’t get too dirty because they are cognizant that there are young fans out there, but there can be innuendo a plenty and some guests (mainly Ian of the ones who always show) do swear. It’s just something to keep in mind if you were going to bring your tween (or younger) along with and this kind of thing bothers you.
Friday night features a karaoke night and Saturday a concert with some of the talent. Karaoke is always fun and it’s free to all with a Friday pass, so if you have one, definitely go. The concert was a mixed bag. This year it was off to a very slow start because they had some leftover contests from when the concert was originally a dance. The quality of the music was also up and down. If you have Gold, it’s included, so worth a look. For not Gold, it’s only $30 so if you ARE interested in checking it out, it may well be worth it to you.
During the day, in between panels they trivia contests, music videos and costume contests, all of which can win you some Creation script to spend on their goodies.They’re actually quite generous with it – I received $200 for winning the Yes/No trivia contest on Friday, and with that I got 4 tote bags (I live in a state that bans single-use bag in grocery retailers), a t-shirt, a wine glass, a tumbler, a coffee mug, a pillow case a hat and a beanie. You can’t use the script for autographs/photo-ops or next year’s tickets (if only!) but at least if you put forth the effort you can get quite a bit in return. Participation in all their contests is free so go ahead and give it a shot. You just might get lucky!
[ETA: After washing my new coffee mug in the dishwasher so I could start using it, half of the letters in “The Vampire Diaries” were washed off and the heat-activated “tattoo” literally started to melt and got scrunched up on one side, leaving it an ugly mess. Note there was nothing on the table or the mug itself to suggest that it wasn’t dishwasher safe. When I posted about it on Facebook, someone said she had a similar issue with letters washing away and further added that the mugs chip easily. Another friend has one of the shot glasses and hasn’t had any problems, so I don’t know if the problem lies only with the coffee cups or what. Either way, play it safe and only wash by hand.]
Like so many cons, this is a great place to make friends and see friends. People are generally quite nice and chatty if you let yourself be too. It’s especially nice to see in a fandom that can be so divisive online, and honestly, a good part of the reason I go back is because it’s awesome to see some of them people again. It’s just fun!
Wrapping it up
I’ve gone twice now and am planning going for year three. The show has its slow moments, and yet before you know it, the con has gone by in a blink. I come away with some new friends and a greater fondness for a cast I already adore. For me, it’s worth every penny. Though the dollar figures I gave here won’t be the same for Supernatural or Star Trek (TVD is actually the cheapest of the lot) the advice will remain the same – my first convention with them was in 1998 and this con was a refined version of that experience. Make it happen and you’ll have fun. And if you do go, holler at me at Twitter so we can say hi 🙂