It’s the Monday after Comic-Con, and for the most part, San Diego seems back to its usual relaxed self. But for the past five days, our seaside city was anything but; it even had a distinctly Times Square feel to it. Huge billboards dotted our skyline, public transit donned full body branding images and interactive zones invited non-ticket holders to participate in unique TV and film experiences.
For this Comic-Con virgin, the whole thing was definitely an interesting experience, and at times, a bit overwhelming. If you missed the chaos this year and are planning on attending in 2016, here is a list of things I wished I had known before attending the 130,000-person event.
First of all, get on Comic-Con’s e-mail list by signing up for a Member ID. Don’t wait until the day tickets are on sale because their network will already be overcrowded and it will impede your registration process. On sale day, once you enter the Online Registration page you’ll need to commit to spending anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour waiting in an online lobby. While you can do it on your mobile device, it is best to use a computer. You’ll need these four items: your registration code, Member ID, last name and payment before you can proceed to the purchase window. After you hit purchase, it’s time to sit back and boast about your pass on social media.
Ace Parking offers a limited number of parking spots at and around the convention center. To secure those, follow them on Twitter and watch for the parking pass sale announcement. They go just as quickly as Con tickets. Otherwise, if you don’t have a secured spot, I’d highly recommend avoiding driving into downtown. Instead, take public transit. The MTS Trolley makes two stops right in front of the convention center and is only $2.50 each way. You can also buy a pass for all four days so you don’t have to worry about it the rest of your time. For those heading to Hall H, get off at the Gaslamp Quarter, not the Convention Center stop (it’s a closer walk). You can also take Uber, Lyft or hire a private care service, but you’ll most likely be stuck on the congested streets for longer than you’d like. So plan on giving yourself enough extra time so that you’re not rushing last minute to get there.
The convention floor offers a plethora of panel rooms to explore, exhibits to visit and a few dining options to eat at. When you pick up your pass you’ll get a map along with program schedules and more insight into the weekend. From an autograph signing area to grand interactive studio booths and exhibitors selling rare, exclusive and unique comics, memorabilia and attire, it definitely takes all four days to get a real feel for the event. Unless you’re like me and are more interested in the panels, then you can do the floor in a day (preferably at Wednesday's preview night).
Oh, and in case you believe lines are only for panels, don’t be fooled. All interactive exhibits have lines, especially when the celebrities come out to sign autographs. Pretty much just assume you’ll be in a line for most of Con. Even with a press badge, unless your publication is given a special wristband as well, you’re still guaranteed to play the waiting game.
In terms of food, at the back of the convention floor is the Café Express and sprinkled inside the lobby areas are Mrs. Fields, Auntie Anne’s pretzels and Starbucks food carts. Needless to say, the food is pretty underwhelming. Plan to either bring your own food or take a break from the crowds by visiting the nearby restaurants (of which there are a ton, within just a couple blocks).
The infamous Hall H. Located at the east end of the center, Hall H sits 6,600 people and is home to the most sought-after panels. Beginning on Wednesday’s Preview Night, many fans will start to lineup with blankets in tow to ensure entrance into the hall for the following day. No restrooms or facilities are available to campers between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. (so don’t fill up on water before hitting the sack). If you are a diehard fan, you’re going to want to do this because even those who stay the night can risk not getting in. Last year, Con introduced the Toucan Tracker wristbands which are given out each night before each Hall H panel. They are distributed at the front of the Next Day Line (NDL) for Hall H.
According to Comic-Con's website, you can do one of three things with the wristband:
If you manage to get into Hall H, congrats! Personally, I found Thursday’s line to be much more accessible than any of the other days. Arriving at 9 a.m., I was able to snag a spot in the hall, which was a surprise panel for Rock the Kasbah with the glorious Bill Murray in attendance and Screenwriter Mitch Glazer. However, the next day, had I arrived at the same time, I would not have been able to get into the Game of Thrones panel at 2:30, since people had lined up en masse the night before.
Those who’ve been before know that once you get into that first 10 a.m. panel, you’re guaranteed a seat to any panel that day. Meaning that, unfortunately, many people don’t leave (I did not) and as time passes, fewer and fewer attendees in the outside line have a chance to make it in (hence the urgency to secure a spot in the first panel).
After a panel, if you’d like to stretch your legs and walk to the nearby restrooms, you’ll get a little colored paper with a time on it. If you’re back within that time frame, your spot inside the hall is protected. After that, sorry, but you’ll need to get back in line. There is a Café Express in Hall H that is cash only and sells basic stadium foods and snacks. (Note: There are specified seats for disabled pass holders who get to get in a little bit earlier, but that does not guarantee admission into every panel. It is still best to arrive early as they cap those reserved seats as well.)
Do it. If you’re not totally into the whole dressing up thing, at least consider doing it for an afternoon. It’s playful, creative and incredibly fun to be someone else for the day. If nothing else, you may find yourself being displayed on one of the many news sites that are running around throughout the weekend. Everyone is extremely encouraging of each other’s costumes and if your duds are good enough, be prepared to stop every few feet to take pictures with other cosplayers or admiring attendees. Good news is, if you rip or damage a part of your costume, there is a dedicated repair station to the right of the expo floor entrance. No matter what they have to fix, it's all complimentary to you! One last thing, be mindful of children attending the event and consider leaving the sexier part of your costumes for Halloween night.
Since there are only a limited number of passes available, those hoping to still get a Comic-Con experience without a ticket can participate in interactive exhibits in the surrounding areas. This year, visitors could pet beagle puppies in Snoopy’s doghouse (The Peanuts Movie), participate in an obstacle court for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate due out this year, and live out their zombie fantasies with The Walking Dead Escape experience featuring makeovers, role-playing and an obstacle course. Many San Diego restaurants will also offer up special menus and creative superhero-esque cocktails during the week. Even if you aren’t holding a ticket, you can throw on your favorite costume and dine about town. This is one of the few times it’s considered normal to see people in cosplay while dining. Some of my personal favorites located nearby the convention center include the Hard Rock Hotel, The Blind Burro, Puesto, Grant Grill (upscale dining), Basic (amazing pizza), Burger Lounge and Double Standard.