We just got back from our second year at Dragon Con. While prepping for our trip last year, I scoured through blogs and pages about taking kids to Dragon Con. Most of the pages had one message in common: Leave your kids at home. Well, we are here to tell parents that not only is taking your kids to Dragon Con possible, but it can be an amazingly fun experience. I LOVED watching my kids gush over the costumes, point out all of their favorite characters, and mingle with the cosplayers. We were taking a break when all of the sudden, Sparkles jumps up, runs over to a cosplayer, and says “Watchdog! Can I take a picture with you!”. Yes, we were totally beaming with pride.
Taking your kids to Dragon Con can be an amazing experience, but a little planning can go a long way. Here are some tips that really helped us.
Location: The first year that we went to Dragon Con, we were working on a tight budget. In order to save money, we thought it would be a great idea to camp out at Stone Mountain and drive in every day. That was a bad idea. It was a 30 minute drive and after a long and tiring day, the kids got cranky in the car and then no one wanted to cook when we got back. Also, it is still fairly hot and humid in Georgia at that time so no one was getting a good night’s sleep. This year, we opted to rent a house through AirBnB. While it was pricier than camping, it was cheaper than staying at one of the host hotels. The house that we rented was about 10 minutes away from the festivities. It was close enough that the drive wasn’t a burden and far enough away that it gave us an escape from the crowds at night. We were able to store freezer meals that could be popped into the oven for easy dining.
Parking: If you are staying in a host hotel, parking shouldn’t be an issue, but if you are driving in, you will need to budget for parking. Last year, parking in any of the surrounding lots was $25 a day. This year, $30 a day. Once you park, you can’t leave or you will have to repay that fee. Parking fees are good for 24 hours as long as you don’t need to go anywhere. It may be cheaper for smaller families to park and take the MARTA into town, but with 5 of us, that option was more expensive. We liked to park in the lot that is located at the intersection of Peachtree Center Ave NE and John Portman Blvd NE. This put us right beside the Marriott and was within easy walking distance for lunch time. It is also a good parade watching spot.
Badges: If you have the option of getting your badges on Thursday, do it! There is no wait time and the kids will have fun running through the maze of barricades. If you can’t get your badges until Friday, get there EARLY in the morning. The line backs up very quickly and you will spend hours waiting just to get your badges. Your kids do not need to be present to get their badges, however, adults will need to show ID. Also, Dragon Con does not provide lanyards for badges. They are available for purchase, but finding a vendor can be difficult. Bring your own lanyards to help keep badges safe. Kids 4 and under do not need to have badges to attend.
Food: Convention food is EXPENSIVE so if you are on a budget, plan, plan, plan for food! Those really small bags of chips that you get in vending machines? $3 a bag at DC. Yeah. Nonsense! We brought a back pack with us which we filled with snacks. We packed a variety of snacks including fruit cups, fresh apples, granola/granola bars, and chips. We ate breakfast when we got up, packed sandwiches in a cooler to leave in the car for lunch, nibbled on the snacks throughout the day, and cooked dinner when we got back to our rental. We spent about $80 for the entire weekend on food for 5 of us.
Water: Last year, we attempted to carry around plastic bottles of water. That got heavy fast. This year, we got refillable water bottles. There are water fountains located throughout the hotels that have decent drinking water. Keep hydrated and remind your kids to drink water because it does get hot.
Costumes: Costumes are a lot of fun, but need a lot of planning and consideration. The hotels are hot and crowded so bulkier costumes can get burdensome quickly. If you plan on walking around in costume, go with something light and that doesn’t restrict visibility. If you have a larger costume, the Marriott is a great place to hang out and mingle with other cosplayers. If your kids are dressing up, have a change of clothes handy. This year, we had the girls put on shorts and tank tops under their outfits so we could shed them quickly without struggling to find a changing area. Since the car was parked close by, D20 Dude ran the costumes back to the car so we didn’t have to lug them around. People LOVE kids in costumes so prepare your kids in advance that people may stop and talk to them or want to take their picture. Sparkles is an extrovert so she ate up all of the attention. Rainbow is more of an introvert and by the third picture, she was giving people scowls that would freeze them in their tracks.
Panels and workshops: Panels and workshops can be a lot of fun, but don’t overdo it. There are a lot of exciting things that happen at DC and it is very easy to over schedule yourself and your kids. What we did is made a list of events that each of us were interested in. We marked each event with symbols noting how high of a priority they were. For example, meeting Adam and Jamie from Mythbusters was a high priority, but the panel on UFOs was low, meaning if we got to make it, cool, if not, no one would be devastated. If you are attending one of the higher profile panels, such as the George Takei panel, you will need to be in line at LEAST an hour before hand. They say you can’t line up before that, but everyone does it anyway. If it is a high priority, be there well in advance. Waiting can be very difficult, especially for younger kids so bring things to occupy them in line. We brought tablets and gaming devices. Of course, this is how D20 Dude waited for upcoming panels.
Walk of Fame: This is an exciting part of Dragon Con. Getting to meet celebrities from your favorite shows and movies. The line for the walk of fame moves pretty quickly so don’t worry about the wait. Some of the higher profile celebrities may have a longer wait to meet them, but if you are just looking for a peeksie, you can usually stand off to the side and catch a glimpse. Celebrities do charge for autographs and pictures so be aware of that. Prices range from about $25-$50. However, talking to the celebrity and shaking their hand is free.
Parade: The Dragon Con parade is on Saturday morning at 10am. Scope out the route before you leave. The route has changed from year to year so you want to make sure you have the most current parade route. If you want a good spot, get there early. There is going to be a lot of waiting, so bring water, snacks, and entertainment. The roads are not blocked off until shortly before the parade starts so watch for traffic too. This is a lot of fun though and there are so many amazing costumes and props.
Toddlers and infants: Toddlers and infants can be a little more difficult. If you have the option of wearing your child in a wrap or carrier such as an Ergo, it will be easier to navigate through the crowds. Strollers can be very tricky through the crowd and on escalators. There are elevators in the hotels, but there are usually long lines to use them. As with any situation with wee ones, be prepared with lots of distractions and take lots of breaks.
Resting spots: Sometimes you need to get away from the crowds and take a break. There are a lot of nooks and crannies in the hotels that will give your family space to sit and rest a while. Seek out spots away from the chaos to take a break, eat snacks, and hydrate. These breaks gave us enough energy and sanity to keep going through the rest of the day. There are usually restrooms in the more secluded spots that allow for quick trips to the restroom for smaller bladders.
Bring entertainment: There is a lot to do at Dragon Con, but there can be a lot of waiting too. Be prepared. Bring handheld video games, tablets, books, crayons, or whatever else will keep your kids busy during these moments.
Pictures: There is a LOT to take photos of. Give your kids the camera for a while and see what they come up with! Seeing the view from their perspective is awesome.
Days of Attendance: We buy weekend passes so that we have the option of going at any time. This may or may not work for your family. Saturday is the busiest day of the con. This is usually when the more elaborate costumes come out. This is also when more of the higher profile panels happen. There is a lot more to do and see, but the crowds are intense and the lines can be very long. Friday and Sunday mornings are great because there are smaller crowds but still a lot to do. These are the best days to hit the Walk of Fame. Monday is still a convention day, but the activities are very limited. Most of the celebrities are packing up and leaving and cosplayers are minimal. The upside is that the crowds are sparse so it is very easy to maneuver and attend the few panels that are available.
Hope this helps our fellow geeky parents! If you have other tips, please leave them in the comments below!