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Attending SDCC...the Con of all Cons!
Alright, so in Part One, we figured out how to get badges, where to stay, and how to get around downtown San Diego during Comic Con week. Now, it’s time for us to share our favorite tips that we’ve learned all about attending the convention itself!
Again, here’s a handy guide to the things we’ll be talking about:
What to Bring With You for a Day at SDCC
Packing for a day at Comic Con can be a bit of a challenge. On one hand, you want to feel free and not have too much to carry. But on the other hand, the area is so big that it’s hard to go back and forth to your hotel or car if you forgot something important.
One thing is for sure, you’ll definitely want a backpack of some sort. This will hold your identification, wallet, water bottle, and any essentials like diapers or toiletries.
In previous years, we’ve brought everything from big diaper bags (that we overstuffed in the hopes of having only ONE bag to manage, then regretted it when it was really heavy) to small crossbody messenger bags (that ended up digging into our shoulder painfully on one side). For us, however, the perfect balance has been each of us carrying a mini backpack like these awesome ones from Loungefly.
(Click the images if you want one!)
Seriously, we’re addicted. They’ve got way too many adorable geek styles and colors. Like that adorably detailed Sheriff Woody Toy Story Bag, this cool etched leather Groot one, and a funny little chibi Star Wars bag (complete with Ewoks!). You can find them at stores like Hot Topic, Box Lunch, and the Disney Store, and some vendors at comic conventions have them too. They sometimes run a bit expensive (look for coupons with store loyalty programs like Hot Cash and Lunch Money!) but we have found that the quality level is great, and they hold up well where other cheaper bags have ripped at the seams. They’re easy to wipe down, and the size is just right for holding essentials without being too heavy or large and making your back all sweaty and gross in the heat. A word of caution, though…if you see one you really like, snap it up right away! The popular designs often sell out fast.
Whatever you use to carry your stuff, make sure it has two straps like a backpack. You’ll have this on all day, and it often causes muscle pain if you hold it on one side. If your kids are able, let them help out by wearing a small backpack, too! It can be lightweight, holding their snacks or a special toy or two, and this helps you find things easier in a rush without having to dig through a giant bag.
Since women’s clothes rarely have useable pockets (grumble grumble) and I like to keep my phone within easy reach to check line statuses and my schedule, I also wear a little pouch belt around my waist or a very small crossbody bag meant to hold just a phone and wallet. That lets me access it quickly and not have to take my backpack off, plus it keeps my valuables in the front in case someone tries to sneak into my bag behind me.
Don’t forget a camera, either! It’s probably best to keep it as compact as possible. DSLRs with zoom lenses are great for taking pictures of things far away (like in a panel), but it’s one more bulky thing to carry. You’re better off with a smaller point and shoot, or your smart phone. We also recommend signing up ahead of time with an online storage solution like Dropbox… you can set up your phone to automatically send any photos you take right to the cloud, so you can delete them off your device and have plenty of space for the next day’s pics!
We’ll talk a little more later on about what to put in your bags to feed and occupy the kids, but for the rest, think mainly about what you require if you’re out of the house all day and not near many stores, but keep everything compact. Refillable water bottles, sunscreen (yes, even when it’s overcast… you will get burned, and no one wants skin cancer!), any medications needed, your wallet, maybe an extra power bank or charging cord for your phone.
Also, be sure to read each year’s Convention Policies, so you make sure to leave banned items (like selfie sticks!) back at home.
To help make it a bit easier, we’ve put together our list of things to consider packing for a day at a convention, and we’re happy to share it with you. Just click the button below to join our email list for future tips, giveaways, and freebies like this!
Dealing With Massive Crowds and Lines at SDCC
Let’s be real. If you’ve been to other comic conventions, you may think that you’re used to big crowds and long lines.
This is a whole new ball game. Do a Google search for “SDCC Crowds” if you don’t believe me.
The crowds at San Diego Comic Con are another level of crowded. Think shoulder-to-shoulder, shuffling along in herds in many areas, often with people who are sweaty and forgot their deodorant, or carrying large costume pieces that bonk you in the head. Add to that security people yelling at you whenever you stop, and directing you the opposite way of where you want to go, and very little clear signage.
Sound horrendous? Take a deep breath. You can do this. Everything else is worth it.
Something that most people wouldn’t guess about Josh and I based on our careers and the amount of public speaking we do, is that we are both major INTROVERTS. That means that encountering lots of people and interacting all day with small talk especially exhausts us, and we tend to prefer more quiet environments with lots of space.
SDCC is… not that. So we do our best to limit the amounts of time we’re crushed in a mob of people, standing in line, or near really loud speakers. Josh finds that noise cancelling in-ear headphones help him manage the stress better. (He likes these ones from Bose)
Be strategic about the times you visit each area. If the Exhibit Hall is somewhere you hope to spend a lot of time, it might be less crowded during the most popular Hall H panels. Thursday and Friday are usually a little lighter than Saturday and Sunday, also. If offsites are the plan, you may have the best luck getting to one first thing in the morning before long lines build up, when everyone else is rushing to the convention center.
Be sure to take a look at maps, too, for alternate paths that might be less crowded. For example, if we need to get from one side of the convention center to the other, we sometimes exit and go around the back outside by the marina rather than using the crowded sidewalk or hallways inside. It’s a pleasant stroll in the breeze with far less people, and there’s often some neat things to see or street teams handing out swag back there.
Also, (and we’ll say this a lot) use Twitter (even if you don’t have an account). It is the best place to get real-time updates on how long lines are, so it will help you decide whether it’s worth attempting a wait or not. Monitor accounts like @HallHLine, @Ballroom20Line, and @sdccindigo. If you will be waiting for a while, it might be wise to bring a compact little fold-up chair or a dirt/waterproof blanket to spread out on the concrete to sit on. (This could also be useful if you have a picnic lunch somewhere outside!) Just make sure it’s lightweight and easy to put away quickly if the line moves.
Another thing we should mention is that with so many people, you’re going to be around a lot of germs! Don’t forget to bring the hand sanitizer, and wash your hands frequently. We also like to preventatively take Elderberry gummies with Zinc, which helps boost the immune system. No one wants to go back home with the “Con Crud!”
Avoid Getting Lost
With so many people and such a big area, it can be easy to lose sight of one another. You may have a cell phone, but it could run out of power or not have a signal in some rooms. At the beginning of each day, take the time to point out large, recognizable landmarks. It’s a good idea to agree on a place to meet up if you get separated. The Exhibit Hall has large banners above each aisle to help you orient yourself, and some of the booths have unique pieces that can be seen across the whole building.
It is also a good idea to teach your children what to do if they somehow get separated from you. Help them practice reciting your name and your phone number, and walk them through scenarios of “What Ifs” and “What Not to Do.”
We like to tell our kids to stay where they’re at and look for another parent with kids/stroller if they get lost, because they tend to be easy to spot and good at comforting scared kids and helping them find their way back to us. (Not that we expect this to happen, but it’s good to be prepared!) Another option if they need help is official employees with the bright vests, who we point out as well.
Sometimes even when kids can calmly practice what they’d do if they got lost, they have trouble actually staying calm when it does happen in real life. At 6 years old, Brendan is pretty outgoing and well-spoken. But earlier this year at another convention, he wandered away from us in the opposite direction we were walking, after we told him not to go get candy from another table. We saw him do it, and thought we’d take the chance to see if he’d do the right thing once he realized we weren’t next to him and that he was “lost.” So we just stopped behind a pillar in the aisle and watched quietly.
He looked around, and didn’t see us… then suddenly burst into loud screams and tears and plopped himself on the floor in the middle of the aisle. We obviously went right back to him, but it was a good learning opportunity for him to realize that he shouldn’t stray from us, and that it’s easy to get swallowed up by the crowd. We were able to sit down and have a calm conversation about what he should do next time instead, and practice what he should say.
If you think your child wouldn’t be able to talk to an adult or they’re too young to memorize your contact info, having the kids wear ID bracelets might be a good idea, just in case they aren’t wearing their lanyard. We got these, which are waterproof and reusable, and not easy for little ones to tear off.
Another great option is skin-safe tattoo markers like these. I decorated a little spot on their inner arm with their info and a different superhero doodle each day.
Also, be aware that there is a rule against personal messages being made over the PA system at the con, so if you get separated, you won’t be able to have announcements for your family to meet you. However, there is a message board available in Lobby C of the convention center, where you can post written messages. It may be a good idea to familiarize yourself with that location, in case you need to use it.
Naptimes and Quiet Spots
With all the craziness, it’s important to identify rest areas where you can find some peace, especially if your child needs to nap during the day. The Exhibit Hall is generally not a great place for this, since security will make you move if you pause too long and loiter near the walls or doors. They’re just doing their job, so try not to take it personally.
Upstairs in the Sails Pavillion between the panel rooms are much quieter and less crowded, so it can be a good area to walk around in the air conditioning. Many places will not allow you to stop and sit in the hallways, though, so keep an eye out for spots where you can. If it’s not too hot and there is a breeze, you might be able to find benches or shady areas in between hotels and the marina area, too.
One of the places we like to go for lunch time or naps in the stroller is the Embarcadero Marina, a nice little park behind the Convention Center. They have food trucks, tables with umbrellas, and free cold water stations. If the kids are antsy, it’s also a wonderful place to run around on the grass with lots of space!
Most hotel lobbies near the convention center have plenty of little nooks and chairs to rest, as well.
Then again, sometimes if kids are tired enough, they’ll sleep through ANYTHING, so it doesn’t matter where you walk… Here is Toby sleeping soundly as a DRUM LINE WITH TRUMPETS passes right by.
If you’re a nursing mom or need a quiet, dim place to give a bottle, one of the bathrooms inside the convention center but outside the Exhibit Hall doors (next to the Starbucks) actually has a quiet nursing lounge. It’s a private curtained-off room with soft chairs to sit and feed your baby and plugs if you need to pump. That was a great find when Toby was little!
This is also a good time to mention that there may be some areas you’ll want to avoid with your kids. Most of the things you’ll see around the con are pretty kid-safe (and the things that aren’t will probably go over their heads anyway), but there will definitely be some scary images and adult content scattered around. AMC’s “The Walking Dead” for example, has a booth complete with creepy “walkers” that lunge at the fences while people walk past. We usually steer around this booth to avoid giving the kids nightmares, and they’re none the wiser!
There are plenty of great restaurants around the Gaslamp District to try out, but we don’t have a lot of advice on which are the best, due to our various food allergies that have kept us from testing them out. It’s hard to find places that are “safe” when you have one allergic to dairy and two allergic to gluten!
Some places go all out and theme their business to Comic Con each year! The diner at the Hard Rock is themed like NBC’s “The Good Place” this year, for example. (How fun!) Many of these restaurants will have very long waits or require a reservation. You can try using reservation services like Open Table to plot out the shortest waits. However, keep in mind that the prices will probably be a lot higher than usual, too.
If you’d like to stay to more of a familiar, budget-friendly fast food fare, you might consider taking the trolley out to further away areas mid-day to escape the crowds and inflated prices. Little Italy has a Jack in the Box, and Mission Valley has In N Out and the Fashion Valley mall with a big food court.
You might also want to visit a grocery store or sub shop ahead of time, and bring some sandwiches in your backpack to eat on your own time. We find that waiting in lines is the perfect time to eat a meal on the go, since we’re stuck there anyway. We also like to pack a protein shake or yummy vegan Apple Pie Larabars, to help keep our energy up in between meals. Oftentimes the shake and some snacks are enough to cover lunch (since that’s harder to find at a reasonable price near the main convention), then we eat a bigger breakfast and dinner offsite. Hot dogs, carrots, and other finger foods are great for kids (and adults).
And please, DON’T FORGET TO STAY HYDRATED! It’s very easy to get overheated while walking around, and you need water to keep your energy going. You can find booths around the con with free water refill stations (last year they were near the Hall H tents and in the Embarcadero Park), so be sure to pack something that will stay sealed in your bag when you’re not using it. We also find it helpful to use bottles that have a ring or clip on the top, so we can hang it on the stroller for easy access.
To Cosplay or not to Cosplay?
I loooove cosplay. It’s so much fun to recreate outfits from my favorite characters, and “become” them for a day! The kids enjoy dressing up too, so we often theme our outfits as a group. Some of our favorite cosplays have been Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Jurassic Park dino wranglers with T-Rexes, and crazy Star Trek moments like 4 year old Captain Kirk riding a Gorn and 1 year old Kirk covered with Tribbles (yep, we were pretty proud of those, and they won a costume contest at the Star Trek Beyond world premiere at the 2016 SDCC).
One thing is for sure: people LOVE seeing kids in cosplay. When the boys are in a great costume, so many con-goers and vendors interact and play pretend with them! It makes their day. It has even allowed the kids special access to chat with celebrity guests (sometimes they stop US to chat!) or gotten them free prizes, just because it is clear that they love certain things (like the time a vendor spotted Brendan enthusiastically posing in his Spiderman costume, and surprised him with a Spiderman Mr. Potatohead). When you let your kids express their fandom, it really puts a smile on people’s faces.
That being said, cosplay IS a lot of work, and doing it at SDCC is more difficult than most because of things like heat and crowds. It’s difficult to carry big props through a mob of people, or risk fragile costume pieces that could be destroyed with a bump. So if you are going to cosplay here, keep it simple and comfortable.
Our first year, I worked hard to create homemade Ninja Turtle outfits for the boys and Josh, and dressed as April O’Neil. I had recently voiced her in a VR game, so I thought it would be cool to get into character!
What was great is that the costumes were super comfy and easy to move around in. We got stopped for photos constantly, which was kind of fun. The downside is that when we weren’t inside the convention center, those shells, eye masks, and wigs got HOT. We were glad to get rid of them at the end of the day!
Make sure to keep a few fix-it items on hand, too, in case a costume gets broken! We were glad we packed safety pins when Toby’s velcro that held the shell on kept unsticking. Bobby pins, double sided tape, a little spool of thread and baby wipes if there is any makeup/face paint can also be helpful.
In other words, take your cute photos at the BEGINNING of the day when everyone is fresh and make sure to have backup shorts and tee shirts for the kids because you’ll probably be in half a costume most of the day. Any parts the kids don’t feel like wearing will end up in your arms or under the stroller.
Though it is fun to do the elaborate cosplays, we’ve learned that it’s much more fun for us to just do it for ONE day of the con, if at all. Generally we are more comfortable and happy just wearing themed geek clothes and accessories to SDCC, like Doctor Who one day, Star Trek another, Superhero capes another, etc. We save the costumes for smaller conventions like Wondercon and Los Angeles Comic Con now, where more people dress up.
If you don’t live in an area where filming is common, you might not have many opportunities to meet celebrities. The good news is that SDCC gives you LOTS of opportunities to see them, often without paying extra for an autograph!
Sails Pavilion often has tables with voice actors and movie stars that you can chat with easily (we enjoyed talking to Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman, at his table). If you pass through the area, you might see some pretty famous people seated at the tables, or walk by them as they’re escorted to their session. It’s an easy way to get a little thrill at seeing someone you know from tv or movies, without adding a lot of extra time to your schedule or making the kids sit through a panel.
A little known fact is that everyone signing in Sails Pavilion have agreed to provide one free autograph in your Souvenir Program Book. There may be a line that they cap, and some signings are ticketed in the Exclusives Portal, but you can still see the folks up close in most cases by walking by.
With the addition of the new Exclusives Portal, you can “win” a chance to meet and get something signed by an entire cast. However, your chances of getting the ones you want are slim, and if you do win a session, only one adult can go. Kids can join a parent in line, however, but the other adult can’t even stand in line or get close to the signing table unless they have a slot, so you will be separated.
We found this out the hard way last year when we hoped to go to the Duck Tales autograph signing. David Tennant, who plays Scrooge McDuck (and is our favorite Doctor) was making a rare appearance, and we were dying to say hello. Laci really wanted to tell him that she records in a sound booth painted like a TARDIS! We waited in a long line only to have crowd control tell us at the last minute that they were changing it to a random lottery. Noooo! Josh drew a winning ticket, but Laci didn’t, and couldn’t go with him. Sigh.
By this time, the boys were asleep. Toby was in the carrier, and Brendan was passed out in the stroller, so Josh decided to take him along in case he woke up and could meet the cast. This actually ended up being one of the funniest moments that year, though. We now have a video of the cast of Duck Tales talking to a totally oblivious sleeping Brendan in the stroller as Josh wheeled him by the table. They were hilarious!
Another place you might be able to catch a glimpse of your favorite stars is on the Exhibit Hall floor. Some of the major booths like WB and Fox hold their signings there, so check the schedules posted at each booth for times and dates. With careful planning, you can walk right by…
…if you’re willing to brave really squished crowded aisles. See that security guy in the first pic? He’s constantly yelling at full volume to “take a picture and move along, move along!” It’s madness. They don’t let you stop, understandably, for everyone’s safety. If there’s a cast you’d like to see, be prepared: don’t bring a stroller near there (trust us, you’ll regret it if you try), lift the kids onto your shoulders, walk by slowly and carefully, then get out of there. Follow directions. You might get a wave hello, at least! Neil DeGrasse Tyson here saw Brendan’s Star Trek shirt and gave him a shout out as we passed, which was fun.
The most important things to remember are 1) be respectful of the celebrities (don’t stick a camera in their face, ask them for a hug or try to force an interaction. They’re people too!), 2) follow the rules laid out, and 3) be aware of your surroundings to keep your family safe. No one wants a trampled child. If it doesn’t look like you can safely get through, avoid it!
Let’s be honest, most panels are not going to be that interesting for the kiddos. There ARE a few that they will love (premieres of animated movies with Q&As by the cast are great fun!), so scour the schedule to find the ones that will interest your family, and limit the amount of time you’ll be asking the kids to sit quietly. If you have a baby, it helps to wear them in a carrier, since strollers are not permitted in the panel rooms.
Make sure to pack things to keep them occupied if they get antsy, but be respectful to those around you in the audience. If you give your child a tablet or game to play, make them use earphones. (Yep, we’ve come across a number of rude parents who let their kids blast a movie or beeping video games at full volume in panels. Argh! Please don’t give adult con-goers reasons to hate kids being there!) A coloring book or seek-and-find magazine can be a good distraction, or perhaps a small toy that takes focus like a Rubik’s cube or fidget puzzle.
It might also be a good time for snacks, but avoid anything with crinkly wrappers. It’s distracting to the panelists, too. If all else fails and your child is just not willing to sit any longer, please be kind to those around you and take them out. We like to get seats in the back or on an aisle, because we can’t always predict how the boys will behave in a panel. Sometimes they’re interested and watch quietly, and other times they get too talkative and wiggly, so we trade off and whichever parent is less interested in the panel will take the kids out for a walk. Be flexible and follow your kids’ cues.
If you do find a panel that your child is interested in, that’s great! If they are brave, encourage your kid to go up to the mic and ask a question. This is often the most entertaining part! Kids come up with some wonderfully imaginative questions, and panelists enjoy talking to them. Plus, they get to see themselves up on a big screen, and there are usually prizes given. Brendan asked a question at this cartoon voices panel, and got a notebook and cool action figure set.
Don’t focus only on bigger panels, like the ones in Hall H or Ballroom 20, either. Sometimes the smaller, less popular panel rooms hold the most interesting sessions, and you may have the chance to talk one-on-one to panelists afterward (which NEVER happens in the bigger ones!).
Another possible option is using the on-site childcare, if there’s a panel you want to see but have a younger child that won’t be interested. KiddieCorp (https://www.comic-con.org/cci/child-care) runs a fun supervised drop-off play area inside the convention center during SDCC. However, we’ve never actually been able to use it because reservations fill up so fast ahead of time. You might have luck checking with them in the morning to see if they have space for walk-ins, however.
If your kids are not quite ready to sit through panels quietly yet, and you can’t get into childcare, don’t stress. Just enjoy your time together, so that it’s fun for everyone. There is SO much to do and see at SDCC that you won’t be bored. Focus on the more active activities and fun things to see, and try it again when they’re older.
Offsites are usually our favorite experiences from SDCC each year! There are so many of them, and it’s fun to walk around and see what you can find. There are even street teams whose sole job is to surprise people with free stuff!
While some experiences require that you show your convention badge, others are open to anyone, so you might be able to participate even if you don’t have a badge. You may want to line up extra early for any that you are interested in, though. Some take reservations ahead of time (like this year’s NBC experience), and those details are emailed out to attendees, so unless you’re following up carefully on the news, you may have a long wait.
Which brings us to the next point: research! It can sometimes be hard to find information about all the offsites once SDCC starts, so you’ll want to browse through the descriptions and familiarize yourself with the options beforehand. Some activities are restricted to age 21+, so you’ll want to know that ahead of time. Outside Comic Con and the SDCC Unofficial Blog are wonderful places to find out more.
Also, Twitter is your friend. If there is a particular fandom your family loves, open a tab on your phone for something like Tweetdeck, which will let you track particular hastags, like #sdcc and #harrypotter, for example. Also follow the accounts of studios or actors that you know will be onsite. This is a great way to find out where events might take place, and they are often less crowded because less people know about it! That is how last year Josh got to meet the cast of Star Trek Discovery, and Laci got to hang out with the voice actors who played Pinky and the Brain.
Speaking of hashtags, following them and checking occasionally when you have downtime is a great way to score some unique and free swag! Try keywords like #sdcc and #giveaway, #free, and #exclusive. Sometimes companies will post things like “the first 100 people to find us in front our booth get a free prize!” If you happen to already be near there, it’s worth checking out!
Some fans also do things called “prizedrops” where they leave fun little surprises all over the convention area for others to find and keep. You might find a cute crochet Hedwig doll perched in a tree along your route, or a Spiderman action figure. Follow the hashtag #AdventuresofPrizeMule to discover some of these! We haven’t been able to get one yet because people are fast (and sometimes we’re on the wrong side of the convention when the locations are posted), but we’ll keep trying because it’s a fun scavenger hunt!
Many of the booths in the Exhibit Hall have free swag, too. When you initially get your badge and lanyard upstairs in Sails Pavillion, you’ll be directed to a table where you are given an exclusive “swag bag” and pin. There are usually a few different designs, and they’re random… you don’t get to choose which one you get. However, it’s totally okay to ask someone to trade with you! Some people collect the bags and won’t want to, but if your kid prefers a DC Super Hero Girls bag over one with a zombie on it, just watch other people who just picked theirs up and ask if you can trade. Most of the time, people just want the bag to carry their stuff, and don’t care what’s on it, so you might as well get one you like!
About those bags. Don’t overstuff them. Yes, they have straps to help you balance the weight, but we’ve found that they tear easily if you put anything other than lightweight paper or posters in them. Once the strap breaks, they become annoying to lug around, so be careful!
If you are able to get one ahead of time, you may want to bring along a poster tube like this, or have one waiting back in your hotel. It saves space when you can roll up any signed posters or artwork you collect, and it keeps them from getting creased or dented. Sometimes booths (like FOX) give them away or sell them as well. Tube giveaways run out fast, so go there first thing!
Keep your eye out for giveaways and spin-to-win type opportunites at the exhibit booths, too! Our kids really love spinning wheels, so they have developed eagle eyes for them… they won’t let us pass by a booth if there’s a chance to try to get a prize! This picture was taken at the Ugly Dolls booth last year. They had this arcade claw machine thing full of exclusive geek-themed Ugly Dolls you could ONLY get by skill. No one had been able to beat the claw all day. Then little Brendan strolls up, and grabs this Optimus Prime Ugly Doll right away on his first try. You should have seen the reaction from everyone watching who had been trying so hard, and the employees cracking up! He had no idea what he’d just done. It was pretty funny. (Optimus Ugly has earned a special place on Brendan’s bed now, and they asked for a special photo of him with it since he was the first person to own this toy!)
Finally, if you plan on being at the Con on Sunday, be sure to walk by some of your favorite booths right before the Exhibit Hall closes. Many of the exhibitors come from far away, and they don’t want to ship back all their unsold stuff. We’ve had people hand us things like toys and beautifully illustrated books on our way out. Sometimes they were even things we’d looked at earlier and decided they were too expensive! So pay attention as you’re walking out at the last minute, and watch for exhibitors who are holding things and scanning the crowd… they may just surprise you if you catch their eye and smile.
Alrighty, I think that’s everything I can think of! I hope it was helpful. Looking forward to seeing some of you at SDCC, and be sure to tell us if any of these tips worked out for you! Remember, San Diego Comic Con can seem really overwhelming as a parent, but if you plan ahead properly, stay flexible with your expectations, and look for the fun moments to share with your kids, you’ll have a great time.
Wow! It’s a lot to digest, but we hope you now feel a bit more confident about attempting SDCC with the whole family.
If we missed anything, feel free to post a question in the comments, and we’ll do our best to answer it!