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June 5, 2016

Making the Most of MegaCon - Tips & Survival Guide

So, you missed MegaCon? All I can say is - I'm so very sorry! Well, that's not true. I can say more. I can share a little insight on how you can prepare for MegaCon Tampa Bay! That's right - MegaCon is returning to Florida for MegaCon Tampa Bay October 28-30. Although I attended MegaCon Fan Days, this was my first full MegaCon experience, and lucky for you - I learned a thing or three, and I'm happy to share some tips and tricks to help you make the most out of your MegaCon adventure!



1. Start saving NOW
While MegaCon tickets are fairly priced, you have to be prepared for other expenses. If you live outside of Tampa, you'll need a hotel room. Even if you live in Tampa, a hotel room may be a worthwhile investment. Being as close as possible will likely save you on parking fees, as well as time. You will also want to plan on food and drink costs. Who wants to leave the con midday for off-site nourishment? Trust me - you won't want to! There will be vendors supplying food and drink, but it won't be cheap. No dollar menus here! Speaking of vendors... there will be so many fantastic booths set up to sell everything from clothes to memorabilia, to art, to handmade dolls and jewelry. Naturally, you don't have to buy things, but you absolutely will want to! You'll see merchandise from every conceivable fandom and then some, and much of it is incredibly unique. Then, of course... there's photo ops and autographs. Again, not mandatory, but so very hard to resist! Prices can range greatly for these opportunities. Look for updates directly from MegaCon on photo op pricing. Autographs at celebrity tables tend to average between $40-$60. One bit of good news for the penny-pinchers - most celebrities are happy to let you say a quick hello at their tables for free, even if you're not making a purchase. So if you are cash-strapped, you don't have to completely miss out on the celebrity experience.
2. Consider your plan of "attack" well before day one
As soon as you see the convention schedule released from MegaCon, get to work prioritizing. You will not be able to do everything. Many panels and events overlap, and choices have to be made. Some panels draw huge crowds, and you run a good risk of missing out if you arrive five minutes before the scheduled start time, so even if two panels you're interested in don't start at exactly the same time, closely timed events can still set the stage for a difficult decision. Events and panels run all day long, and you still have to find time for shopping, autograph tables, photo ops, meals, and bathroom breaks! What are the elements you absolutely cannot live without? Make those your top tier stops on your schedule. When time allows, squeeze in your tier two desires, and so on. Don't forget the after-parties and post-con events. Get some sleep when you can, because the day runs much longer than posted convention hours!
3. Considering cosplay
Personally, I cannot imagine how some guests spend the entire day on stilts, stiletto heels, or other cumbersome, challenging costume elements... but they do, and it's simply astounding that they can manage it! There's not a lot of time to relax if you have a lot of things you wish to achieve, so just keep that in mind if you're donning an elaborate costume. It would be a shame to miss out on those top tier events just because your feet didn't make it through the day. If you're better able to handle this challenge - more power to you, and you have my ultimate respect! Be advised that a lot of MegaCon guests will want to snap your photo if you arrive in costume. You have the right to say NO, and all guests should have the decency to ask you before taking your photograph. I love photographing the incredibly creative cosplayers at conventions, but I try not to overdo it. Sometimes, you can see the exasperation on the face of a costumed guest... they just want to experience the convention too, and every three steps sometimes, there's someone else with a camera. Photogs - be mindful of this, and be courteous. When someone looks weary, or when they say no - back off. 
4. Attending panels
Celebrity panels run about 45 minutes long. Most of the time, the panel host will spend the first few minutes introducing and talking with the celebrity guest to get things started before opening up the floor for audience questions. You'll see microphones posted for guests to lineup and ask their questions. If you have a question, get in line early, and BE READY! Usually, they won't get to every guest's question, and it's frustrating to have your turn cut if half of the people in front of you were not prepared to speak when it was their turn. Have an intelligent question, and ask it confidently and quickly. Try to avoid three-part questions and ten minute tirades about how much you love the celebrity guest. They know you do - that's why you're there - and everyone else attending the panel loves them too! When the panel ends, even if you want to attend the next panel in that room, you have to clear out first. It's only fair that this happens, because people are already outside the room lining up for the next panel too!
5. Beware of Saturday
We were frequently warned by MegaCon staff and volunteers to beware of Saturdays, and this was such valid, valuable advice! Of the four days of MegaCon, Saturday was the only day that was a true test of commitment. It was ridiculously packed full of people, with many of them haphazardly sitting or laying anywhere they could find a free spot - in hallways and outside of event rooms. It was absolutely insane! While this may not be a big deal to some attendees, those who have claustrophobic tendencies should be aware and plan accordingly. It's like Magic Kingdom on New Year's Eve - no joke!
6. Even if you were never a Boy Scout - BE PREPARED!
If you're in costume, bring some emergency supplies with you for quick repairs (safety pins, glue, etc.). The "cospital" offers free repair assistance as well, but it doesn't hurt to have a few items handy yourself. It wouldn't be a bad idea to have general smart supplies on-hand too, such as band-aids! If you happen to be on your feet all day, your blisters will thank you for advance planning. Make sure that all necessary electronic devices are fully charged before you leave for your convention day. Here in Orlando, the convention center had charging stations. I would expect Tampa may also, so perhaps it would be wise to keep a charging cord with you as well. I had two sets of batteries for my digital camera, a fully charged battery for my video camera, a fully charged phone AND a backup mobile charger for my phone... and all of these were completely drained by the end of each day. All of my SD cards were completely full as well. So many photo ops - so little power!
7. Be social and have fun!
Even if you're an introvert, this is an environment that is "safe" to try and come out of your shell. Look for fellow cosplayers from the same fandom, or "hide" behind a mask to build up some confidence! One of the things that impressed me most about my MegaCon experience was how incredibly kind, friendly and non-judgmental everyone was. Fans, celebrities, volunteers, staff - everyone truly had a generally positive, approachable attitude. It's a very non-intimidating environment overall, and in today's society, that's a nice, welcome change. Don't be afraid to open up and make a friend or two. Make the most of the convention in every way possible. It really is an immeasurably fun, unique experience with so much to explore, learn, create and enjoy!