If you know much about me, you’ll know that I enjoy anime. I have for the last few years attended a variety of conventions about anime, and the best one I have ever been to is Anime Weekend Atlanta. It is big but not too big. It is close to Atlanta but not in the heart of Downtown. It is relatively inexpensive considering all the content. There are just so many positive things I could say about AWA. But this isn’t a review of AWA so much as it is an advice post about what has worked best for me in the past. In this post I will discuss things from budgeting, events, parking, and all the little details I learned over the years that first timers might want to know. Think about this as a living document since I will amend it as I learn more and some of you provide some insight. So let’s get started.
Let’s start off with the boring stuff. How do you pay for this thing to best optimize your con-going experience? I know it doesn’t sound like it’s worth mentioning, but I know how stressful it can be trying to attend a con when you are running low on money. Start by itemizing your con experience. Next to each item include the cost of that item. For example:
- Registration Badge – $X
- Hotel – $X
- Parking – $X
- Ticketed Event – $X
- Food – $X
- Snacks- $X
- Liquor – $X
- Transportation – $X
- Dealer’s Room & Artist’s Alley – $X
There are plenty of other items you might want to include that will vary from person to person. Then, start looking at each item and break those down into ways you can either eliminate them entirely or reduce the cost. A lot of people manage the cost of the hotel by either commuting or getting roomies. Some people find they can reduce the cost of the food by not eating out and instead making food beforehand. The idea at this stage is to get a target of how much money you will need. When you have a budget in hand it makes it much easier to do the things you want to do. I know that when I am wandering around the Dealer’s Room or Artist’s Alley it is very tempting to spend a lot of cash. With a budget of how much I am allowing myself to spend there prevents that problem.
Now that the boring stuff is out of the way, let’s have some fun. For me, there is nothing funner than the events at AWA. You get to meet interesting people, do new things, and just have a generally good experience. There are dances, social events, panels, demonstrations, performances, and much more. I highly recommend perusing the schedule and finding things that you might enjoy and then checking them out. These are just a few of the great things to check out at AWA and my personal thoughts on what first-timers should consider.
The Ball: The formal Ball is without question the highlight of the convention. Spending Friday evening with fellow con-goers in all our finery is a great way to get to know some new friends in a relaxed environment. There is also a VIP experience that I feel is well worth it. This is a ticket event, so you will need to budget that into your costs. I recommend it for everyone at least once. I’ve been to several Balls at other cons and none of them are as good as AWA’s. In the past there have been live quartets, amazing decorations, delicious food, and good friends. Just remember it is a formal event. I know a lot of people think they can get away with a button down shirt and tie, but they will send you away. This is formal black tie, the second most formal dress code possible. Only white tie is more formal. So that means tuxedos and ball gowns. Deviate from those requirements at your own risk. I’ve seen women dressed in gorgeous gowns get sent home because they are wearing sneakers. I don’t know if those people got refunds, either. You’ve been warned. That being said, formal cosplay is encouraged at this event. That makes for some AMAZING cosplays that you won’t see on the general convention floor. You do need to follow some simple etiquette rules, though. No tails or wings, for example. Basically, your cosplay cannot interfere with people dancing. Check this event out.
The Rave: Since we are talking about dances, let’s talk about the Rave. Technically, I think the staff prefers to call this the Saturday Night Dance Party, but as far as I’m concerned, it is a rave. Spend your Saturday night gyrating to a variety of DJs. I’ve been once. Was not my cup of tea, but I’m glad I went. Again, I think this a something every AWA con-goer has to do at least once. This is very different from the Ball. The music is loud. The lights are low. The room is packed. This is less an opportunity to socialize and more of an opportunity to go a little crazy and have fun. Best part, this is NOT a ticketed event. Your admission is covered in your purchase of Saturday’s badge. So, since you’ve payed for it already, you may as well give it a look see.
The Lobby Party: This is not an official AWA event. Basically, someone, I don’t know who, gets a permit from the hotel to set up an impromptu dance in the hotel lobby on Saturday night before the Rave. Think of this as a rave pre-game. I don’t really participate, but it is kind of fun to watch and see some of the dancers from the upper floors of the hotel. Besides, I am usually in the next event which takes place at the same time.
The Bebop Lounge: While the Lobby Party is going strong, you can usually find a smaller and quieter atmosphere just next door in the Bebop Lounge. This is a kind of laid back jazz club that AWA puts on every year. It is a lot of fun. I am usually there in my tux dancing the night away. Each year it is a little different. The Mixer used to be its own event until they merged the Lounge and the Mixer into one in order to allow alcohol into the Lounge. Because it changes, it can be a little difficult to predict just how the evening will turn out. One year I left after about twenty minutes when the lobby party crowd poured in a just took over the room. That being said, the Events team is apparently doing a lot to try an change that. There have not been any dress codes in the past, but that may not be the case this year. I suggest checking first. Otherwise, this is a nice, quiet alternative to the Lobby Party and Rave. Having the choice to do either is great and one of the things I love about this convention.
Super Happy Fun Sale: I’ve been to this twice. The first time they had this, it was an amazing experience. After that, the cat was out of the bag, so to speak. This is a Thursday event. As a result, there is not a lot else going on at that time. So everyone, and I do mean everyone, tends to go. So be prepared to wait on line or get there really early. Basically, it is a flea market where con-goers can purchase a table and sell their gently used items. You can get some great deals. I bought the complete manga sets for both D.N.Angel and Fruits Basket for $30. You get haggle and there are some really interesting finds. Keep in mind that there is a finite amount of space in that room and every con-goer tries to get in. About thirty seconds after they first let people in it is asses to elbows. If you are not comfortable in cramped spaces or crowds, consider an alternative like the Manga Library (which we will get to later).
Kuma Kuma Maid Café: This is a full tea service catered by friendly maids and butlers. I have never attended, but I am told it is a lot of fun. This is a ticketed event. Also, keep in mind this is a tea service and you should act accordingly.
Cosplay/Fashion Shows: I’ve been to a couple of these and they are always interesting to watch even if you are not into cosplay or fashion. I suggest checking at least one out. There are usually a few.
Opening/Closing Ceremonies: These are fun because they offer some insight into giongs on of the con. There is usually a Q&A between the con staff and the attendees. You can find out a great deal of information like when the next con is. There are also usually some amazing AMV’s and performances. It is basically a variety show to open and close the con. Plus, its free. Which is nice.
Other Things to Do
Panels: AWA boasts a WIDE array of panels, from industry professionals answering questions to fans talking about their favorite YA novels. There is something you will enjoy. I am always interested in the instructive panels, like how to use foam to make cosplay armor or how to self publish your work. These are almost always free and are going on 24 hours a day. Some will have age restrictions, but they will be clearly posted and are usually at night.
Video Rooms: AWA runs several screening rooms where they display a variety of different movies and shows. You definitely need to check the schedules.
Game Rooms: There are several different gaming rooms that offer several different types of games. This varies from video games to tournament style card games to just your regular old board games. There are even traditional cabinet arcade games.
Dealer’s Room & Artist’s Alley: I can’t tell you how often I have spent too much money in this room. The Dealer’s Room and Artist’s Alley share a massive space where vendors and artists may sell their humble wares. I always like to look for independent authors with fresh publications. It’s a great way to find some unique storytelling as well as supporting starving artists. Just make sure you set a spending limit and stick to it. Some years I actually have a shopping list and absolutely refuse to deviate from it. That way I can enjoy the con without worrying about how I will pay my bills afterward.
Manga Library: Tucked away in a quiet corner of the convention is the Manga Library. If you are ever feeling stressed out from the crowd, you can drop by and relax in the library while quietly reading one of the vast selection of manga.
Cosplay: There is a tremendous cosplay community at AWA. Cosplayers fromall experience levels come together to strut their stuff. One of the funnest things to do is just people watch and admire all the amazingly detailed cosplays. Just make sure to follow some pretty simple rules of etiquette. Don’t bother cosplayers when they are eating. Always ask before taking pictures. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. And don’t forget, cosplay is not consent. Just because someone is dressed up does NOT give you carte blanche to do whatever the hell you want to them. Don’t sexually harass cosplayers. Don’t touch a cosplayer without their permission. That is a one way ticket to getting kicked out of the convention, ostracized from the community, banned from future gathers, and even arrested. It really isn’t that hard. Just don’t be a knuckle dragging, mouth breathing, slack-jawed neanderthal and you should be alright.
I have been to a few cons where there are not a lot of food options. Thankfully, AWA not only is ideally placed for restaurants but also tries to bring in other options. There are plenty of options at your disposal. Let’s look at a few of them.
The Cobb Galleria: The Galleria has a few restaurants ranging from a quick bite to a sit down experience. Typically the Subway is pretty slammed, but they movie pretty quickly, too. There is also Murph’s if you prefer a sports bar kind of feel.
The Battery: This is the shopping and restaurant district that was constructed as a part of the Barves new SunTrust Park. If you haven’t been, go. Being just a short walk from the convention center, it is definitely worth a visit, espescially during AWAs when there isn’t a game going on. If there is a game (which there shouldn’t be this year), you probably want to stay away. It will be packed with people attending the Braves game. And I do mean packed. Otherwise, go for a bite at Wahlburger’s or Fox Bros. BBQ. There are a litany of food options at the Battery. Well worth a visit.
Cumberland Mall: Even closer that the Battery is Cumberland Mall. Like most malls, there is a food court as well as a variety of restaurants both inside the mall itself and along the perimeter of the mall. Personally, I am a fan of Grub Burger. That being said, park there at your own peril. They will tow you.
Food Trucks: AWA attracts some wonderful vendors serving great food out of a truck. Some of the trucks are inside the Dealer’s room, others are outside, just in between that Galleria and the Waverly. I am unsure what trucks will be there this year, but it is something you should look into as you never quite know what to expect.
24 Hour Options: There are several restaurants open 24 hours. Just keep in mind, they are not numerous. You could go down the street for a hamburger at Steak ‘n Shake and wind up waiting four hours before you see so much as a pickle slice. I try to avoid going out after a certain time unless it simply can’t be avoided. There are some places that deliver that late though. Just be kind and give your delivery person a nice tip.
For many of you, this stuff will be irrelevant. You are con veterans. But if you are still interested, please read on. Also, this is a working list. If you have any suggestions, feel free to suggest them.
- I’ve said it earlier, but it warrants repeating. Cosplay is not consent.
- Speaking of cosplay, if you are doing multiple cosplays in a day, make every effort to stay in the Waverly. The alternative is to travel back and forth from your hotel so you can change or lug around several cosplays to change into in the bathroom throughout the day.
- Also, I know most cosplayers are pretty cool about this, but be mindful of your outfit. I remember walking down the main hall in the Galleria and someone cosplaying as Cloud Stryfe turned abruptly. WHACK! The Buster Sword replica, which they were leaning over their shoulder slammed right into my face. I dropped like a sack of potatoes and their sword snapped in half. I was not hurt and not really upset… at least at first. When the guy started to scream at me and told me I should watch where I was going, I may have lost my temper. A rude hand gesture and verbal exchange later and I was happily on my way. Moral of the story: Be aware of your surroundings and don’t lose it when that cosplay you labored over for hours is ruined because of your negligence.
- Get the app. The AWA app is very useful. The staff print schedules and advertise everything beforehand, but despite their best efforts, accidents happen. When something occurs that changes the schedule, the app is the first thing to update. So check it out.
- Familiarize yourself with the maps. While the con is fairly simple to navigate, it can be confusing when you are trying to hurry between panels and only have a few moments to make your way through the crowds.
- Make sure you aware of the various departments that you might need. Panda Ops, Security, Usagi Medical, etc. These are the departments that will help you in a pinch.
- The best way, in my humble opinion, to optimize the fun to cost ratio is to volunteer as crew. I can’t possibly recommend it enough. You get to meet great people and get a free badge for the con. When you think about it, most people have a lot of down time at the con. In cons past, I have ended up spending too much time just sitting in my room or wandering aimlessly around the convention floor. Working as crew gives me a sense of purpose, allows me to contribute to the con I love so much, and frees up some money for other things like graphic novels in the artist’s alley.
- Speaking of Artist’s Alley, patronize them. The independent artists work really hard to create their work and offer it to us. I think it is imperative that we continually patronize these artists to encourage other artists to come and sell their wares.
- DO NOT forget the most important rule of all. Take care of yourself. Eat three meals a day. Get enough sleep. Stay hydrated. Please shower daily. Axe body spray is not a substitute for a shower. Cover your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing. I wish I didn’t have to say these things, but unfortunately I do.
I am so excited for AWA this year. I can’t wait to see you all there.