K. Elizabeth Cargiulo
My Experience at San Diego Comic-Con International (SDCC)
Updated: Aug 14, 2020
ORIGINALLY POSTED: July 26, 2019
This year marks the official 50th Anniversary of San Diego Comic-Con International (also known as SDCC). Not only was it the 50th anniversary, but it was also my first time attending the event with a highly coveted pair of badges for Thursday and Friday of the Con. As promised, I wanted to take the time to write this blog post so that anyone reading can get a first time perspective on the overall process of making it to SDCC, what the experience itself was actually like, and maybe learn from a few of my mistakes. Before heading to SDCC I spent months reading blogs, threads on Reddit, and of course looking back on previous Toucan Tips on the actual SDCC website (you'll find some helpful links at the end of this post). All of my research had one thing in common, a majority of the commenters, bloggers, or official SDCC reps had all experienced SDCC before. Frankly their opinions, horror stories, and even victorious moments at the Con were overwhelming. By the week of the Con my head was spinning and I had to settle on the fact that no matter how much planning I did I would not, and could not, be 100% prepared.
Heads up – If you want to hear about the convention itself skip past “Getting to SDCC,” and “What to Bring,” and then head down to “My Experience at SDCC.”
GETTING TO SDCC, SECURING BADGES, AND A GETTING INTO A CON ASSOCIATED HOTEL:
Let me tell you the road to SDCC was long, hard, and pretty brutal. I first embarked on my journey of obtaining SDCC badges three years ago. Each year you will have to enter a lottery system until you or someone in your group is picked to purchase badges. Each person selected is allowed to purchase up to four badges, but they must have your Member ID information to purchase for you.
The first thing you’ll need to do as a prospective SDCC attendee is sign up for a MEMBER ID NUMBER on the official Comic-Con International Member ID Registration portal. I highly recommend anyone you may be going with register right away as well. Your registration information will have to match you driver’s license information (or other identification). SDCC takes duplicate accounts pretty seriously, so only register one time per person. After a certain date registration will be locked, and no one new will be able to register for a Member ID Number.
Once your registration is complete you will eventually get an email sometime around October alerting you to when the Open Registration badge sale will occur. My email came on October 31, 2018 and the Open Registration date was November 10, 2018. Your email gives you a time and link to click at that time to get into the “expo logic waiting room.” At the designated day and time you will watch a blue circle of anticipation spin and spin while small announcements on the screen let you know what days badges have already sold out for. This is a completely random lottery system! I watched and failed for two years, and my husband and I started calling the day “disappointment day.” This year one of our Member ID Numbers finally hit and we were moved to the badge purchasing cart. By the time we got into the cart preview night (usually bought up by previous Con goers), Saturday, and Sunday were sold out. We were able to purchase badges for Thursday and Friday.
Closer to the date of the convention keep checking your email to see when your badges will ship. There will be numerous emails that come out regarding correct shipping address information. Keep in mind your badges have an RFID scanner on them, and your full name. Your badge is your badge, and from what I saw while at the event they are really cracking down on reselling badges, and people entering the event without a badge. You have to swipe in and out to get into certain areas and if you look suspicious there are staff who will stop you and ask to see your registration email, photo ID, or other identifying information.
I was actually stopped myself there when I entered the lanyard line a second time on accident. My badge alerted the employees I had already scanned into the area and they stopped and asked me several questions – mainly why I needed to pass through again because it was an area with free items – and after some explanation they let me proceed.
So you’ve got your badge and now you need a place to stay! SDCC associates itself with a majority of the hotels in the immediate area. You basically have to stay at one of the associated hotels to get official convention prices and room blocks. SDCC runs two hotel sales, one of them being the Early Bird Hotel Sale and the other being a General Hotel Sale closer to the convention date.
As a first-time attendee I opted to go in on the Early Bird Hotel Sale, mostly because I was nervous about getting my plane flight and other reservations booked. The Early Bird Hotel Sale happens months in advance from the General Hotel Sale, but there are some downsides. The first being that these hotels are further from the convention. They are typically in the Mission Valley or Airport area. They are a bit cheaper in price which means less lovely accommodations, but they do provide shuttle service to and from the convention. The sale will be through a site called OnPeak, and again emails will go out alerting you to this sale. I was able to get our stay booked in January 2019. All sales are non-refundable. So really be sure you’re attending before you commit to anything.
The General Hotel Sale happens at a later date. I did not participate in this sale. What I can tell you is the General Sale is another lottery-based system where you may or may not get the hotel of your choice. In some instances, I have read about people not getting a room at all during the sale. The advantage of this sale is that most, if not all, of the hotels are right in downtown and pretty much walking distance from the convention. A few of the hotels are actually hotels with panels and other events occurring in them so as far as convenience goes these are the hotels you want to go for if you do not want to have to travel far.
WHAT TO BRING TO SDCC:
It sounds silly that I would be advising someone on what to pack for their SDCC trip, but you would be surprised how many people on the internet ask this same question. I suppose what I learned during my first time is really to just be prepared for 12 hour days where you are walking anywhere from 5 to 15 miles a day. This convention is massive and spans several buildings situated across a couple city blocks. There are also outdoor activities and an entire district that essentially turns into SDCC territory filled with restaurants, bars, etc. We were leaving our hotel around 7am and not returning until 9-10pm both days. When you are gone that long you definitely need to pack some essentials. Not to mention the horror stories of the lines at SDCC are REAL! You could be waiting in line for several hours in the heat, shoulder to shoulder with some smelly guy (or girl) you don’t know. In any case, to be prepared for anything here is my recommendation on some essentials to bring:
Backpack – Make sure you bring a comfy backpack. You will be carrying it all day to load up your essentials and anything you buy a the Con.
Deodorant – You may be bright eyed and bushy tailed at 7am, but by 7pm you’re going to look and smell like a drowned rat.
Hand sanitizer – You will be touching everything, but so will 100,000 other people.
Baby wipes – You want to try that VR experience which is great, but wiping down the headset will save you a lot of sweat transfer.
Water bottles/refillable bottle – You will be thirsty! This convention allows you to bring in water bottles so take advantage of it, not only will you stay hydrated, but you’ll save yourself spending a huge amount on liquids. I saw multiple water fountains (or bubblers as we call them) and there was also an official “hydration station” to refill water bottles.
Snacks – Seriously they let you bring snacks in! We opted for granola bars, pop tarts, and chips. Just something small to get you through the long lines or tide you over until you can find some lunch.
Comfy shoes – Sacrifice fashion for comfort. My feet were screaming by the end of every day and I wore Nike’s with insoles.
Socks – If your feet get sweaty have a pair to change into halfway through the day. Keep a plastic baggy on hand for the old ones!
A Sweater – It may be warm outside, but inside the air conditioning is on full blast in those panel rooms. After settling into your seat it gets a bit chilly.
Makeup – Pack a little something to refresh yourself halfway through the day! You are going to need it for those photo ops!
Poster holder – If you like art and plan to buy bring a poster tube or plastic sleeve
A smile – Finally bring a smile! Serioulsy you made it all the way here. Know in your heart you will deal with people, lines, and have other frustrating moments, but it’s okay because you literally plan to spend the whole day there, and you will get to where you are going one way or another!
The programming schedule, maps, official app, and Quick Guide will come out about a week or so before the convention. Make sure to download, print, and study everything you can! Make a plan of what you want to do and see. You may not get to all of it, but you want an idea of where you are headed!
MY EXPERIENCE AT SDCC:
Before heading to the convention I read a ton of horror stories about the Hall H line, the con floor, and of course the other attendees. Honestly, I really believe people over exaggerate and are just looking for something to complain about on the internet. I’m going to break down for you the two days that I spent at Comic-Con.
FRIDAY JULY 19, 2019 – DAY 1
Woke up at 5:00am. I got my ass in gear. We ate breakfast at the hotel, packed up for the day, and were on the shuttle by 8:00am. The convention opens at 9:30am. Warning: The shuttle runs about every 15-20 minutes. Once it is full you could be waiting for the next one. During the two days we only ended up waiting one time for the next shuttle.
We arrived at the convention at about 8:30am. We got off the shuttle and did not get any direction from the staff on which way to go. Our plan was to head to the Sails Pavilion first because this is where you get your map, lanyard, bag, events guide, and souvenir book. Basically everything you need to navigate if you didn’t already have the app or other content on your phone or tablet. The Sails Pavilion is located in the upper level of the main convention center. We were dropped off a bit of a walk away and without any direction just followed the crowd. We were able to get to the main center and from there badge in for the first time. You have to swipe your badge at a pillar in the entry ways. You then have to swipe out when you leave. The staff at the pillar were much more helpful and directed us through the swarm of people to the Sails Pavillion where we picked up our items, got our backpacks organized and then planned to move to the next stop. While the convention opens at 9:30am, the Sails Pavilion is open earlier for attendees to start lining up for the show floor, autographs, tickets to certain panels, etc.
Next stop was Future Tech Live – which was described on the schedule as “an immersive experience with robot goodness.” The real seller for me was that there an Alice Space VR Lunar Mission that was created in cooperation with NASA and Noitom where you could participate in walking on the Moon. This event was located in the Omni Hotel. We hoofed it from the convention center to the Omni and after
waiting in a line of about 50 people from 9:00am to a little after 9:30am the line was able to enter and the experiences inside were incredible. I had never really participated in anything VR before outside of PlayStation VR, and the equipment and experience was next level.
My husband and I were able to play through Dragon Tower (A VR simulation defending yourself from and hunting dragons), ALICE SPACE (a 5 person, 20 minute, Moon mission/space walk), and Raymond Forklift VR training simulation.
Dragon Tower – Extremely fun game. The goal is to defend your team and castle from Dragons while also shooting them out of the sky. It is an immersive team game where anywhere from 2-5 players can participate. The graphics were thrilling. While the players were in the VR equipment viewers were able to watch their experience outside the booth on screen.
ALICE SPACE – This was probably the most breathtaking and incredible experience. This is a 5 person space mission to the moon that takes about 20 minutes. The wait time for the line was about 2 hours for us. We were able to make some friends in line and join their group. The mission took you from inside the space station out onto the moon. You could move and touch items in the environment and the actual moments you stood on the Moon were visually stunning.
Raymond Forklift Training – In this VR experience it was a combination of a control functional forklift model and VR headset. While the controls were functional the forklift itself did not move. Instead all the movement was conducted within the simulation. This experience allowed you to run through a virtual forklift training simulation and determine if you would in fact pass a forklift driving test. We learned that I would not.
From Future Tech Live we headed over to the dreaded and famed Hall H at 12pm in hopes of seeing the Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D. panel at 3:30pm. Everything I read said that most people camp out the evening before just to make it into Hall H and then it was basically a Gladiator fight to get decent seats. I also read previously – which is true – that Hall H does not empty out after every panel so getting in is a Russian Roulette style game. Some people wait hours and never get a seat. Well we waited only 1 hour before getting in to Hall H. I will say it was Thursday and there was not any HUGE crowd drawers such as Game of Thrones, Marvel (cinematic), or DC scheduled for that day, so that is likely why we got so lucky. The panels we saw in Hall H included:
Batman Beyond 20th Anniversary – I watched Batman Beyond as a kid and it was really cool seeing and hearing the voice actors experiences. There was a lot of reels played of key moments in the show, and the 20thanniversary collectible blu-ray box set was announced.
Marvel Games – Voice actors appeared from the latest Marvel games. Extended and extra footage of Marvel’s Avengers gameplay was on full display. This footage won’t be available to the public until a week after GameCon. Also we received ticketed vouchers for an exclusive comic: The Warmasters of Thanos The Black Order #1 variant edition.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Terrific panel looking back on the last 6 years of the show. All the stars were present – Clark Gregg (Coulson), Jeph Loeb (exec. Producer), Chloe Bennet (Quake), Elizabeth Henstridge (Simmons), Iain De Caestecker (Fitz), Henry Simmons (Mac), Natalia Cordova-Buckley (Yo-Yo), and Jeff Ward (). Other Executive Producers attended as well including Maurissa Tancharoen, Jeff Bell, and Jed Whedon. This was a celebration, but also a goodbye as it was announced that the 7th season will be the final season of the show.
Overall I loved my Hall H experience. I got to see what I came there for as well as some bonus panels that I also enjoyed. The room is massive holding 6,500 people. It doesn’t truly matter where you sit as wristband holders and VIPs will take up the front portion of the Hall closest to the stars. The remaining seats mostly see from the 3 large video screens in the Hall. There are bathrooms (which were pretty gross, but oh well) and food stands available so once you are in you don’t actually have to leave. As long as someone is holding your seat you can stay as long as you’d like. I will say if you leave Hall H for any reason you run the risk of being locked out when the next panel starts. Also, I believe we had this great experience because, as I stated earlier, there weren’t any massive crowd drawers scheduled that day. It was a lot of niche panels that you had to be a true fan of to want to attend.
At this point we were starving and sick of convention food so we walked across the street to the Gaslamp district which is also relatively closed off for SDCC. You do not need a badge to get into this area and there are plenty of street performers, parties, restaurants, ect. We picked a burger place and they were able to seat us right away. We ate and headed back to the convention. I expected a lot of the resteraunts to be overly crowded, but it seems like they are well prepared for the convention and were moving people in and out within a half hour.
After eating we headed over to the Marriot Marquis and Marina in order to try and pick up our pre-ordered convention Merch. When we arrived the line was nearly 3 hours long! We decided it would be best to head back and try to get those items right away the next morning. The pre-order system was very poor in my opinion. It was taking people hours to pick up their merchandise and they only had one tiny booth in a side meeting room to obtain the items from. SDCC definitely needs a better plan for this system in the future.
Once we headed away from the 3 hour line we took some time to experience the E-gaming lounge. We watched a Rocket League tournament and checked out some of the table-top gaming. All of this was located in the Marriot Marquis and Marina.
This concluded Day 1!
SATURDAY JULY 20, 2019 – DAY 2
Day 2 was about the same routine, get up, get ready, get to the convention about 8:00am. This day is the day of lines and waiting!
After hearing about the 3 hour wait for Merch the previous day we headed straight to the Marriot in the morning to grab our merch. That was about a 2 hour line wait. We then had to head back down several blocks to the Hyatt to pick up the exclusive comic book we were offered at the Marvel Games panel. The whole process of waiting in line and picking up merchandise took until about 11am. This was a really sucky system overall because it ate up so many precious hours in the day.
Despite having snacks at this point we were starving and ate brunch over in Gaslamp again.
We were able to hit the show floor by 12pm and planned to spend the whole day there. The show floor is massive, the booths are massive, but the traffic is overwhelming. You’re basically shoulder to shoulder trying to take everything in and make any purchases you want to. There are also various experiences that you can participate in.
The only exclusive I actually waited in a long line for was te Sailor Moon: Sailor Stars package from Viz Media. The Blu-Ray box set itself was not exclusive but the accompanying collectors coin, shirt, and bag was. It set me back about $85.00, but was so worth it! This is the first time Sailor Stars has been dubbed in English and I have waited YEARS for this. There was also an opportunity to have your photo taken with a really amazing Sailor Mooncosplayer, but the line was massive so we skipped that.
The show floor is filled with things that will dazzle, wow, and entice you into purchasing, but it’s so difficult to get to the items you want that I skipped a lot of purchases just due to the crowds. We got to see some very cool displays such as the Marvel props/costumes, different collectors statues/figures, and also got to see some really amazing art in artists alley.
I was disappointed we missed out on the Iron Man VR experience and Dark Crystal pop up walkthrough because the line system within the show floor was so horrible. The lines on the show floor have cut offs because there simply isn’t enough room for he amount of people in line. The problem is they do not hand out tickets or any way for someone to know where you were in line if you walk away and come back. Many line staff were telling people to walk the floor and come back in 20 minutes to see if the lines went down. Well, this scenario doesn’t help if 10 other people come back before you and the line is capped again. So day 2 was a bit of a disappointment in the activities department.
The show floor essentially consumed the whole rest of the day!
So we came, we saw, we conquered. We had a blast, and now I started writing this blog post on our first day back and I am exhausted. There is no way for me to outline every detail of our time at SDCC, but these are the main highlights, and I hope in some way they are helpful for anyone planning to try their hand at attending the international phenomana.
What would I do differently? I would probably wait for the later hotel sale so we could stay closer to the event. Now that I know the lay of the land I would hit different hotel associated convention spots at different times and structure my day better. We also know where the best bathrooms are now so that is a huge advantage. While there are a few things I would do differently. I wouldn’t give up the trade my time at SDCC for anything. Remember go with the flow and enjoy every second because those couple of days pass in the blink of an eye!
OFFICIAL COMIC CON MEMBER ID PORTAL
For more of my commentary follow me on Instagram @kelizabethbooks DISCLAIMER: I was in no way compensated for this post. I am not associated with SDCC in any way.