If you're reading this, you're probably wondering how to tackle what is now billed as the largest Brony convention in the world. Last year, more that 8,000 people attended the convention in Baltimore, MD. This year's BronyCon 2014 attendance is projected to be around 10,000 or more, so brace for more people and possible issues that may arise. Among the attendees that I spoke to or heard from, it was their first ever convention experience. For me? I'm kind of a grizzled con veteran. I've been going to Anime/Sci-Fi/Comic Cons since 2001 and I have experienced many different types of convention experiences big and small. Most noticeably I attended Otakon (held in the same Baltimore Convention Center as BronyCon) from 2005-2013 and attended every single BronyCon since it was a one day event in New York City back in June 2011. Take heed of these following tips and you'll be sure to have a rocking time.
Be sure to sleep, eat and shower!
You probably heard of the rule 6-2-1. That is be sure to get at least 6 hours of sleep, 2 meals a day and 1 shower. Emphasis on the shower part. From my personal observation, the clientele that attends BronyCon tends to adhere to the shower rules, but past experience from other cons tell me otherwise. The gaming room will likely be a giant box of B.O. that's fortunately contained from the rest of society. If you're doing the gaming thing and don't shower, please stay there and don't come out. "con crud" is a major issue at conventions and showering regularly can prevent that. I also recommend using hand sanitizer and vitamins to keep the nasties at bay. I can't say that will help you depending on your immune system.
As for the eating part, I know a lot of you are on limited budgets, so make sure you have some ready-to-eat food with you. Protein (in the form of nuts) and water (even if it's only 1 dollar) will get you far. Keep in mind, most hotels do not have microwaves or fridges, so don't expect them. If cooking meals are of paramount importance to you, I suggest staying at places such as Residence Inn or Hilton Homewood Suites that accommodates a "home away from home" lifestyle. If you want to eat out, fast food is obviously the best option, but keep in mind the cheaper it is, the more popular it will be. If you can afford it, eating out at a sit down restaurant tends to be less crowded (at least when I went to BronyCon last year) since most people who attend cons are teen/college age with little to no money. Eating at full service restaurants is more expensive of course, but personally I like the sit down experience as it's a less rushed experience. When the bill comes, please, please, please pay your waiter tips! It is highly insulting to the waiter or waitress if you don't as it's their livelihood. I know some International folks may not be used to the idea of tipping, but please do so. Of course, if you get bad service, feel free to give them absolutely nothing! Several years ago when I went to Otakon, the group that I was waited more than an hour for food and not only we didn't pay, we walked out.
Budget your Bits (a.k.a. Money)
Going to a convention can be costly, especially if you're a high school or college kid. The most affordable way to travel is with a group. Your group can share the costs of travel to the convention center such as tolls, gas and maybe meals. Going down by bus can be cheap through services like Bolt Bus, but the key is to reserve FAR in advance as the pricing will increase as it gets closer to the event. Personally, I'm more of a train person as it's more convenient and comfortable, but you can still save money of train travel. Just like with the bus, the sooner, the better. If you have a AAA or Student Advantage card, you can save money on Amtrak. I don't really fly to cons since I'm a days drive, but If you need to fly, be sure to take a look at the affordable fares that may be online. It can vary from site to site, so keep looking.
Have an idea of how much you will spend on food, gas, hotel and other expenditures well in advance. It would stink to have a budget shortfall when you need to pay for parking. Also, be aware that hotel rooms are taxable. The price that you see per night will be higher with taxes included. Believe it or not, at one Otakon several years ago, someone complained in the con feedback panel about having to pay for taxes for their hotel room! Don't be that person. Some hotels for BronyCon this year are booked solid, so the hotels closer to the convention center may be harder to come by. Looking for roommates? Need a place to stay? You can find them! Check on the BronyCon forums and your local Brony Meetup group for potential roommates and car pooling opportunities.. Splitting the costs for staying at a hotel can be alleviated with roommates. If they're not someone you know, be sure to vet them out and be firm on the house rules, especially payment. Also, try not to shove 10 people in when it only sleeps 4. Not only it can be a fire hazard, the hotel may charge you for more occupants. From my personal experience, it also tends to give you "con crud" a lot more easier. The extra cost per person will leave your sanity intact. Trust me, I spent one Otakon with 10 people. You don't wanna experience that chaos, especially if you have to sleep in the bathroom.
Dealing with the Dealers Room
The dealers / artist alley at BronyCon this year is expected to be bigger and badder than ever before with over 200 vendors in attendance. When in the dealers room, (and this applies to people who are selling licensed merchandise) pay attention to the pricing. The cost of 1 product it can vary wildly between vendors. I saw one booth last year which shall not be named charged double for one item compared to another which was at normal price. You could haggle for pricing, but I find that usually doesn't work...well depending on the merchandise.
As I'm an artist myself, I highly recommend checking out the independent artists at their tables. Knowing how capable the art community is in this fandom, their patronage is greatly deserved. Keep in mind that apart from the big time vendors, most independent artists take cash. The BronyCon website will let you know who takes cash or credit. Be sure to get out cash early as possible to avoid hunting for one when it runs out of cash. Its best to do that at home, where you don't get fleeced by ATM fees.
For art commissions, it's very helpful to have an ideal of what you want the artist to draw. If you want them to draw your fan character (or "OCs", but I prefer not to use that term since "OCs" are technically not original), its good to have a reference printed out or saved on your mobile device. (Goodness forbid if you use the Pony Creator *shrudder*) Buying a lot of prints? You might find it easier to hold them if you have a folder. Art supply stores sell 11x17 folders, the most common print format. Get it cheaper online if you can. Also, for commissions, be sure to get them in early! Artists need time to finish them depending on the complexity. (Protip: the line for MLP Comic Artists or Andy Price and Katie Cook will be INSANELY long and slots will fill up fast! Line up early!)
DO. NOT. BE. THAT. GUY.
I've been guilty of this sometimes. It's that guy (or gal) who doesn't say anything and is left to their devices. Don't get me wrong, its fine to use your phone or gaming system to kill some down time between panels, but being in them knee deep the whole weekend is not a good thing. Conventions are a great place to socialize and meet people. For me, I meet with other MLP fans on a regular basis, but for some who don't always have regular access to those people this can be a truly eye opening experience. That's probably why some Bronies are considered obnoxious to outsiders. Mix and mingle. Everyone is weird here and that's what makes it so beautiful.
On second hand, don't be that other guy or gal who in general is creepy around others. We don't want some folks at Tumblr and the DailyDot to get any ideas and jump to conclusions as usual. Please read the general rules thoroughly. Remember, this is a family friendly convention (and trust me, there were a LOT of kids there last year)
Treat the guest of honors with respect
If you're in a panel and are about to ask a question about the upcoming season, don't. Also, don't ask them questions that have nothing to do with them like asking about voice acting to a show writer. In other words, make it much harder for people to fill out the Brony Panel Bingo.
I'm not a big fan of waiting on line for autographs, but if you must, be prepared to WAIT and PAY. The show talent isn't doing this out of the good of their hearts. Also be brief with the accolades since so many other co-goers are waiting.
Explore the City!
Baltimore in the summer is pretty beautiful. You have the Baltimore Orioles next door at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with one of the best ballparks in the country. There's the aquarium in the Inner Harbor a few blocks away and a Science Center not far from that. Further away is Fells Point if you want to get your drink on (and on Thursday night, they'll just do that) There's HarborPlace if you want to shop (though it's feeling a bit homogenized lately) and eat and you can go on a Water Taxi to check out the rest of harbor. Don't be just confined to the convention center.
Blog it, Tweet it, Vine it, Guidebook it
If you're on social media, share the glory that is BronyCon and endlessly shame those not in attendance at the same time! Likely the hashtag used will be #BronyCon. This year, the organizers are making a bigger push with sharing by using the hashtag #BronyConMoments If you're following BronyCon on Twitter, it might be helpful if you set notifications in the official Twitter app. (Better yet, they actually have a BronyCon Alerts account specifically for this purpose) If you happen to have a smartphone or a tablet that has Internet access, downloading the Guidebook app is a MUST. Not only its more compact to have than a guide, it also updates any changes to the schedule. It's a convention lifesaver for me. You can download the app for free at the App Store for iOS, Google Play for Android Devices, Kindle Fire. Web based versions are available for Windows Phone and Blackberry.
Be aware of your surroundings
Baltimore can be a nice city, but just like any other major city on earth, there is the stark reality of crime. I'm not going to start a debate on homeless people, but please do not pay any attention to them. If they ask for money or try to give you them attention, look the other way and keep walking. I recommend traveling in groups, especially at night. Don't flash around your smartphone like you're awesome, because it may get stolen. Unless you're a local or REALLY know where you're going, stay in the inner harbor area. Several blocks away, there are some nice and not-so-nice neighborhoods.
Get in Thursday (if you can)
To get the most out of your convention experience, I HIGHLY recommend coming to Baltimore the day before the con on Thursday afternoon. Not only you'll get to take advantage of pre-registration, you'll also get a chance to experience the city as well. For some people who work or simply can't afford to do so, coming in on Friday is fine. Just keep in mind, you may miss out on some panels in the morning while waiting in line to get your badge. Registering for the convention early can save you money compared to registration at the door.
Take a picture, it will last longer
A lot of attendees will be in cosplay. Taking pictures of them is a time honored tradition at Brony and general geek conventions worldwide. Still, do the right thing and ask permission before taking a pic. 99.6% of the time this goes without a hitch. Also, try not to block where people are walking. Be sure to take advantage of the scheduled cosplay meet ups as it might be easier to get in some photo taking all at once. Don't forget to say thank you and it certainly wouldn't hurt for a compliment of the cosplayer's hard work.
So there you have it. The BronyCon 2014 Survival Guide. Get on your war paint and most importantly, have fun!
My name is Ronald Hennessy. I draw (and write) stuff. I'm coming out with a new book, "Merry Chrissy and the Naughty or Nice Truth" later this year. Be sure to follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ and Pinterest!