Here are 15 MORE tips for you to plan a successful convention experience!
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” ― Benjamin Franklin
Part 1: Con Prep
- Plan Now and Book Early
Walker Stalker Cons happen throughout the year in cities across America and even abroad. In addition to London, England next year, WSC will be in Germany, Melbourne, and Sydney. Pretty exciting indeed! Regardless of whether you plan to attend a convention in the States or overseas, most of us do not live in the city where we choose to attend the con.
First things first. You will need to do is head over and check the WSC schedule to decide which con you want to attend. We live in Chattanooga, TN and we attend the Nashville, TN convention in the Summer and the Atlanta, GA convention in the Fall each year.
We recommend signing up for email alerts for the con city you plan to attend so you can stay in the loop. You can sign up by going here and then click on the city. From there, scroll down and click on the “Sign Up For Emails” block (please see example below). You will be re-directed to a page to enter your email and submit. Super quick and easy!!
There are different ticket levels and if you are planning to purchase a ticket level above GA (general admission), then you will want to purchase early. The higher the ticket level, the fewer available. It is important that you understand what each ticket level includes and what it does not. This will be necessary when you are planning your con experience as well as budgeting.
Below is what has been posted on the WSC site for Atlanta 2018. Please keep in mind that this information is subject to change. We are using this as an example so you can see the approximate cost of each level as well as what each ticket level does or does not include in order to plan your con with your ticket level in mind. You will want to refer to the WSC site here, then select the city and scroll down the menu and click on “tickets”.
For information regarding tickets for children, police, first responders and military members please refer to Walker Stalker Con site.
We also highly recommend booking your hotel early. As soon as the con date is released for the upcoming year we book our hotel in Atlanta. We always stay at the Omni because it is attached to the World Congress Center where the convention is held. This means we can walk indoors from our room to the con and do not have to Uber or shuttle or even walk outside (*though this year due to construction in the World Congress Center lobby we had to brave the elements between the Omni and WSC.)
Atlanta is a busy city and the Omni is also across from Philips Arena (home of the Atlanta Hawks + concerts), Mercedes-Benz Stadium (home of the Atlanta Falcons) and the CNN center, so the Omni is in pretty high demand. If we want to be guaranteed a room we book ASAP. We have also found that we get a better rate when we book early.
Our strategy is different when we attend WSC Nashville. There is not a hotel attached to Music City Center where the con is held. There are a few hotels across the street and several more within walking distance. We wait a little closer to the con to book and we check rates and availability often. Nashville is a happening city as well and the good rooms can go fast. We try to pick a nice hotel close by that offers a complimentary shuttle service.
You will want to craft your hotel strategy around the city, your accommodation preferences and budget. If you are booking late we recommend trying Hotels.com or Booking.com.
THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: Please make sure that your credit card on file with the hotel for your reservation does not expire between your booking date and your check-in date. This may result in your reservation being canceled. If your card expires during this window be sure to call the hotel and update your account with the new card info before the card on file expires.
2. Have a Parking Plan
We have seen event parking range from $20 a day to $80 a day. We valet park at our hotel and the average cost is usually around $30 a day + tip. This can totally throw a wrench in your budget if you are not prepared. Do a little research for your con city and come up with a plan. Call your hotel or the venue and ask questions about the parking arrangements for the venue and see if they can offer suggestions.
If you plan on staying close to the con inquire to see if your hotel offers a complimentary shuttle service (and don’t forget to tip the shuttle driver). If not, we have found services like Uber and Lyft to be a great alternative to taxis. Please know that you will need a smartphone, a Paypal account or credit card in order to use Uber or Lyft.
Also, you may consider a parking app like Parking Panda or Parkopedia. These apps allow you to reserve parking and pay right from your smartphone. The Georgia World Congress Center pre-sold parking in their parking decks this year as well. We will post links before WSC ATL18 to keep you informed so make sure you visit our page often.
3. Create a Realistic Budget
Yes, it is a little uncomfortable talking about money, but every year we talk to folks who simply were not prepared and ran out of cash. Plan a con a lot like you would plan a vacation. Come up with a budget and then make a list of things you require and next a list of things you would like if your budget allows. Can you attend a con on the cheap? Yes, it is possible if you live in the town or close by, have a parking plan, eat off-site, buy GA tickets, and plan on doing the included events like the panels, visiting the vendor & artist alley and skipping the autos, photo ops and selfies.
The first con we ever attended was Atlanta 2014 and we had GA, Sunday only tickets. We bought a couple of photo ops online a few weeks prior, drove down for the day and parked our car on street far, far from the convention center; basically, we had no idea what we were getting into. We grabbed a couple of autographs and did a couple of Meet and Greets and then waited in Norman’s line about 4 hours. We hustled to the photo op lines, which were a hot mess (it was a different photo company back at that time). We waited in photo ops for what seemed like forever, but we met some great people in line that we still keep in contact with. The choice to go Sunday Only General Admission turned out to be a great way to get our feet wet. We had a blast and we didn’t spend a lot of money. We learned so much from actually being there and seeing first hand how things work. We knew we wanted to go back in 2015 and do the entire weekend with a higher ticket level.
Now when we sit down to do our con budget, we know to figure in travel expenses, hotel, parking, transportation cost (Uber, Lyft, or taxi), food/beverage, gratuity, WSC tickets, photo op pre-sales, autograph pre-sales, autographs/selfies on site, merchandise, extra ticketed events- all this can start to add up rather quickly. This is why it is good to plan early so you can start saving.
We come up with a per day budget that does not include our hotel or pre-purchased items (i.e. con tickets, photo ops/auto pre-sales/extra ticketed events). We try to have this paid off or set aside before the con. We also have a hotel budget which includes our room, valet, gratuity, etc. and we book early so know what the estimated cost will be. Since we room together we are able to split this cost down the middle, which helps us a lot. You may consider traveling with a friend or friends especially if you want a to stay at a high-end hotel or get a higher priced room on a smaller budget. We also have our per day con budget which includes the money (including actual CASH for autos and selfies) that we spend on the con floor for autos/selfies, food/beverage, merch etc. as well as our evening meals.
Remember, we start our game plan a year in advance so we have a year to save.
For Atlanta 2017, the cheapest food we purchased on the con floor was a $9 chicken sandwich. Water and soft drinks were $4 per bottle. The cheapest selfie and auto prices (which are all cash only) ranged from $20-$60 each on average. If your ticket does not include any autos, then $100 per day budget is not going to get you very far. Realistically it MAY get you a couple autographs and lunch. But, what about parking? What about dinner?
At the same time, it is also important to have a budget because the temptation to get autos and/or selfies with as many celebs as you can is overwhelming when you are there in the middle of all the excitement. You don’t want to blow your budget over autos/selfies you really didn’t want in the first place. Once again it is so important to make a list of must-haves and maybes and try your best to stick to your plan and your budget.
4. Consider Scheduling Photo Op & Auto Pre-Sales for Different Days
Once you have figured which ticket level you will purchase, it is time to figure out which pre-sales you want to buy. You will have the opportunity to purchase select autograph pre-sales and photo ops prior to the event. These are released at various times leading up to the con. It is important to remember that these pre-sale tickets are very limited and in high demand. Basically, once the sale goes live, it can be a race and a lot of folks will walk away from their computers disappointed.
The dates for these highly coveted pre-sale autographs, panels and photo op tickets are announced a few days to a few weeks prior to the pre-sale launch. We recommend signing up for the Walker Stalker Con email for your city as well as following WSC on social media. (Twitter & Facebook) We also recommend giving our page a LIKE so our alerts show up in your newsfeed. We post these types of things to keep you informed!
For both the photo ops and autograph pre-sales, you will be able to select your day. For the photo ops, you will also be able to select your group and time. Please keep in mind these times are subject to change (more on that in a moment.)
For pre-sale auto, you only purchase a group (example: Group A, B, C) and there is no specific time listed when you make your purchase. You will not know the time until a week before the convention when they email out the autograph schedule. It will be on the FanFest app (available on Google Play or iTunes) and the autograph schedule will also be posted at the celebrity’s table.
For example: Jessie purchased a photo op pre-sale on August 25th with Andrew Lincoln for Sunday, October 29, 2017, at 10:00 am EDT; however, on the day of the con the of this op had been pushed back and we were not able to line up until to 11:35 am.
There was a technical issue and we ended up having our photo finally taken at 1:45 pm. So you can see: best-laid plans sometimes fail. This was approximately 4 hours later than we expected.
This became an issue only because we had purchased a Norman Reedus pre-sale autograph for Group B on Sunday which was supposed to line up at 1 pm and wrap at 2 pm. It gets more dramatic because at 2 pm Norman was done with autos for rest of the con and had photo ops for the remainder of the day. Notice the chart below. Long story short, we barely made it to our Norman autograph. We are very grateful it worked out for us. Some people did not make it in time.
Yes, the scheduling snafus were stressful. No, we were not angry because we understand that WSC has a lot of moving parts; stuff and thangs happen. In our case, technical issues happened. These issues were no fun for anyone- the con staff and volunteers, the celebs, or the attendees.
So to avoid this issue going forward came up with a solution for us. . . If we do photo ops we will put them on a different day than our autograph pre-sales.
This way is photo op schedules are off, it will not interfere with our autograph times. Now it is important to keep in mind that this is not always going to be possible, but when it is this will be our new plan.
5. Check the Weather Forecast
You will want to check the 3-day weather for the city where you are attending the con. Check it up until you leave because it can change. If you plan on attending WSC Atlanta in October next year and you are not from the South, you should know in the Fall we can have all four seasons in one day so pack accordingly. Layers people, layers! You will want to bring a jacket and an umbrella as well.
Part 2: Gettin’ Your Con On
6. Early Will Call
First of all, let us say that we love the folks in ticketing. The crew at Will Call is amazing at what they do and they do it with a smile. That being said we want to give you our honest (though nice) summary of our Will Call experience for ATL17 so you can prepare ahead of time and make informed decisions in your con planning.
When arrived on Friday afternoon we noticed Will Call was set up a differently. In the past staff and ambassadors have filtered the crowd into areas and from there, people filter themselves into the booth(s) they need. For WSCAtlanta 2017 everyone was placed in a single long line and filtered out only once they reach the front. Typically we go one time to Will Call and spend 15-20 minutes there; this year we had to go back twice to get everything we needed and spent about 30 minutes each time.
Unexpected things happen and hopefully whatever technical snafu happened in Atlanta will not happen again, but we are going to try to allow for some extra time just in case going forward. Remember, you do have the option to pick up your tickets early. Will Call will open up anywhere from a week to a few days prior to the start of the con. Those details will be released on the WSC website and through social media a few days prior to the con. We will also post info on early Will Call for WSC ATL18.
7. Knowing the Staff
It takes a lot of folks to pull off a con, especially a con that hosts over 65K people over three days. It is helpful to know who you need to approach if you should have a concern or question.
Walker Stalker Con/FanFest Staff– you will be able to identify them by their FanFest badge and street clothes (unlike the celeb photo op staff). These are the folks that are on Walker Stalker Con Staff. Though each member is over or works within a certain area of the con (i.e. ticketing, photography, guest services, media, etc) they will be able to get you to who you need to speak with should a significant concern or question arise. FanFest does offer disability services and the people on that team are awesome. You can find out more here.
Celeb Photo Ops Staff– This is the company that runs the celebrity photo ops brings their own staff to the con. Celeb Photo Ops has a designated area and there are a lot of moving parts. If you have a question about a photo op you will want to see a Celeb Photo Op staff member. They will have FanFest badges and wear Celeb Photo Op shirts.
Event Ambassadors- These are paid volunteers (oxymoron noted). They will wear a solid color “Walker Stalker Con” shirt. If you are interested in the program and want to find out more you can go here to find your city. Next, select “event ambassador” or “ambassador” in the drop-down menu and click. If it you get a “coming soon” message keep checking back. You will be able to submit your application once they open it up closer to the con. You must be at least 18 to apply. Many ambassadors work multiple cons or the same con each year. They do go through a training session, but it is important to note they are not on staff and do not control or know the inter-workings of the con. They assist in line control, celeb schedule information, seating folks at panels, assisting the celeb at the table with things like taking photos and more. Please do not yell at these folks, they are fans just like we are and are there for the same reason. If they can not answer your questions they can direct you to a FanFest staff member who can.
Celebrity Staff- in most cases the celebrities will bring a staff which can include his or her convention manager, handler or assistant(s). These folks assist the celeb at his or her table with the money exchange and crowd movement, as well as getting the celeb to his or her interviews, panels and photo ops. These are the folks that get to play the bad guy at times too so the celeb doesn’t have to tell fans who linger too long to move on or to put their phones away. You can identify them by their “Celebrity” Walker Stalker Con badge.
Venue Event Staff– The venue will also have a staff that will assist with security, crowd management, entry and exit procedures, food services, maintenance and more. You can identify them by ID card and uniform. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the venue or the surrounding area you can direct those questions to the Event Staff. They are not affiliated with the celebrity or FanFest staffs and will not be able to answer questions or address concerns directly related to the convention.
Security & Police– Safety for attendees, celebrities and staff is propriety. There is a variety of security professionals on hand at all times which includes FanFest security, Venue security, private security and police. Should you have a concern or question regarding security or safety you will be able to identify officers posted and walking throughout the venue.
8. Understanding the Celebrity Line Wait System
There are different ticketing levels (you can read about those above). These ticket levels will play out for you in the line systems for both photo ops and autographs as well as panel seating. Each celeb booth has three lines- GA, VIP, Gold/Platinum, these lines filter into a single line in front of the celeb’s table. The ambassador closest to the table will filter each line into the front using a ratio system. Platinum will be put through to the head of the line, always. Gold will have the next shortest wait time and VIPs will filter in faster than GA. If you go GA, you will have the longest wait, though not every VIP ticket will get to go before you. We know the ratio for ATL17 was Platinum guests go to the front of the line every time, then 4 Gold for every 2 VIP for every 1 GA. Also, all VIP guests who are in line prior to GA entry will get to go before GA. Of course, this is the model, some celebrity handlers do deviate from the system. Also, please note guests with disabilities will also be filtered into the line. The Disability Services team will assist you with waiting in the celeb lines.
This ratio system ensures that those who paid for the higher priced tickets get the advantage of faster wait times while still allowing those with general admission tickets an opportunity to get to the front of the line. We see people get upset every con over this ratio system because gold, platinum and VIP lines move faster, but the system is fair and it works when the ambassador or celebrity handler sticks to it. We only had one incident this year where a celeb handler changed the system and it was a mess, folks! It gave us a new respect for the line system.
Lastly, every con we experience GA guests giving VIP and above guests a hard time over this system. Please remember there is a significant price difference between General Admission tickets and the Premium Tickets and part of the extra price is the shorter wait times in line.
8. Plan in More Panels to Your Con Schedule
We can not express to you how marvelous a selection of panels WSC brings to us each convention. There are so so many perks to panels. Let’s start with the most basic- nice comfy chair, climate-controlled room, off your feet. Folks, sit back and relax and prepare to be entertained! It is so fun to see the laid back, fun, warm interaction between cast-mates…and friends in many cases.
It is so fun to hear about behind the scenes pranks and the actors’ thoughts and feelings on a scene or character. Oh, the stories we heard this time! Have you ever wanted to ask your favorite actor a question? Line up behind the audience mics and you just might get your chance!
This year in Atlanta there were four panel areas: the WSC Live stage, Convention Panel stage, Main Panel stage and a panel room. All of the panels can be found on the FanFest app starting about a week before the con starts so you can certainly plan in your most desired panels.
The Dead Connection crew has had the pleasure of hosting a panel discussion each year we have attended WSC. This year we each had a panel: Stephen was a guest on the We Are All Negan panel, Jessie co-hosted the Z-Nation panel and Allie co-hosted the Sons of Anarchy panel. It was such an honor and blast to be a part of these wonderful panels.
9. Don’t Try to do Every After-Party or Event
Sometimes when you try to have the ultimate fan experience you wind up missing out on just having fun. “Don’t try to do it all” is a conversation we all had after this con. We all three came to a consensus that we were wearing ourselves thin by trying to attend everything. The con days are jammed packed for us and believe us, we hit the floor running. Adding in all the night time stuff left us no relax time, so going forward we are going to choose the night time events that we really really want to do.
You also need to ask yourself, is this an event you would enjoy? For example, the Halloween Party is just not our speed. We have done it the last three years and for the last two years, we have not enjoyed it. We have other friends who LOVE it. That being said, we do love going to the Sunday night group showing of the episode. There is something super rad about watching the new episode of TWD on the big screen with hundreds of TWD fans. Plus, The Walker Stalkers podcast goes live afterward from the stage. Super cool.
You will also need to think about your budget. Other than the Sunday night episode viewing, the evening time events are separately ticketed and tickets do need to be purchased in advance and can range anywhere from $20-100 per person.
10. Know Who Does Meet & Greets (& Who Doesn’t)
We think it is very important to understand how a con works, specifically WSC. If you have never been to WSC or any con for that matter then you probably have some questions about how a con works. Some folks think it will work like a big amusement park: You purchase your ticket and you ride all the rides, see all the shows as many times as you want for free. Of course, you can upgrade and maybe get fast passes, but your tickets cover most all the attractions because all of the attractions are owned by and are property of the theme park. But this is not a big amusement park, this is a convention and the attractions are not rides or shows, they are people- the celebs.
Your basic GA (general admission) ticket to WSC is ONLY going to get you on the con floor. (You can read more about ticketing levels above.) Think of each booth being a separate business. Yes, we do believe that most of the celebs love meeting their fans, but this is a money making thing, y’all. They are there to make money. If you want an autograph from Michael Cudlitz, you will have to pay Michael Cudlitz’s handlers at his table for that autograph. If you want a selfie with Ross Marquand, you are going to have to pay Ross Marquand’s handlers at his table for the selfie.
This gets us to the Meet & Greets. At many of the booths, paying customers come first. That means if you are not going to purchase a selfie and/or autograph from that booth, then you can not get in line just to meet the celeb. Some celebs do not do Meet & Greets at all, some only do them on certain days, at the end of the day or at the end of the con.
If you just want to meet the celeb without making a purchase at his or her table, we recommend you ask an Ambassador at the front of the line if that celeb does Meet & Greets. It would be most unfortunate to wait in line for an hour or more only to get up to the table and the celebrity’s handlers telling you that you must purchase something if you want to meet the celeb.
We recommend making a priority list, which includes the celebs you most want to have autographs/selfies and/or meet and work off from that list. This year we decided Sunday was our Funday and we were determined to meet and get autographs from Khary Payton because we had not yet had a chance to meet him at our previous cons. We also wanted to see Ross Marquand (because we love him and his cute face), but we have had so many selfies and autos we just wanted to say hi. So we did Khary’s line in the beginning of the day and did Ross’s line at the end. We filled the middle with our Norman/Andy pre-sales. #plan
Part 3: Some Stuff and Thangs to CONsider
11. Consider the Buddy System
It is difficult to fly solo at a con. We suggest you either bring your peeps, meet up with them at the con or make new ones. Remember, a con is better together!
There are going to be times when you need your place held in line- let’s face it, some lines are long and slow and some bladders are small. Sometimes you need someone to hold your stuff and thangs. There aren’t any lockers at the con so you have to carry everything with you. It is great to run to your photo op and have your buddy hold your things so you don’t have to put it down on an open table. There are three of us so if one person needs to hit the restroom the other two can hold bags, get in line, etc. More often than not, we have to separate at some point during the day.
In Atlanta, the buddy system came in handy during the long wait for our Andrew Lincoln photo op. We had an interview with a cast member that we absolutely could not be missed so we had to divide and conquer. Allie stood in line to hold our place while Stephen & Jessie conducted the interview. Jess got back just in time for the line to finally began moving. In less than ten minutes our photo op was finished and we walked away with the photo in hand.
12. Not Everything About WSC is Kid-Friendly
Let us start by saying that we are not here to make judgments on parenting styles. We know every parent has different opinions on what is and is not acceptable for their child(ren) and what is and what is not age appropriate in regards to language, content, and other questionable content. If your wee one loves watching TWD, cool, we can dig it too.
But, personally, we are of the opinion that Sons of Anarchy, Z-Nation, Ash vs Evil Dead, The Walking Dead, and Fear the Walking Dead are not kid-friendly shows and apparently those in charge of issuing ratings and viewer warnings for these programs agree. At what age child should view these? Of course, that depends on the show, the child and each parent’s discretion.
You need to know ahead of time that some of the panel discussions get R rated due to language and content (sexual innuendo, drugs, violence, etc). If your kiddo isn’t used to hearing curse words would really you want to explain what a (fill in the blank) is? Do you want your 2-year-old to learn the “F” bomb from Uncle Ron (Ron Perlman) at the Sons of Anarchy panel only to repeat it at Sunday School? These are real questions, folks.
Also, the con floor is filled with zombies and monsters and we have seen more than our share of scantily clad women in corsets that leave little to the imagination. Not to mention, there is a lot of walking around and standing. Strollers are hard to navigate through some areas and a lot of times are not allowed in lines. Some kids can hang, some can’t. We have seen both happy and miserable children. We have seen both happy and miserable parents. There is a children’s area. This year it had a climbing wall and ride-on toys and a nice play area. But do you really want to spend your con in the kids’ play area?
Also, there is a lot of people breathing the same air and touching the same things- are you grossed out yet? #germaphobeshere
Concrud is REAL people, and it is bad! Last Spring two of us ended up with Influenza strain B and were completely miserable and out of commission for a week. Just letting you know the facts so you can make a good decision for you and yours.
13. Don’t Go Just to See One Particular Celebrity
Please don’t go to a con just to see one celebrity. We can’t stress this point enough. Unless you are a Gold or Platinum ticket holder or you were are able to secure an autograph pre-sale or photo op with Andy, Norman or JDM, the chances that you can walk up and get an autograph or photo with these guys are slim to none. Pre-sale photo ops for Andrew Lincoln sold out in less than one minute. Literally.
Since the pre-sales began we have heard from so many of our readers and talked to so many attendees at the cons who were shocked that they couldn’t just walk on up and meet these three gentlemen with a GA ticket. Since they made their con about just meeting one or two or three people, when it didn’t happen they were upset.
Also remember, celebs do cancel on occasion. They may have a scheduling conflict, a family emergency or they may be sick. Make sure you are going for a full and well-rounded experience and then you will be less likely to be disappointed. You will probably have a great time even if meeting your #1 doesn’t pan out!
14. Check Out Our Previous Posts and Videos about Making the Most of Your Convention Experience
We have been doing posts like this since 2015 when we founded this site so we can help folks can make the most out of their WSC experience. At each and every con we learn something new that we apply to our own planning and share with you, our incredible readers.
We also have started doing Facebook Live videos about WSC. You can check out our previous broadcasts on our YouTube channel and our past WSC articles and posts here.
15. Getting Real
If you have made it this far, you know there is a lot of prep work that goes into planning a successful and enjoyable con experience, it doesn’t just happen by chance. You have probably also gathered that no matter how solid the plan is, parts are going to get broken or at the very least shuffled around. You may have to make a backup plan on the fly and somethings may come down to you having to make some hard choices.
You can also plan on there being at least one thing about the con you will not like, accept this reality now- something will get off schedule, the food will be too expensive, someone will be rude, your line wait will be too long, something will get canceled, …. Just like everyday life has its unexpected challenges, so does the con. And when “stuff” happens at the con, let’s choose right now that we will handle that”stuff” like ladies and gentlemen instead of you know. . . like jerk faces. (Because nobody likes a jerk face. . nobody.)
We have seen it over and over first hand, when things don’t go as planned, that is when folks get upset and angry and disappointed. People handle these emotions in different ways. Though we can not always help the way we feel, we can control the way we act and behave. Please don’t pitch a fit, bully or belittle anyone from the staff, celebs or fellow attendees in person or on social media. Trust me the staff and celebs want you to have a great experience, and if something goes wrong it stinks for them as well. We have seen James (Frazier) and his staff do their best to make things right if something goes wrong. They are not going to tune out constructive criticisms or legitimate concerns because they are professional and they care. However, causing a scene or being rude and unreasonable will not get you very far.
We hope these tips will help you all make the most of your next WSC! We hope to see you all at WSC Nashville 2018!
Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below.