If you are part of the otaku/nerd culture in America you have probably heard of Otakon. This year Otakon topped a record number of attendee's. 34,100 to be exact. This puts Otakon at the largest anime convention on the east coast, but ignoring all of the hype, is it worth it it? Some attendee's I talked to had traveled from as far away as Seattle to attend this convention. I have a very simple answer answer to this. Yes, I highly encourage everyone to expirence Otakon at least once in their lives, especially if you live towards the eastern United States and do not have to fly.
Baltimore is a huge city, the largest city I have been to other than DC for Katsucon and AUSA. That being said be prepared to pay a hefty fine for parking. To park for the weekend my car mates and I shelled out 58 dollars to park Thursday night through Sunday afternoon. Other than the parking situation the convention costed no more than any other conventions. A pass costs 80 at the door, but if you ordered up until the week before the convention you could get your pass for 70 as I did. Considering the size of the convention this is actually a rather nice deal, considering Animazement in Raleigh's pass, a convention 1/5 the size for this year is 60 and Katsucons pass at the door is 70 and they're half the size.
It's crowded. Baltimore CC is a large establishment, but when you throw 34,000 people into anywhere be prepared for congestion. Overall the convention did a fair job at trying to direct the flow of traffic, but there were many times where I would be trying to get from one end of the convention to the other and had to cross the sky walk and it would be impossible to cross due to the mass number of people trying to cross at once. Extreme lines did not help with the congestion. A line would be forming for a panel or a guest or the dealers room and though there would be ropes at times the lines seemed to form in the middle of a walk way and stay that way until a member of staff could redirect traffic.
Dealers Room, Panels, and more:
Due to the mass number of people in attendence the line to the dealers room extended from the dealers room, up a flight of stairs, then onto the main level and looped around a rope maze. This sounds like it would not be worth it, but the line fortunately moved rather quickly considering the size. Once inside the dealers room I was in awe of the many things you could buy. I was highly impressed by the selection offered and the number of dealers set up. I ended up spending 30 dollars solely on manga because I could find ones there I could not find anywhere else. Anything you could image was there, including the usual booth's such as the Funimation booth and the "Rainbow Yaoi booth" Yes, there is a booth selling nothing but Yaoi and Yuri that you can see across the dealers room because it waves a giant rainbow flag high above any other booths.
I only attended two panels the entire convention, that was not because they were not interesting, but because I was so busy. The panel selection was fantastic and I was pleased to see there was not six thousand of the same panel. Only one of each kind of panel was accepted so the issue of having six as a nation panels did not arise. My favorite panel at the convention was the Cosplayer Nation documentary. I even had a cameo in it! It was great to see the behind the scenes of everything cosplayers have to go through in order to make the cosplays we do and hear different stories of why we do it.
Sadly I was not able to see TM Revolution live or the Masquerade. The line for TM Revolution began to form 3 hours in advance and by the time I was able to head to the arena to see them the line was wrapped around the building, this was an hour before.
Hotels and getting around Baltimore:
Around the immediate area of the convention center are several hotels. The hotels to the side of the convention center are connected by a sky walk so con goers never have to actually set foot in the streets of Baltimore. This is a great way to go if you want to pay the extra price for being next door to the convention, but you do not get a feel for the city. There are also a plethera of hotels within a mile of the convention center that are in downtown Baltimore. My crew stayed in the Quality Inn, which is 3 blocks away. It wasn't a bad deal, but the only draw back not staying right next to the con was walking through downtown Baltimore at night wearing costumes and some of my friends very little clothes. We did not stay for the rave and my room had a 1am curfew to keep everyone safe. It is always best to be safe than sorry when dealing with your money and very expensive items such as camera's and also your life.
Another option available to those living in area is to take the light rail in. There is parking at light rail stops and many people I talked to who did not have money to stay in a hotel used the light rail to commute every day. Also City of Baltimore has a bus system that can take you to anywhere in the city so let's say if your cosplay messes up and you need a last minute walmart run, but it will cost extra to move your car? Take the city bus! It makes things quite convenient if you do not mind wandering around Baltimore in cosplay.
All in all Otakon is a huge con but if you don't mind waiting in lines it is well worth it. If it is your first time headed to Otakon my advice would be read up as much information as you can. There are many advice pieces written and they all offer the same general advice. Watch your money, don't wander Baltimore at night, stay hydrated and arrive early. Also I would like to throw in my own personal piece of advice, pick up your badge Thursday. You will stand in line for many many hours if you do not and you will loose a good chunk of your con time Friday if you do not. Thursday when I picked up my badge I waited in line for maybe 45 minutes instead of the 4 hours it would have taken me if I had not gone Thursday.
Also, never buy drinks inside of the convention. Support "Ice cold water, it's only one dollar" guy and buy from him. It will save your wallet in the long wrong and plus, he is the inside joke of all otakon goers. If you say "Ice cold water" to anyone who has been Otakon they will immediatly think back to ice cold water man.
So is it worth it? Hell yes it's worth it.