K8, Nats and I went to GenCon and we are going to go again next year, you should come as well because it was awesome.
Next year the show is on the 14th -17th of August : http://gencon.com/
Here is a rough breakdown of costs and what you should think about to get there:
Flights. We were recommended DIALAFLIGHT www.dialaflight.com
(0161-953-5000, fax 0161-932-1919, Waterside Court, 1 Britannia Road, Sale, Cheshire, M33 2AA ) by Gav . Morgan our lovely and extremely helpful sales adviser sorted everything for us, she was pleasant and efficient throughout.
Check where your departure terminal and point are, in our outward bound journey these were the further possible point from where we entered which lead to things being needlessly exciting!
The flights cost about £900 ish each, but we had booked late, they are cheaper earlier in the year so book as early as you can! I reckon we can probably get them for closer to £700 if we book this year or before April.
We flew with United Airlines (part of the Star Alliance) and were very impressed, a nice easy journey throughout with no snags and all the luggage in the right place! We had flown with Delta previously and had a horrible time in terms of delays, uncomfortable flying, unhelpful staff and not getting to the con until the Thursday lunchtime, and then not getting luggage until Friday! All of which was obviously rubbish! Don’t use Delta.
There is a luggage allowance of 23kg there and back but you can take 2 pieces of hand luggage into the cabin with you. This meant that on the way back our packed suitcases had light bulky stuff in and our messenger bags (GenCon merch of course) and backpacks/small suitcases were stuffed with books and manuals, dice and heavy stuff in the cabin with us.
If you take an extra case back with you it will cost $100, if you are over your luggage allowance it will cots $200.
You can ship things home and there are shipping stand points at intervals throughout the convention as everyone always buys too much!
Transport costs: We got a shuttle bus from the airport to our hotel, it’s set up specifically for conventions and drops off at all of the nearby hotels in the centre of the city. This cost us $10 each. On the way back to the airport we got a cab from outside the hotel, this cost just over $30 for the three of us. In both cases this was easy and there were loads of taxis and a regular shuttle bus.
When to arrive and leave: We went for the entire week Monday to Monday. if you don’t want to get that far I recommend arriving on Tuesday evening, spending Wednesday getting over jet lag and then picking up your badges and tickets on Wednesday when the Will Call line opens. We left at about 3am Monday morning, so we got the entirety of Sunday at the show and then chilled out and packed in a leisurely fashion.
Visas, the ESTA:
The ESTA, this is an odd little US Visa style thing which EVERYONE non American needs. Make sure you use the US government site. This costs about £10 and a % of this goes to the US tourist people to promote America. It can all be done online and you usually get confirmation there and then.
Ensure you have a passport and that it has at least 6 months left on it otherwise they are not keen to let you in and you can’t get an ESTA.
Hotel. We stayed at the JW Marriott but there are loads near the convention centre. The booking for the rooms opens on a specific date, your best bet is to keep an eye on the Gen Con website for when that will be. This year the hotel booking opened in January, so expect it to be similar next year. This link should update when they have info about next year. Our hotel had a room rate of $220 per night but many are cheaper and you pay for a room and can then put as many people in it as you can fit.
Badges. A 4 day pass cost about $75. Badge registration opens on 31st January and goes on for a couple of months during which time you can get a refund if you foolishly decide not to go. We bought our badges first as a commitment thing to show we intended to do the expensive stuff later!
Event tickets are for a specific event i.e. seminar, game, show etc. Its worth getting them even though you can use generic tickets or if the event is free. This is for 2 reasons, firstly it lets them tell how many people were interested and booked for the event and also then allows them to see who turned up. More importantly if you are registered and hand in your ticket you get put into a draw for each seminar to win free stuff, often signed by the author/creator etc. Which rocks!
Generic tickets cost $2 each; a normal session of a game costs about one ticket, some things cost more than that. A lot of events sell out pretty quickly so have an idea what sort of things you want to do in advance and book them as early as possible on the Gen Con Website.
Trade Hall of awesome
I also suggest leaving plenty of time to look through the trade hall as it is very difficult to see the whole thing. It is MASSIVE! It makes London’s Olympia look like a bit of a shed! There’s also loads of games and demos happening so you’ll need time to play as well as shop and chat to artists, designers, craftspeople, gamers, etc.
It might be worthwhile making a plan to see the things you NEED then the MUST HAVES then look at the things you might like etc.
We ended up spending about $50 each a day for food, but we ate out a lot, so it would be easy to do this for less. A word of warning, cheese is a food group, although its odd cheese and veg is rare or deep fried and battered and THEN covered in cheese unless you order a salad.
Steak & shake: http://www.steaknshake.com/
There are cheap places like Steak & Shake which ought to be visited just for a fast food diner experience. Its pretty much chips burgers and liquidised knickerbocker glories posing as milk shakes! Cheap, filling and cheerful!
Patachou in the Park: http://www.cafepatachou.com/
This is just over from the Hyatt this lovely place is breakfast/brunch specialist open from 7am ish to 3pm. Its always busy during GenCon days so leave plenty of time to queue and eat!
Chinese Food: Its in the entrance to the shopping precinct, I can’t remember the name of the place but food was awesome and all the staff had dressed up for the GenCon, we got served by a very lovely, VERY camp, Harry Potter who thankfully didn’t try and attempt an English accent!
A lovely little place for breakfast/lunch, extremely friendly staff, MASSIVE amounts of food and amazing pancakes the size of our head served with your choice of anything and a pint of maple syrup!
In the con = not too bad, but can be pricey and not very varied, although the sandwiches were huge and more than enough for lunch! Beware convention pizza its a bit odd as American cheese is a bit strange too!
Food vans: These are a mixed bag, with loads of variety, mostly very good and more importantly open from early till very late.
Shopping Centre food court: This was actually pretty good and surprisingly quick and cheap. It does get busy though!
The Palamino: http://www.palomino.com/
close to the shopping mall on one of the many cross road intersections. This was overpriced, slow service and pretentious and when the food arrived it was pretty mediocre. Ok for a drink but don’t both with the food, there was a reason it was nearly empty and everywhere else was heaving.
Spending money. Bring as much as you can. We budgeted for about $1000 each, it will never be enough because even if you buy everything you want to you will then need to ship it back or pay $200 for a suitcase over 23kg or $100 to bring an extra suitcase back home!
Total cost: We spent about £2000 each. You can probably do it cheaper with a little bit more effort.
Should I bring dressing up gear?
Well K8 won a costume prize in her normal clothes so you might not need to, but there is loads of cosplaying and a Costume contest. Loads of people dress up as well as sporting the latest Geek/Nerd T-shirts, its very welcoming for people in any costume.
You can see coverage of this year's costume contest here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G99AYs0tuxc
What is there to do?
Absolutely loads, as well as all the gaming slots and demo games available in the trade hall there are non-gaming activities aimed at spouses, seminars on writing, game design and loads more. There are parties, live music and an awards ceremony. Even in the evenings all the lobbies of the nearby hotels fill up with people playing games.
We got to Indy early and saw the Indianapolis Zoo, the Museums and walked some of the White River complex. The Colts American football stadium is also very well worth the $10 for the hour and a half of seeing all over the Lucas Oil stadium.
Everything is within walking distance but you need to think of it as more of a hike as everything is really spread out.
What is good to see/get to early?
Living dungeon events sell out very very early so book them in January if you want them.
Typically several distributors will have a small number of a very cool new thing that they will have flown in ahead of the normal delivery. This year the Pathfinder Adventure card game sold out in three hours and Fantasy Flight Games normally has something that goes very quickly. If there is a new release you really want from the show make getting it your first priority.
Industry vs. public events: There is a retailer day on the Wednesday but we didn’t do anything for it. Otherwise most of the events are open to the public and it is very easy to be able to talk to industry people on the floor of the convention.
Thanks to K8 and Nats for contributing loads to this post.