Tip of the Day #25: How To Get Into A Panel

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Just one week to go till the San Diego Comic-Con and it’s time to do some serious schedule planning. If you are new to SDCC, one of the most common questions I get in these final days is in regards to when to line up for panels. With all this talk of getting in line hours before or even camping out overnight, it’s pretty overwhelming to visualize if you have never been before. Lining up for a panel is a tricky thing- and is more of an art than a science. So as you review the programming over the next few days, here are some priorities to consider while planning your schedule- then I will breakdown each main rooms.

Your Strategy:

  • For each day, pick ONE panel that is a MUST see for you. Not a must want. I’m talking like, “If I don’t see this panel, I will cut someone…” kind of resolve. Kidding aside, prioritize your number one choice.
  • The main rooms have image magnification so it’s less important where you sit than actually getting into the room.
  • Rooms are not cleared between panels so once you are in, you can stay there the whole day.
  • A bathroom pass is given out that expires at the start of the next panel. This gives you a short time to not only relieve yourself but pick up a snack at a nearby food cart.
  • Best case scenario is that there are multiple complementary panels in that same room as your #1 panel- before and after.
  • Worst case scenario is that there is nothing of interest surrounding your #1 panel. Which if that is the case, you will have to tough it out. On the bright side, I’ve talk to a number of people who became fans of something after being forced to sit through a panel.
  • Being over ambitious and going from Hall H to Ballroom 20 in the same day is extremely risky and not advisable.
  • Often times the panel and autograph sessions are scheduled against each other- again, not advisable to try to attempt both without serious help.
  • Trying to decide what you are going to see the morning you arrive onsite is about the worst thing you can do. Whenever I hear of a noobie doing this, a little piece of my soul dies and goes to Phantom Zone  :(

The Rooms:

Hall H
tumblr_m75yl9mgXE1rbos5ao1_500If you want to experience the mother of all panel rooms, then Hall H should be the top of you list. You will have to consider camping or at getting into line in the middle of the night if you target panel is before noon in Hall H- or infamously coined ‘Hall Hell’. The cavernous beast holds 6,500+ victims in her belly making it the largest comic convention panel in the galaxy. Recently, it’s become part of the culture to camp at ungodly hours of the night. Nothing is worst than being excited about your favorite panel, waking up at 4:00 AM, only to discover thousands of fans have already beaten you in line. This week, the internets was a  buzz about this new ‘Wristband System’ for Hall H, which will upset the lining up strategy for con veterans. Ultimately, to ensure getting into Hall H, you will need to get in line before 1:00 to hopefully get a wristband. 1:01 − 4:59 will be a gamble unless it is clear that all the wristbands have already been given out before the next distribution at 5:00a. I would encourage you to stay tied in to Twitter for line updates from fellow fans. There will now also be some markers along the lines helping to indicate capacity but info on this is less clear. The trick with Hall H is that in the morning, an uncompressed line can look VERY long. Once the staff starts cueing up the masses, it’s not as intimidating. lFor instance, the photo in the upper left shows the front of the line under the tents. Once the entire grassy knoll is filled, the line breaks, crosses the street and continues along the back bay side pictured to the right. An empty hall and uncondensed line will reach this back bay area. In the morning, if you get into line by this point, you will probably be ok, although you’ll be stressing the whole time. After the first panel, it just depends on what the afternoon schedule is, how much the room empties, and what day it is. The most popular day will be Saturday with WB, Legendary, and Marvel, and now the WB TV screenings. Most will plan to stay in Hall H all day Saturday. This is where it’s nice to have a room at either the Hilton Bayfront or Omni, allowing you a view of this line. Please review the ‘camping’ restrictions on the CCI website.

Ballroom 20
typical line for ballroom 20While not as daunting as Hall H, B20 is a formable adversary as well. Hosting most of the larger TV show panels, the camping culture is starting to affect this space as well. For B20, the line will start outside near the Hall A side and span across the con center to Hall H. A warning to campers, this is on the concrete which is less forgiving on your body than the Hall H counterpart. In the early morning, maybe around 7-8, the line will be allowed to enter to cue along the outside back pavilion just outside of B20. This line is harder to gauge since it starts inside near the room, goes outside under the tents, then wraps around the backside of the building. With a room capacity of 4,000+, I’ve never been able to estimate how far back you can go and still make it into an empty room. Although I have heard they now put up signs stating approximately how far back you are. For at least this year, getting in line (outside) by 5:00−6:00a should get you into the first panel of the day. After that, it just depends on the schedule. Judging the B20 schedule this year, I am predicting the rooms will flush more frequently because of the variety of genres that are scheduled. Either way, give yourself about a 6 hour head start on your target panel. I know it sounds early but it’s this kind of preparation that beats out the dazed and confused. However, Firefly Reunion panel caused very early line up and The X-Files Reunion panel caused the same thing last year. I think the 24 panel on Thursday will have the earliest appeal which is good since it’s the first panel of the day.

6 BCF, Indigo Ballroom (Hilton Bayfront), and others…
These are the next two largest spaces holding 2.1k and 2.5k respectively. Because 6BCF is nestled in the heart of Programming, it stays consistently full because of overflow from other panel rooms. Lines are long with wait times being a few hours. The Indigo Ballroom has been the most pleasant to experience in recent years even with big panels like Community. Since you have to leave the convention center and trek over to the Hilton Bayfront, it attracts less traffic . Room 6A holds about 1k then all the rest are under that. The rest of the panel rooms 4-11 will stay filled consistently. Gone are the days of being able to walk in and out of these smaller panels. If your target panel is in one of these rooms, expect to get there an hour or two before to be safe.

Bonus Tactics:

Ballroom-20-lineDynamic Duo
Pair up in order to achieve your goal. Panel hopping in pairs is so much easier because someone can sit in line while another can explore the options. Two can wait in two different lines then decide who has the better chance of getting in as you approach the start time. Plus, it’s much easier to make food runs with a partner. I know there is a lot of people going solo out there but partner up if you can. If you can’t partner up, then I would suggest you take a more conservative approach and stay in a room instead of attempting to panel hop.

It’s Larger on the Inside
Room capacities play a big part in the feasibility of getting into a room. Back in 2006, you were able to walk into most of the smaller rooms- that is no longer the case. Every room is now pretty much filled to capacity hours to minutes before start time. Here are approximate numbers I pulled from other websites and from the Convention Center publications:

  • Hall H: 6,500
  • Ballroom 20: 4,500
  • Indigo Ballroom: 2,600
  • Room 6BCF: 2,100
  • Room 6A: 1,000
  • Room 6DE: 850
  • Room 11AB: 500
  • Room 5AB: 500
  • Room 25ABC: 475
  • Room 7AB: 475
  • Room 24ABC: 420
  • Room 23ABC: 400
  • Room 32AB: 350
  • Room 26AB: 350
  • Room 8: 350
  • Room 2: 350
  • Room 28DE: 300
  • Lyceum (Horton Plaza): 300
  • Room 9: 280
  • Room 4: 280

Comic-Con, in theory, puts the panels that they expect smaller crowds in smaller rooms. While these smaller panels may be more niche, often times they fill up with standing room only very quick. Typically the bigger rooms will yield the longest wait times like the legendary Hall H. If the panel you want to get into is in a smaller room, you may want to check in 2 hours before (or have your partner). Arriving at any panel at near start time is pretty risky so always air on the early side. Note: The Lyceum Theater in the Horton Plaza are ticketed (free) panels- presumably because they can’t manage large crowds on site.

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From Dusk Till Dawn
Even with the growth of the camping crowd, it still seems the need to camp is still over-rated. It seems arriving between 5:00 and 6:00 is the breaking point for the casual fans. Arriving before 6:00 seems to give you a competitive advantage than arriving after. Watch the crowds from 6:00 to 6:20 and it will seem the line grows quite a bit. So if you know you can’t camp, can you make it out before 6:00? If you can’t then I would move onto a less stressful panel room.

Cosplay Hottie
Looking hot in cosplay is one thing, being hot is another. Which panels you should attend might be affected by if you are going in cosplay or not. A lot of Hall H waiting is not conducive to hardcore cosplay. If it’s a particularly hot Comic-Con (looking pretty fair so far), Hall H can cook you faster than Kal-El’s heat vision. There’s nothing worst than a Wookie with heatstroke. So if you say yes to insulated cosplay, so no to Hall H.

Screen shot 2013-07-07 at 11.27.46 PMShow me the money!
If you have never been to Comic-Con, it’s hard to know how much time to set aside for the showroom floor- hence affecting how much time to dedicate to panels. At about 3 football fields in length, if you are fairly dedicated to seeing and experiencing every booth on the floor, then it would take you a full day. So imagine having about 8 hours for the floor- that doesn’t include lining up for Exclusives or autographs. So however you design your panels for the week, make sure to include around 8 hours of the showroom floor. I would also argue you need a full day to experience the Gaslamp offsite events during the days as well.

The Alphabet Plan
Probably one of the most important parts of panel planning is having an effective Plan B, C, D, and so on. In fact, it might be more important than Plan A. As soon as you figure out Plan A is not happening, it’s important to initiate Plan B right away. If you wait to look up the options and calculate wait times then it will probably be too late. Take the time to map out all the alternates right down to the smaller panel rooms. I have done days where I found myself in my Plan F and G rooms. I know this sounds excessive, but you have to imagine thousands of other fans experiencing your same dilemma. Hesitating means you end up in the back of the line.

Bathroom Pass
The_Flash1-300x300When you are in the larger rooms like Hall H or Ballroom 20, you can leave the room to go to the bathroom. You will be given a temporary pass that is only good for during your current panel. While you don’t want to miss much of the panel you are in, it is a good opportunity to peak at lines from the rooms of the 20s and 30s. The closest panel room to Hall H is Indigo which is probably too far to hike during a bathroom break.

Good Samaritan
If you are by yourself, you might try to find a helpful person in line that would be willing to collaborate with you. Perhaps they can text you when the line grows to a certain point or starts to move. You don’t want to hassle a stranger but maybe bribing them with a soda or a candy bar will help. Fans are typically helpful as long as you are not too demanding.

Twitter Eyes
Another way to get an idea of what’s going on with lines is searching Twitter hashtags #HallH and #B20or #Ballroom20. During Comic-Con, these hashtags will be pouring in and might end up looking like Matrix code. Mining them for info will be tough for the inexperienced so get used to it now by searching #SDCC and #ComicCon. Another challenge is that the network is over burdened so finding a signal to use Twitter will be spotty at best.

The Kobayashi Maru
cadet-james-t-kirk-during-the-kobayashi-maru-scenario
Like Captain Kirk, you may find yourself in the ’no win scenario’. Unless you pull off some Kirk magic, you may have to accept defeat. Like the Kobayashi Maru test, you can’t let defeat ruin your day. Everyone at Comic-Con is having to compromise at some level- besides, Comic-Con is less about the end goal and more about the journey. Don’t take any of this too seriously and always have fun. I am a firm believer that generosity, kindness, and good will doesn’t return void in the Comic-Con universe (and in life). Keep up the good attitude even in disappointment and  good things will happen later on. Trust me.

In conclusion, I know this is all kinda crazy talk. The fact that we have to obsess over all this is pretty ridiculous- but welcome to Comic-Con! You want to know what all the fuss is about, well here it is. There is truly nothing like it in the world, so even in the madness, I hope you can appreciate this unique opportunity. Hope this helps and please leave your comments and suggestions you have learned over the years!

Check out my past Tip of the Day posts.

29 thoughts on “Tip of the Day #25: How To Get Into A Panel

  1. Awesome tips! I’ve been to several comic cons in the past, but I have never lined up for a panel but am considering it this year. I want to attend the 24 panel, but I also want to meet Keifer Sutherland at the autograph session. Don’t think I can do both though…decisions decisions

    • Unfortunately, you probably won’t be able to do both. But Thursday morning will be the best time of the week to line up for B20. I would always encourage a panel over autograph but that is just me. Best of luck!

      • Actually now that I think about it…I think I would be able to leave my son in the B20 line, while I go and draw tickets for the autograph session then return to B20 line after obtaining (hopefully) a wristband for the autograph session.

  2. Great post! Thanks for all the info, Tony! I’ll probably line up for Ballroom 20 early on Thursday :)
    I MIGHT attempt Hall H on Sunday. Wish me luck, haha!

    • Thursday morning is a great time to get into B20. With a ton of people heading to the showroom floor or picking up their badge, you will have the best chances getting in. Let me know how it goes!

  3. I have a extremely newbie question for you about Thursday. There is a panel from 10-11 that I was thinking about but I liked the Hannibal panel in B20 more. Given the 24 madness (which I am not apart of – sorry 24 fans), would the room “flush” enough for Hannibal at 4:45 or should I just drop the 10-11?

    • It will flush a lot because of the variety of genres. While cutting it close, I think it will be ok- especially since the Community Panel will flush a lot too. I say go for it.

      • Thanks! I wasn’t sure – there’s so much to see and I didn’t want to limit myself too much. Any thoughts on the Grimm panel on Saturday at 3? I really want to see it and was thinking if have to sit all day. I’d hate to waste a day but it qualifies for that “cut you” analogy.

        • Sat is much different than Thursday because of amount of fans. I would definitely shoot to get in the room by 12 in order to ensure 3pm. It will be crazy.

  4. Hey!

    Boosting this from earlier:
    Question about Hall H: I want to go to the 8pm WB panel on Saturday but don’t want to spend the whole day in the hall until then. So if I went to wait in line that afternoon, do you think I could get in? How much time should I give it? What’s weird is that Hall H doesn’t have anything going on for the 1.5hr before this panel. Do you think they’ll empty the hall?

    Also, on Friday, I have the same problem with two panels in the evening in BR20, starting at 5:30pm. What would be a good line up estimate? I was thinking around 2:30pm, to give myself 3 hours. Should I aim to get in for an earlier panel and wait or would the hall flush by then?

    Thanks so much!

  5. This will be my third trip to SDCC. I have done BR20 and Hall H. Your tips are great and extremely helpful to those who have never had the experience before (everyone should do one of the big rooms at least once IMHO)!
    I do have a question tho…I will be cosplaying for the first time this year and I am curious how hard it is to endure the ballroom 20 line in full costume. I will be going as Homer Simpson “the Chosen One”.

    • It just depends in your threshold of pain. There are tents so that makes it easier. It looks to be a mild week which also helps. Thanks for visiting and thanks for commenting!

  6. Great post, especially for those with no or less con experiences. One correction though, you can’t leave Hall H for anything and get back in. Remember, there’s restrooms IN the hall (to the right when facing stage) and there is food vending just outside the doors but within the Hall H outside entry (closed off access area). This is very important if trying to plan out a quick run to buy a limited item or try to snag an autograph.

    Your absolute best advice: “Don’t take any of this too seriously and always have fun. I am a firm believer that generosity, kindness, and good will doesn’t return void in the Comic-Con universe (and in life).” How true. Go with the flow. You’ll never what you may discover within the convention centre or in the special events outside in the Gaslamp!

    • Thank you for the compliment! Actually, the information on the post is correct. They do have bathroom passes for Hall H that allow you to leave and enter Hall G. I’ve used them many times to go get coffee or connect with a friend. It’s not widely known but you can get one at the same doors you entered to the left. Thanks for commenting!

  7. Great advice! Mind if I ask for a little more? I was thinking of braving Hall H on Sunday for The Strain panel @ 1:45. New show but last panel of the day and on a Sunday. Should I line up right away? Hall H has always scared me off. Theres so many people! I wish Ballroom 20 was open on Sundays.

    • Sunday is the lightest it has been in years. Since it’s a new show, I think you will be ok to line up much later than normal. I think you will be able to make it into the hall like by noon or just before start time. Keep checking it throughout the morning but I am anticipating a full room.

  8. Hi Tony, we are newbies, our first time at Comic Con – we have wanted to go for years!! I have been finding your blog so helpful – Thank you!! I have been scared off from Hall H even though I am an insane Game of Thrones fan and wanted so much to see the panel on Friday. Can you tell me anything about the replay room? I know it is in a new venue this year, but are the lines for that typically pretty long as well? And do you have to sit through replays of panels you don’t care about to see the replay of your choice? (GoT is replaying after Bones and Walking Dead which I don’t watch). Thanks for any info you can share!

    • The replay panels are not typically that bad. Fans really want to line up for the real deal instead. However everything is getting more crowded these days and I haven’t checked in on the replay rooms in a couple of years. I’ll ask on Twitter and see if there is any more intel on this.

    • Yes they do but it’s IMPORTANT to note that these are not OFFICIAL accounts but started and are run by fans. They will help the best they can but they are not officially reporting information. Thanks!

  9. Thanks for all the great advice Tony! I did have a question, for the Supernatural panel at 10am on Sunday, do you think it’ll be necessary to camp out? On one hand the Sunday panel schedule is unusually light, on the other, Supernatural has a pretty rabid fanbase. I’d greatly appreciate any thoughts for a Hall H first-timer

    • No I don’t. I think you can get there early- like 4-5 and be fine. Sunday is light programming so I don’t anticipate it being packed to capacity.

  10. It should be noted that HALL H has it’s own bathrooms and food vendors every year. There are no bathroom passes for those panels. Once you leave, you are out.

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