2013 Tip of the Day #21: When to Line Up for Panels


While glimpses of the San Diego Comic-Con schedule has been leaking out in the various corners of the interweb, we should finally be getting the official version starting with the Thursday Program anytime now (followed by each subsequent day). If you are new to Comic-Con, one of the most common questions I am getting these days is in regards to how 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 the program is released over the next few days, here are some strategies to consider while planning your schedule, then I will breakdown each main rooms:

  • 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. I joke, but we did have an incident a few years back in Hall H.
  • 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.
  • 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 😦

Hall H
tumblr_m75yl9mgXE1rbos5ao1_500OK, all the internets is talking about lining up or camping out for Hall H. 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. Unfortunately, starting a couple of years ago, a camping of culture started among the fans. Spearheaded by the Twilight fans, lining up overnight is now the en vogue thing to do and the only way to ensure entrance into the mighty hall. 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. The trick with Hall H is that in the morning, an uncompressed line can look VERY long. To put it into perspective, a line of 6,500 fans that is about 3 people wide will end up being at least half a mile 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 this point, 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 Catching Fire, WB, and Marvel showcasing. 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. I’ve covered in detail camping restrictions in Hall H in my earlier post.

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. 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 6:00 should get you into the first panel of the day. After that, it just depends on the schedule. In general, it seems the B20 crowd doesn’t flush as frequent as the Hall H crowd. Possibly due to the fact that TV fans cross genres and have a wider spectrum of interests. Either way, give yourself in general 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, last year’s Firefly Reunion panel caused very early line up. The X-Files Reunion panel will probably cause the same thing.

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. Celebrities of the likes of Stan Lee and William Shatner will be featured in this room. 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 crowds. So far, I’ve been able to walk into most panels or have to wait under an hour (but that could change). 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.

lady_punisher_cosplay41Last but not least, the most coveted of all rooms at Comic-Con is 7AB- mainly because of my panel on Sunday called “The Battle for Multicultural Heroes” (4:00). With a room capacity of almost 500, you better camp out for it 😉 Shameless plug: This will be a lighthearted but poignant discussion about the challenges of multiethnic heroes in pop culture. Spanning comics, TV, and film, we’ll be discussing the obstacles of stereotypes and what needs to happen to create more opportunity for ethnic leading characters. Besides myself, I’m joined by professional cosplayer Linda Le aka: @VampyBitMe, Youtube Comedian Andrea Meadows aka: @BlackNerd, and Producer of ILikeComicsToo.com Marlena Bonelly aka: @ILikeComicsToo. End your Comic-Con right!

Check out my past Tip of the Day posts.

72 thoughts on “2013 Tip of the Day #21: When to Line Up for Panels

  1. What about line saving in Hall H? I know the CCI website says it’s not allowed but how strict are they? Anyone have experience with this?

    • Common courtesy should dictate line saving. A single friend is one thing, saving it for 6 is another. As long as you are discreet and let you fellow line mates know a friend is joining you then you will be fine. Abuse it and you will get reported to a line monitor. Thx for the question!

  2. I was planing on getting dropped off Friday night for Hall H and saving a spot for my sister, but I’m afraid the surrounding people will get angry.

    • I think you will be fine as long as you let people know and it’s just for one. Fellow nerds camping over night are pretty nice!

  3. The good thing about BR20 is that they have markers set up in the line that tell you estimated body counts. So you will pass a marker that says, “5000 people”, then 4500 and so on. I believe this starts once you get up the stairs and into the back tents.

      • Follow up question on the same topic. Thursday is badge pickup day, right? How does that work with BR20 lines? I’m one of the crazy kids who really wants to see the panels before the x-files one, but I gotta get my badge that day as well.

        • You don’t need a badge to line up but you will to get into the building. So best thing is to go in pairs, then take turns getting your badge. But you will be at a disadvantage with fans with their 4 Day w/ Preview Night. This one will be the hardest one to navigate for you.

  4. Thanks for the tips. I didn’t have an issue last year with B20, but
    Thursday’s schedule is crazy. I feel like there’s at least four crazy
    Fandoms to content with on that day!

  5. My friend and I have Saturday passes. In the event that we want to see a Hall H or BR20 panel and need to camp overnight, will we be allowed to leave the line to pick up our passes (which aren’t available until 8:30am on Saturday -____-) or even line up at all? This is our first Comic Con! Thanks!

  6. Last year I got in line for Firefly & Community in Ballroom 20 on Friday at 4AM and had a great aisle seats in the front section. Likewise, got in line about 4:30 for Doctor Who on Sunday in Hall H and ended up in the second row of tents on the Hall H lawn once they made the campers get up. So – while I do agree it’s important to line up plenty early, I think a lot of the line panic (e.g. the supposed “necessity” of camping) has been blown out of proportion in the last few years.

  7. If I wanted to get in line for Hall H on Saturday (Me and my friend actually want to camp in line but want dinner first, along with other activities) What would be a good time to get in line and still get in? Did anyone do Saturday last year? I’m a first timer and I really don’t want to miss the Marvel panel as that was my main reason for coming? (Just the main reason, I do plan on trying to see other panels and I’ve been reading this website like a crazy person)

    • Saturday will be CRAZY. With Catching Fire, WB, and then concluding with Marvel- it’s anyone game on who gets in. It’s less about what time and more about where the line is. In the last year or two, most got in line by the end of the evening since you can’t line up until the last panel is in and clear. So dinner should be fine. If you make it onto the grassy knoll then you are a for sure in (under the tents, absolutely). What I would do? Pay someone in line $20, have them call you when the line gets close to the end of the grassy knoll.

    • Saturday was the busiest day last year in Hall H, but if you already plan on camping, I would say you can get there around midnight and have a guaranteed GOOD spot in the hall. Remember: most people DON’T camp. Remember: the line looks deceiving before it’s condensed in the morning. So what may seem like THOUSANDS of people camping is really only a couple hundred – not even enough to fill the first third of the hall. Now, once you get past midnight into 1-2 am, people start arriving in droves. At that point, the span of 10 minutes might see 500-600 people join the line.

      Anyway, the point is that you can totally eat dinner. And the line is right there out in the open, so once you leave the convention center on Friday, turn right and walk towards the tents to check it out. You’ll probably see maybe 100 diehards already spread out with their sleeping bags. I want to emphasize again: 100 people is nothing. Heck, in Hall H, 1000 people is nothing!

  8. Agree with saving a spot for 1 person – just ask the ppl behind if its ok. Most ppl are nice and won’t mind. It’s when ppl just show up and jump in line (this happens sometimes and they think no one will notice). Again if 6 ppl show up it won’t go well, ppl plan, get up early, and wait for hours so respect that.
    Definitely make friends around you so they’ll hold your place for bio breaks, food runs, etc and you can do the same.
    Above l be nice and courteous and everyone will have a great time!
    Thanks for all the great tips!

  9. So what’s the general consensus for lining up to get into the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. panel in B20 at 1:45pm on Friday? It’s a tough choice, as Sony/Screen Gems in Hall H is at 4:05pm Friday, so I’m going to have to choose between the two. I’m guessing getting in line around 5-6am might be just good enough for either one?

    And thank you Tony & everyone!! I’ve found SO many invaluable tips & tricks, my first SDCC is at the very least much less stressful than it could be 🙂 It’s already a success… because I’M GOING!!!! 😀

    • You will def have to choose. I think that will def be the big panel to get into for B20- even more than the X-Files Reunion. Getting their at 5-6 is a reasonable time but I have found that 6:00 is the breaking point for most. So make sure you get there before then.

  10. Sitting at the front half of the Hannibal Panel (6:45) is my Thurs. must but given the 6A’s size and immediately preceded by a Hobbit related, Kirkman, pilot screening etc. any suggestions for when to line up? Thanks for the usual great advice.

    • Hmmm, this is a tough one. There is a enough diversity to where the room will cycle over attendees. Plus by the later panels, people are tired or are ready to go eat dinner. The Hobbit panel is Unofficial so it won’t be as bad. However, the room is only 1K big and there won’t be a lot of competing panels. I would say check the line late morning and ask around how long people have been waiting. I’d make it a goal to make it into the room by mid afternoon (bring dinner with you). Hannibal’s fan base is not huge but they are committed- so ask around and once you start finding Hannibal fans in line then I would join in. Hope that helps.

  11. Do you know if I can pick up all my badges on Wednesday? I have single day passes for 4 days (not a one 4 day pass). I want to plan accordingly. BTW, I have enjoyed all your posts and tweets. They have been very helpful, and getting me crazy excited and not being able to function at work! Thanks Tony!!

    • Yes, but only at the Town and Country hotel between 3:00-8:30. You can also on Thursday at CC but you want to avoid that.

      Thanks so much for your feedback and glad it’s been helpful. Hope to meet ya there! Good luck!

  12. Great idea to check in frequently. Will head over after the B20 Sherlock (is 11 too late for that 2:15 panel?). I was hoping to squeeze in a meal/convention floor between the two panels. Appreciate the unique and detailed tips,

  13. I’ve never been to Indigo Ballroom in previous years – if I want to “camp out” (use the term loosely because I probably won’t but I’ll want to get there early) for that, how do I know where the line starts? Since it’s in a hotel rather than out on the sidewalk like lining up for Hall H/B20 which I’ve done numerous times, I’m wary about what you’re meant to do.

    • Just go to the Ballroom- the line will form in hallway and it will be easy to find. Fortunately wait times are much less at Indigo- at least that’s how it’s been in the past.

      • Thanks – it’s HIMYM I really want to see and I was expecting it to be in B20 so I’d planned on camping out. I’m a little relieved that probably won’t be necessary!

        • I will be there for HIMYM, Geek and Sundry and Nerdist too! Last Saturday for a similar line up (and the HUGE TV Guide Fan Favorites, which included Nathan Fillion, Matt Smith, Joel McHale and others), I arrived at 7am and was within the first 300-400 people. I was THRILLED when I saw HIMYM wasn’t in BR20 this year! We won’t have to contend with the True Blood and Vampire Diaries fans!

  14. I am coming in late on plane Thurs. will never make it to The Xfiles in time and that is the only thing I want to do. Coming alone, can I ask a fellow Xphile to save me a place on twitter? Or would that be rude? Also, if I line up late and people leave the Ballroom early, will they let us in line in if space allows?

    • Sure, I don’t see why not. People are usually cool with letting one person in. They will fill the room to capacity then close the room- No-one will be allowed in until the panel ends. Hall H and B20 will have a playback at 8:00 in Room 25abc if your interested in that. Good luck!

  15. I am getting my badge through volunteering 2 hrs a day. While this is a super awesome way for me to help out AND get inside the Con, I’m going to need to be very strategic as to when I volunteer. I have my heart set on seeing the Doctor Who panel, and I’m worried that if my volunteer hours are that morning I will lose my spot. So my question is, If i leave between panels to volunteer, can I have someone save my seat? Or will I be out of luck?

    • No, once you leave, they won’t let you back in even if you are volunteering. Unfortunately, that’s part of the sacrifice for volunteering. Only thing you can do is ask your volunteer head to see if they can get you in. Sry!

  16. Last year, I did the Friday Hall H Walking Dead / Game of Thrones line waiting. I don’t remember the exact time I got in line, but it was at least AFTER dawn, so maybe 5:30-6am. And I had no problems getting into Hall H. In fact, it was probably 70% full by the time I entered the hall.

    My sister did Hall H on Sunday for Supernatural / Dr. Who, and she also got in line around 5:30-6am and had no issues getting in.

    So yes, camping will guarantee a spot, but camping is totally unnecessary, unless this year an overwhelming number of people decide they need to camp.

    In fact, I daresay Hall H is far easier to get into than Ballroom 20. Last year, I didn’t even try.

    Oh, and riddle me this… why isn’t Ballroom 20 ever used on Sunday? If they did, they could spread out the high-demand panels over a greater period of time. Its lack of use never made sense to me.

  17. Thanks for the info on Ballroom 20. I’m aiming for the OUAT panel Saturday morning, and wanted to ensure my family and I get decent seats. (I don’t mind being far back in there, though I missed this panel by being in Hall H all day last year.). I am completely prepared to camp out on the concrete.

  18. Hi Tony! When should I line up for the Breaking Bad panel on Sunday? Especially consider Dr. Who follows it. Thanks!

    • Unfortunately pretty early since Whovians will be fighting to get in early too. I wouldn’t get in line any later than 6 for sure.

  19. Hi Tony. Thank you so much for this post. I’m going with my 10 y/o and I want the exp to be as good as it can be. Can you give me your thoughts on how early to get in line for rooms 23-26, room 30 and room 8? If you have any thoughts or land mines to point out about any of these specific panels love to hear about them as well: Tuesday 10:15, MadTV, Room 6DE; Tuesday 7:30, Tourney of Nerds, 26AB; Friday 10AM, Steampunk 101, 25ABC; Friday 10:30, Defiance, 6A; Friday 6PM, Max Brooks’s Zombie lecture 7AB; Friday 7:30 Psych of Stars Trek and Wars, 24ABC; Friday 8:30 Klingon life 6A; Saturday, noon, Zombie Law 23ABC; Saturday 5pm, Lego, 23ABC; Saturday 6, Brands and Batman, 30CDE; Sunday 3:30, Starship Smackdown. Again, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge.

    • Congrats! Taking a young one can be a little of a challenge because of the large crowds and long lines. I am writing a new post (8:00) that might help you a little. Best of luck!

  20. Wanted to say, this has been a great site for advice even though I’ve gone for the past 14 years! I always seem to be learning something new each year.

    Just to clarify, BR20 early lineup takes place in the front of the convention center outside of Hall A? Or do we lineup in the back? Is this new? I usually assumed that the general line outside (Hall D?) was where you would go. When they let you inside at 7 or 8, that was when the BR20 line started lining up. Was this camping out for BR20 a recent thing?

    • Yes, early line up for B20 takes place outside Hall A. Then they will cue everyone inside and along the back. People started to camp last year although it wasn’t totally necessary. Thanks for visiting the site and commenting!

    • For the most part no. There will be an occasional exception in the smaller rooms but its best to have the mindset that it will take some time to get into the panel rooms. Sorry!

  21. Bob’s Burgers is at 4p on Fri in the Indigo Room. Would getting there an hour early be ok? Also the second X-Files panel in Rm 5AB at 1:45p, would getting there an hour ahead be enough time? Thank you for all your tips and endless amount of info 🙂 I’m so excited and nervous for my first time attending.

  22. There is alot of talk about lines on thur, fri and sat but are they the same on Sun? Me and my husband want to see the sunny in philly panel (at 3pm) in “Hell Hall” on Sunday but this is the only day we will be at the con and i dont want to spend all day in line . .i want to see if i should just give up on trying to see them or if it is a good possibility?? Thanks for all the advise! 🙂

    • Your chances are not bad. Doctor Who will be the biggest panel of the day and so it will clear out quite a bit after. I’d get there early but it won’t be all day.

  23. I’m going to the Defiance panel in 6A, which is the first one of the day in that room. I want to get there plenty early, do you know where they would start the line?

  24. Anyone need a line buddy or suggestions for Thursday’s Hannibal Panel (6A at 6:45)? I can’t arrive until like 6:00.

  25. Do you guys know where I can park if I come in between 3-5am Saturday morning for Hall H line? Are there already parking lots open at that time? I know that shuttles are going to be running 24 hrs. Thanks in advance.

    • That’s a tough one. Most lots don’t open till maybe 5. You may try to park at a hotel for a half day then re-park later. Tough dilemma.

  26. Thanks so much for all your great advice!! 🙂

    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.

    All help is appreciated, thank you!

  27. Hey Tony! I have a question I hope you can answer more specifically. I really want to see Marvel Television in Ballroom 20 this year, but I’m afraid it’s going to be crowded considering Marvel Studios won’t be at Hall H. What time would you recommend getting in line, and since you said the line starts indoors, are you able to stay over the night or get there early in the morning before the Con opens? Thanks so much for your help, you’re a great source!

    • That is a tough one. The Marvel panel will be the most coveted one to attend out of all the panels that day. Fans will get in there first thing and probably camp out all day till 3p. The line (the night before) will start out front near Hall D and run parallel with Hall H. It will look intimidating but it’s really not that bad because it is called the ‘Everything Else’ line (autographs, exclusives, B20). They will let that line in first thing in the morning, probably around 7 and it will divide into separate lines. B20 will start lining up outside the room (which is indoors) then lines up out the back patio area (outdoors but under tents). For the rest of the weekend I would say arriving no later than 5a but now that I have looked at the schedule, because of the Marvel panel, I would say arrive around 3a. I know that is pretty brutal but the general rule is play it safe. Let me know how it works out for you.

  28. The walking dead panel is at 12 pm on Friday and there’s only 1 panel before it in Hall H. Would getting there at 8am be early enough?

    • Unfortunately, not by a long shot. You probably won’t make it in unless you are lined up Thursday afternoon and you have to get a wristband. Check out my most recent post- this one is 2 years old.

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