Pensacon 2016 was simply one of the best cons I’ve ever attended. Usually, when I write a review of a con, I have two or three better ifs. I can’t really think of any for this year’s con. Now part of that reason is that we planned well. We knew what we wanted to do and what we would have to give up. However, Pensacon, and by extension Pensacola, deserves most of the credit. They made the most of their limited space and held a great con.
Friday night we got there right at the end of the con. It was still enough time to pick up our credentials and see a few celebrity guests and buy some merchandise. While Cristina will talk more about the celebrity guests in detail in her own blog on Pensacon, I have to say that every single person we met gave us that “30 second connection” that you look for at a con. They made each person feel special and all went out of their way to make each meeting personable.
Most of the time, I find merchandise at cons to be lacking. Most cons have too many identical booths all marking-up their merchandise in a ridiculous manner. Now they did have some booths that did just that (I’m looking at you 50 dollar Link doll that’s $20 at GameStop), but most of them were just about right. Each booth had something unique to make them stand out. They also had quite a few comic booths that actually had a good number of comics. I know that this sounds like a weird critique for a con, but we have been to too many that just don’t have many comics. I do wish that the comics’ vendors – at any con — would reorganize for cons. Why not set a long box or two with just comics from the artists that are present? It’s a win-win for the artists and the comic shops. Last year, we didn’t want to wait in the long lines to see the vendors so we just skipped this section. Friday was really easy to get down on the floor, and so was Sunday. It was crowded but never crazy crowded. I’m not sure if people had to wait on Saturday for the vendor section, but it didn’t seem too long if they did.
The artists were located in the oval aisle that separated the court seats from the nosebleed section. We prefer the term artist Tony Isabella gave it – “The Artist Halo.” It too was never crazy crowded but busy most of the day. Every artist we talked to seemed to be having a great con experience and asked us how we were enjoying it.
The celebrity signing area was cramped and crowded, but the organizers of Pensacon definitely knew how to make due with the limitations set by the venue. Knowing that Micheal Rooker would have the largest lines they gave him his own special area. The staff and volunteers carefully monitored the area to make sure that overcrowding didn’t take place. When it did, they made adjustments. Sam Witwer’s lines, for example, would sometimes overflow to the table next to him. When this happened, they quickly cut off the line and formed a queue outside of the signing room and then escort fans to it a few at a time. Again, the venue is not perfect, but it’s the only one Pensacon has for now. The staff and the volunteers again need to be recognized for doing such a great job in making the most of their area.
The panels again show how great the organizers were in handling poor spaces. While the Pensacola Bay Center could hold some of the smaller panels, it wouldn’t do for larger panels like the Mallrats cast. What to do if your venue can’t hold a large panel, especially one that people attending the con really want to see? You find a venue that can! Pensacon enlisted the Rex and Saenger Theaters making this a truly Pensacola affair. They even provided free trolley service. The Saenger was perfect for the Mallrats panel. Large enough to hold a sizable crowd but still intimate enough that anyone could come ask a question, the Saenger was a great venue. The weather was so gorgeous we skipped the trolley ride back and enjoyed the walk to the Bay Center. Back at the Bay Center, the smaller panels were well set up for sound and even included TVs for visuals which a lot of bigger conventions (Comic or otherwise) don’t always do so well with. I’ll talk more about the panels we attended in a later blog.
There are a few things I can’t talk about because we didn’t do it. We have no idea how smoothly the photo-ops were, but we also never saw a giant clog near the booth where photos were picked up. Because we picked up our ticket late Friday, we didn’t experience any trouble with lines.
In fact, the only better if is the venue. Unfortunately, Pensacola Bay Center, which is run by SMG, is the only venue Pensacon really has. However, the organizers of Pensacon turn it into a positive. We didn’t make hotel reservations, so on Friday night,we called around to find a place. Most places we called were booked or near capacity. Each restaurant we went to had a wait. In other words, Pensacon is good for Pensacola. It seems that Pensacola understands that and embraces it. However, as I was writing this, on the Pensacon Facebook account, it seems that Pensacon 2017 could be in jeopardy. Bay Center has booked other events and basically has no place for Pensacon in February 2017. Now, I don’t know anything about Pensacola politics, the management at that Bay Center, or anyone who is an official for Pensacon. What I do know is that we booked a hotel near the Navy Yard, supported a local restaurant that had a pop-up outside of the venue, and three more restaurants in town. Last year, we went record shopping at more than one record store in the area. In other words, Pensacon allows us to spend money in Pensacola, something we probably would not do if it weren’t for Pensacon. Mobile and Gulf Shores are closer for a weekend getaway, and we have family in Panama City Beach. Pensacon is why we visit Pensacola, and after the fantastic weekend we had, we actually talked about doing a weekend getaway here and learning more about the culture and history of Pensacola. This conversation would not have happened without us having a wonderful weekend at Pensacon.
We really hope to attend Pensacon 2017, but I have a feeling wherever the organizers set up shop, we will attend the con. It is that good of a con.