I’ve been to my fair share of conventions–from gatherings of educators, travel professionals, toy producers, book fans, comic aficionados, mothers of multiples, and IT professionals (the last of them being with my husband.) It only takes attending a couple of these events to learn the ingredients: keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and an exhibitor floor. In many respects, the D23 Expo fills these ingredients; however, D23 is called an EXPO for a reason–it defies (and rises way above!) the cookie cutter definition of a “convention” or even “trade show.” Here are some of the ways D23 is different from my prior experiences:
1. The costumes–Let’s face it, with the obvious exception of a Comic-Con, it would be pretty odd at most conventions to see people attend in costume. I mean, what would someone do at a gathering of educators? Dress as that teacher from Ferris Bueller? (“Bueller? Bueller? Anyone? Bueller?”) A walking flash drive might be funny at an IT convention, but I might be the only one laughing (those IT guys are a pretty serious group.) Yet at Expo, it’s totally natural–expected even–to see people in costume. Even more, the costumes ADD to the experience at the D23 Expo.
2. The Freebies - I will admit this may be a controversial choice, as everyone’s definition of what makes a cool freebie differs…. For me, however, there are only so many pens, mouse pads, stress balls, and Post It notes emblazoned with a company logo that I need or want. And even though I am a teacher (and therefore love office supplies), these are not things I wait in line for, largely because I know a sales pitch comes with the freebie. (“No, I don’t want any life insurance–I would however, love a highlighter that is shaped like an octagon and doubles as a laser pointer.”) At Expo, word gets out about cool freebies and the masses converge like they do on the Toy Story Mania FastPass machine at 8am. Case in point: I was walking casually by the Disney Movie Rewards booth and a cast member walked up with a huge un-opened box. She broke it open as I paused, and she handed me a one of the “Grape Soda” bottle cap pins from “UP.” A woman peered over my shoulder, shouted, “It’s a new pin!!” and within seconds the poor cast member was beseiged. Disney freebies are WAAAAAY cooler than the combination refrigerator magnet-letter opener you can get from a social studies textbook company.
3. The decor- Most conventions I have ever attended are pretty minimalistic when it comes to decor–and I’m sure that’s not out of a lack of desire on the part of the organizers… it’s a lack of time. Most of these convention centers have events every week, making it impossible for organizers to have multiple days to set up. There’s only so much you can do in two days of set-up–unless you are Disney. I honestly cannot imagine how Disney did it… but the enormity of the displays and booths was mind-boggling. From the level of detail to the sheer size, one would have to believe they had been there setting up for weeks–which was NOT the case. Being married to a project manager, I have to tip my hat to the amazing men and women who were in charge of organizing the actual design, construction, transport, assembly and dis-assembly of these pavilions. Their quality was exactly what you would expect within a Disney park attraction, and they were all assembled and made “guest ready” in the space of a couple days.
4. The lines – I have waited to get into conventions before… sometimes, MAYBE I was even willing to get in a line an hour early to meet a specific author. Expo attendees scoff at hour lines–that’s no line! That’s the wait time for lunch! At Expo, you have to be willing to negotiate your time and allot it properly. Want to see Richard Sherman and Alan Menken? Then grab your iPad and prepare to become best friends with the people near you, as you could dedicate up to 5 hours of your day waiting in line. (On Wednesday, Mark Petar will be sharing his experiences in line at Expo in his blog piece, “Diary of an Idiot in Line at 4am”)
5. The stores – I know I have not been to every type of convention known to the existence of humankind, but I would venture to say that for all that are out there, very very few have stores like at the Expo…. times THREE. There were three merchandise locations in the Expo: the Disney Store, the Dream Store, and Mickey’s of Glendale. And EVERY one of them had a line TO GET IN–all THREE DAYS… ALL DAY LONG. It was like being at WalMart at 5AM on Black Friday. And these locations were full-out Disney: with mannequins, decorations, and store-rooms. And the banks of cash registers…. my only explanation for failing to take a picture of them is my utter amazement every time I passed these armies of machines–huge lines of registers, with cast members who would hold up a Mickey-hand paddle to indicate they were open to ring up your purchases.
6. The variety of presentations – No offense is intended to other conventions… but this IS Disney. The scope of what they can offer the average person on the street is massive. If you love books, movies, television, video games, animation, travel, collectibles, music, history, sports (there was a fun run!), there was something for you to enjoy at Expo. The same just can’t be said of a Mothers of Multiples convention.
7. The atmosphere – Lou would say this is going to be a very “Christy Viszoki” thing to say (which is good, since I AM Christy Viszoki….) But there is a whole different aura at D23. I don’t get goosebumps when I listen to authors, see new IT gadgets (nor do I understand them), or even walk into a Toy Fair. I regularly do at Expo. The reason is you are surrounded by people who are just like you. For me, and for many of my dear Disney friends, being a Disney fan is about more than loving a big-eared mouse or a duck who never wears shorts. It’s about a way of looking at the world and believing in good, remaining optimistic, and dreaming always. And for the vast majority of people at the Expo, they get that, because they are that way, too. So it’s easy to strike up conversations about all kinds of topics (NOT just Disney) when you are in that five hour line, because you really are among friends.
Hopefully I did not anger too many convention organizers out there (I love you, National Council for the Social Studies, I really do!) But the D23 Expo really is in a league of its own. I hope one day you will be able to attend and see what you think of my list. Have you ever been to a convention? What do you think of my observations? And if you HAVE been to an Expo, have I left anything out? How do your experiences compare? Leave a comment for a chance to win a set of some very cool collector’s cards. And yes…. they were freebies…. I waited on line to get!