Dancing With The Stars: A Guide To Comic-Con’s Ballroom 20

With San Diego Comic-Con fast approaching, and many of you already starting your 2013 preparations, we wanted to take a step “inside” the San Diego Convention Center to give you a look at some of the rooms and locations in which you’ll be spending most of your time.

Today’s look is at one of the other more popular rooms in the Convention Center, Ballroom 20 – location for many of the popular network television panels, the spot for last year’s unforgettable Firefly reunion panel, and the source of the infamous programming logjam in 2011. It hasn’t received the vitriol from attendees that it’s bigger sibling Hall H has, but its growing popularity has followed the SDCC trend in recent years and has since become a formidable force in its own right.


Ballroom 20 at SDCCSo where is Ballroom 20 anyway, and where does the line begin? That’s one of the common questions we’ve heard attendees ask at SDCC over the years. The 40,000 square foot Ballroom 20 is on the upper level of the Convention Center, across the promenade and east from Sails Pavilion. Once you find it, however, walking the line can be a whole other adventure.

Starting from the entrance to the Ballroom, the line extends along the East Terrace inside of the convention, and pouring outside onto the Terrace and into a labyrinth of tents to protect from the mid-day sun. Walking the length of this line is over two-thirds of a mile, and by our estimates can accommodate a little more than half of its 4,900 seat capacity.  Those tents can scare off the uninformed, so know that even with a full Terrace line you still have a great shot at scoring a decent seat in a cleared Ballroom; even more so with an empty one at the start of the day.

IMG_5940b by jtrummer, on Flickr
IMG_5940b by jtrummer, on Flickr

Unfortunately for more popular panels, the line doesn’t stop there. The overflow extends to additional tents on the Mezzanine level and down to the street, hugging Marina Park Way down to the edge of Embarcadero Marina Park South and back up to Joe’s Crab Shack, tacking on nearly another quarter mile to the end of the line. Again, cause for concern mid-day but likely you’ll get a seat even this far back if it’s for the first panel of the day.

Why the distinction between the beginning and middle of the day? Because once an attendee is inside a room at Comic-Con, they’re good for as long as they want to stay there. CCI does not clear rooms between panels, and for a more popular panel later in the day folks will get in line first thing just to guarantee themselves a seat. This means the number leaving between panels is uncertain, which directly impacts how many people in line CCI will let in.

Ballroom 20 after the previews by Kikishua, on Flickr
Ballroom 20 after the previews by Kikishua, on Flickr

Once inside, the seats are arranged into left, middle and right sections, with large aisles running down the Ballroom on each side of the middle section, as well as along the walls. There’s also a large aisle that splits the hall across the middle, with two hanging projection screens overhead for folks sitting in the rear. The seats themselves are arranged much like in Hall H; that is, close together and knees against the row in front of you. What’s different is that the Ballroom 20 seats are nice and cushiony – good for those day-long stays – and the room itself is carpeted and not at all drafty like in Hall H.

Once you’ve scored a seat, don’t fret it if you’re unhappy with it. Always keep an eye out between panels for people up front leaving the Ballroom to grab their recently-vacated seat. Just know you’ll be competing with others in the room trying to move up too, as well as fresh folks entering from the line outside.

Restrooms are located outside on both sides of the Ballroom, so you’ll need to grab a bathroom pass from an usher in order to leave and come back inside. In case those are full you’ll find several more by walking along the upper level hallway.

The food situation is definitely an improvement. A food stand located directly outside Ballroom 20 in the lobby offers a modest increase in selection from the requisite junk food found in Hall H. But because you have to exit the Ballroom (find an usher for a bathroom pass), you also have the flexibility of running across Sails to grab a much needed Starbucks – essential convention nutrition.

What other Ballroom 20 tips would you like to share? Let our readers know in the comments.

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