WonderCon Anaheim will be celebrating its 27th anniversary this year, though 2014 marks only its third year in the city of Anaheim after being held in the San Francisco Bay Area since it’s inception. Even though the convention has been around for years, the smaller, sister-show of San Diego Comic-Con has only really started to make leaps and bounds in popularity over the last few years.
So if this is your first year attending WonderCon, or even if you’re a long time veteran, we know you might have some questions. Is WonderCon anything like Comic-Con? Let’s break it down for you, and hopefully answer some of the most commonly asked questions.
WonderCon lasts for three days, from Friday through Sunday (this year it’s April 18-20), and is held at the Anaheim Convention Center. Friday and Sunday are slightly shortened days, with the convention center open from 12PM-7PM, Saturday from 10AM-7PM, and Sunday from 11AM-5PM.
Badges to WonderCon went on sale on February 14, and CCI announced that this would be the first year that no-site badge purchases would be available — instead, all badges must be purchased online prior to the convention. Attendees could purchase a combined 3-day badge for $50, or a Friday or Saturday badge for $25 each, with Sunday being the best bargain for $15.
Since that time, both 3-day and Saturday badges have sold out — but there’s no bad day to attend, so it’s definitely still worth getting a Friday or Sunday badge.
For those in need of a hotel, WonderCon has four options, available at a special con rate that’s cheaper than booking anywhere else:
- Anaheim Marriott Hotel: $119/night
- Hilton Anaheim: $119/night
- Clarion Hotel Anaheim Resort: $99/night
- The Anabella Hotel: $119/night
Of those, the Anaheim Marriott Hotel is the official ‘Headquarters Hotel’, hosting nighttime activities and screenings. All hotels are within easy walking distance of the convention center — and you can book your stay through Travel Planners’ WonderCon site.
WonderCon is often sometimes referred to as mini-SDCC, and that’s true for the programming as well. While San Diego Comic-Con hosted over 1,000 panels and screenings during 2013’s 4-day event, WonderCon Anaheim held only 252. But what is available at WonderCon is top-notch, sometimes even offering panels you won’t find at Comic-Con (for instance, Netflix brought Hemlock Grove last year). And while you might not find wall-to-wall celebrity-filled panels, WonderCon does boasts some Hollywood panels each year (last year saw Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, as well as panels for Arrow, Revolution, Hannibal, and more). There’s one important upside to this: There are much fewer conflicts when trying to plan your schedule. There’s also still plenty of comic, literary, anime, fan-run, and cosplay panels. The official WonderCon programming schedule will be released exactly two weeks prior to the convention.
And just like at any con, the room sizes at the Anaheim Convention Center vary. The largest room, the Arena, is WonderCon’s version of a Hall H and home to the biggest panels of the convention, but it has the best seating possible, because unlike Hall H’s flat-floored structure, this is an actual arena with sloped seating. Even those who come in last and sit in the top level will still be closer to the stage than even some people in the first few sections in Hall H.
Nothing compares to the hordes of people queuing at SDCC, but the lines at WonderCon still can get pretty long relative to other cons of its size. Outside of the main programming room, the Arena, there are very few lines for panels. The main room can fill up early, depending on how popular the panels for that day are, but showing up 30 minutes early should be sufficient time to get you at least through the doors for almost any panel.
The registration line to pick up your badge can also get pretty long, and we recommend grabbing your badge on Thursday night instead (when you can pick up both 3-day badges and Friday single days). If you have to wait to pick up your badge until another day, the line will be very long, but it will also go fast.
The Exhibit Floor
WonderCon’s exhibit floor is home to over 360 exhibitors, and a high percentage of those are small vendors. There are very few of the ‘mega booths’ that exemplify the SDCC show floor, though DC and Nintendo always have a strong presence at the convention. Usually there’s also a movie studio or two promoting their upcoming blockbuster (for instance, last year Universal Pictures brought the ship from the yet-to-be-released Oblivion). The aisles on the exhibit floor are wide and easy to navigate, though Artist Alley can get a little claustrophobic.
For those looking for exclusives, there’s also much less selection than at Comic-Con. The hottest booth is Graffiti, which usually handles DC exclusives, and can have a line on Friday or early Saturday with around a 2-hour wait time (for just how long the line can get, take a peek at this video). The less-hot exclusives are usually still available on Saturday night or Sunday, so depending on availability of whatever you’re after, waiting until Sunday for prices to come down can be a good strategy.
Outside the Convention Center
Because it’s right next door, the atmosphere/options outside of the Anaheim Convention Center is all about Disneyland. There’s some late night gaming and socializing options at the adjacent hotels, but the lure of Disney is difficult to avoid so many attendees take the opportunity to head to the theme park and Downtown Disney. Fortunately, Disneyland is used to absorbing giant conventions and crowds year-round, so they are all well prepared and it doesn’t seem any more crowded there than any other weekend.
In recent years of WonderCon, there have been several parties and movie screenings open to all, but they’re usually a bit further out than you will find at SDCC and a little harder to get to. Keep an eye on Twitter and our WonderPosts for any screening announcements.
For dining options, the Anaheim GardenWalk shopping area is within a mile of the convention center and boasts several larger restaurants as well as a smaller food court. The Downtown Disney area adjacent to Disneyland also has a diverse selection of food and shops. For a quick bite during the convention, the Hilton Anaheim has a small food court, but it quickly becomes overwhelmed by the crowds and the lines can get long. There are also typically food trucks in the plaza in front of the convention center, near the fountain. For after hours, the main hotels have bars, where many attendees will hang out. As you can see from this video, the atmosphere outside the convention center is exciting, but nowhere near as crowded or diverse as SDCC:
Overall, WonderCon really lives up to its reputation of a mini-SDCC. For those excited about spending a weekend seeing celebrities, buying exclusives, and hanging out with other fans, but who don’t want to deal with the crowds of Comic-Con — this is the convention for you. WonderCon offers most of SDCC’s perks, but on a much smaller scale.
So what can you expect this April? Our own The Con Fluence Covers has a teaser video that should get you excited for April 18: