Last March we headed down to Wales for our first ever Sci Fi Weekender (SFW) and had an absolute blast. I had hoped to post detailing our experience last year, but life and health got away from me and I never got a chance to finish it. I intend to get one done this year so stay tuned for that at the end of the month! For now though I wanted to share 10 things I learned from our visit last year. Prior to the event last March I tried to find some information online and found a very old blog post from one of the first events and that was it! Hopefully this will give you a better idea of what to expect if you’re heading to SFW for the first time or thinking of going next year. Please feel free to leave any questions in the comments 🙂 ((Map is from Google maps and Masquerade image is from Public Domain Images. All other images are copyrighted to me.))
1 – It’s in the middle of Nowhere
I was going to start by saying this is relevant if you’re traveling by car, however, I think this is also relevant for anyone traveling by public transport. The holiday village, Hafan y Môr, is lovely and located close to the Welsh Coast – but that means it is in the middle of bloody nowhere! There’s a week to go and if you haven’t started planning your travel I really suggest doing so because it isn’t straight forward at all. Expect to be completely confused and at times bamboozled as you go down tiny Welsh lanes and wonder whether you’re going the right way. A SATNAV is essential, and you do have the bonus of listening to the navigator trying to pronounce all the Welsh place names.
I also really do suggest making sure you check your car and that you have everything prepared in case of emergency because if something did go wrong you could be stuck in the middle of nowhere – especially with the warnings of bad weather again.
2 – Bring Wellies
One thing I wish someone had told us was how easily the caravan park turns into a marshy bog. It was raining when we arrived Thursday evening and a few hours later there was a complimentary swimming pool with our caravan! It remained muddy and marshy all weekend so pack a pair of wellies or at least some boots!
3 – Don’t rely on technology
The site is a total black spot, so don’t rely on having internet access or even phone signal. I’ve been told that the site seems to have updated their wifi since last March (thanks Blazing Minds!), however, I would suggest taking that with a pinch of salt and this doesn’t necessarily mean phones will be working. So if you have someone you need to contact over the weekend I strongly urge that you let them know in advance that you might be out of touch. Likewise, it can make it hard to meet up with friends so I would suggest making plans in advance as to when and where you want to meet up.
4 – Expect a smaller and more intimate venue
The venue, and especially the area for signing, is much smaller and thus more intimate than you would find at a bigger convention. You still need to queue, and you only get a limited time with the celebrity but as you can see from this photo of the lovely Chris Barrie you can sit close by and observe to your hearts content (observe, not stalk). I get completely tongue tied when it comes to meeting celebrities so it you suffer from anxiety it’s nice to be able to take a seat nearby and get your bearings before the actual moment. Don’t expect much – or any – photo opportunities. Unlike at bit conventions you’re literally paying for the signing and if you’re later in the queue (it’s done by raffle numbers) then they are usually short for time. Most don’t mind a photo taken by a companion while the signing is happening, they just don’t have time to post for selfies.
Also, BIG tip is that there are no photos for you to pick up to be signed. They literally just have a very crappy logo-ed piece of paper with a tiny signing spot so make sure you bring something more memorable to get signed. It doesn’t need to be a bulky item like a dvd; we have really nice notebooks from a Blizzard convention that we use for example.
5 – There’s never enough seating available
The fact that the venue is small also means that there is never enough seating for events, especially the big events or popular celebrities. For one event we tried to stop in two different places and were moved on; first by security and second by a less than polite fellow attendee. Later at an event we began to understand why he was so irate, however, there’s still no need to be so rude if people don’t even realise that they’re blocking your view. This problem occurs because the seating in the main room is split by a walk way and therefore, when all the seats at the front and tables at the back are filled people naturally converge in the walkway to stand and watch. Unfortunately that means that the people behind at the tables cannot see anything. It’s a simple case of overselling tickets for the convention and not realising how many people actually attend certain events. You can, of course, buy an upgraded ticket which provides you with seating at every event in the main hall. However, there’s a catch; they sell insanely quickly the year before the convention. Yep, that’s right. It sells out the year before, so you need to have the funds available and be quick on the draw.
6 – There’s hardly any support for disabled visitors
As a holiday park the venue itself is fully catered for disabled visitors, however, the actual convention staff appear to have very little training in how to help disabled visitors. Their website says to speak directly to them if you seek aid, and upon doing so I was asked ‘do you have a blue badge?’, which I can only assume was to prove that we did indeed need assistance. When I explained that no, we did not, and that it was extremely hard to obtain one, I was then informed that we could pay extra to gain seating for every event by purchasing a royalty or VIP ticket. However, as this was mentioned it was also stated that they were completely sold out so that wasn’t even an actual viable option. The only useful information given was that we could ask for assistance at celebrity signings. This assistance consisted of informing the staff and security managing the event that we were disabled, required additional assistance and therefore, could avoid queuing and be allowed to go straight to the signing table. We chose not to do this for our signings because quite frankly, it didn’t feel that reliable and there was no where for disabled people to sit to wait. So it was a case of standing and waiting, or standing in a queue and waiting.
As we both suffer from chronic illnesses that do not require walking aids, or wheelchairs, I cannot comment on how the situation is for disabled people that use these. Perhaps, the convention staff offer more aid to those that they deem appropriately disabled or can offer “proof” – this may seem harsh, but sadly it is the way invisible illnesses are considered by many. I did note that the security teams were very active in keeping the wheelchair ramps and access areas clear, so there is that at least.
7 – Don’t forget to check out the stalls
One thing I regret from last year is that we were so busy trying to get to events, and catch hold of cosplayers for photos that I didn’t get to spend as much time as I wanted browsing the stalls. For me personally there was also some nasty migraines thrown in, but it is so easy to get overwhelmed with everything going on that you don’t truly get to appreciate the goods on offer and the people who made them. You get the usual geeky mass produced geeky products, such as Funko Pops, however, there are so many handmade unique items which you probably won’t find any where else! I also had some great chats with some of the stall owners, especially Pam of Pams Happy Hats and June of Clan Jewels. Chris picked up a BB-8 hat from Pam’s stall (I couldn’t choose one, there were so many awesome choices!) and I picked up a gorgeous moonstone pendant from Clan Jewels. I really hope to see them both back this year, and also excited to meet new people and their geekywares!
8 – The Masquerade is very very low-key
I was really excited that there was a masquerade ball because it is something I’ve wanted to go to for a long time. So we put a lot of effort in and got dressed up, only to find that it is extremely low key. There is no dress code, and while many people use it as an excuse to dress up in fantasy style gear or cosplay, there were a lot of people in just hoodies and jeans. Essentially this is still a geek event and not everyone wants to dress up. So if the idea of masquerade or formal wear causes you anxiety, don’t panic! It is totally a do as you please event and there’s other stuff happening at the same time, so you can skip the whole thing if you want to. This year we’re going low-key, nice top and jeans because we honestly just don’t have the energy to go all out.
9 – Don’t be afraid to approach Entertainers & Cosplayers
I spent most of the weekend building up my confidence when it came to approaching the professional entertainers and fellow visitors who were cosplaying, and while I did manage to approach several, I do wish I’d done it a bit more. On the whole the entertainers were really friendly and happy to take photos, and I currently have an outstanding invitation with Tabitha Lyons to grab a photo with her next time I see her at a con. In general I found that the non-professional cosplayers could be a bit shyer, and were generally just shocked that someone liked their cosplay and actually wanted a photo. So my advice is be super polite and understanding, if someone says no then accept it and move on, and just use common sense i.e. don’t be creepy or interrupt conversations. It’s also considered extremely rude to take photos of cosplayers while they’re working with a photographer on a shoot, so always ask before you take a photo just in case you’re interrupting a planned shoot.
10 – Keep an eye out in the crowd for entertainers
There’s going to be a lot of people wandering around and it is really easy to miss some great opportunities to talk to entertainers before they’ve done their big show, aka before people realise who they are and want their attention. We bumped into one of the entertainers, Chris Cross, who was offering magic tricks the day before his event and not realising who he was we just kept on moving. After seeing his fantastic show I really wish we’d gotten some time with him!
Over to you
That brings us to the end of my 10 lessons learned from last years Sci Fi Weekender. I hope that it’s been useful, and while there are some negative points there were also many many things that made it a fantastic experience – after all, we’re going back this year so clearly something went right 😉 If you’re heading to Hafan y Môr next weekend then I hope to see you there (feel free to say hi!) and if you’re not, I’ll be tweeting and instagramming (provided the wifi holds up 😉 ) all weekend. If you have any questions then please don’t hesitate to drop them in the comments 🙂