Wednesday, December 14, 2011

NYCC 2011: Diva Shares Her Trip Planning Tips (Part 1)

If you're a Red Dot Island native who happens to be a hardcore fan of "Western" pop-culture and comics, there is very little choice but to save up and head to USA conventions for your desired geek-gasms.

In her many years of active fan-girling, Red Dot Diva has attended a few smaller and niche-market conventions in the UK and Germany before. But she has always craved for that full geek-out experience which seems to happen mainly at SDCC. Finally in 2009, she managed to truly immerse herself in a large-scale comic convention at the hallowed grounds of the San Diego Convention Centre.

The Hollywood factor in SDCC that year was unavoidable and quite overpowering. And with that, came the good and bad - much of which have already been documented and ranted about on several blogs and websites.

Compared to SDCC, NYCC (held at the Javits Convention Centre) is a much younger, less glamourous and less frenzied East Coast cousin. That does not mean that the convention isn't big though. In fact, the crowd attending NYCC has grown exponentially in the last few years, and this year's NYCC saw its largest number at an estimate of over 105,000 people! That's 3.5x more than STGCC, local peeps.

To get a feel of how different the East Coast comic convention scene is like, Red Dot Diva decided to make a virginal time-leap and headed to New York City this year.

When she returned, she found that one oft-asked question from local geeks was - other than happily securing a NYCC ticket beforehand, how else should one plan for the trip?

Well, here's how Red Dot Diva planned for her NYCC adventures - from a Red Dot Islander point of view:

#1 - Remember To Get Your Travel Permit
When it comes to USA travel arrangements, a Red Dot Island citizen is definitely privileged compared to friends in neighbouring countries. With that eye-catching, chilli-red passport, you don't need an actual travel visa but you do need to get a permit to travel into USA.

Do this by simply registering yourself at the ESTA website at least over two months or more (Red Dot Diva is kiasu), and print out the confirmation just in case. You will need a credit card for the fees (USD 14.00) when putting through your registration. Processing fee is USD 4.00 and another authorization fee of USD 10.00 will be charged to your credit card once you get your approval.

The ESTA approval generally lasts two years.

Click here for the ESTA website.

#2 - Keep An Eye Out For Airfares That Suit Your Budget
Flying to the USA isn't cheap. Unless you have your own pair of feathered wings. Or have powers of supersonic flight. Or own a teleporter (and if you actually do, Red Dot Diva is going to be stealing those building and engineering plans. Consider yourself warned.)

There are several flight options to get to New York, of course. However, in Red Dot Diva's opinion, some are just poor options. Especially those that involve more than 4 hours of transit time or more than 2 changes of airplanes. The length of time taken to do that is just not worth the "cheaper" airfare cost.

Also, a direct flight to New York generally takes 25 hours, so one would be wise to "travel well" and arrive in relatively good shape. And do plan to arrive a day or two earlier to get over the jet lag!

If you're the kind who crave for comfort, Red Dot Diva still thinks Singapore Airlines (SQ) gives the best long-haul direct flight deals to New York at about SGD 2,800 or so for economy seating. You also get to sink your butt for more than a day in the world largest aircraft, the Airbus A380.

For her trip, Red Dot Diva decided to break up the arduously long flight by staying in Los Angeles for a few days. There was a SQ promotion for LA flights at that time, and even with the separate domestic airfares for a return trip of LAX-JFK (via Virgin America), it was cheaper than a SQ direct flight to New York by about SGD 300.

So, if you have friends in LA you could bunk in with or have lots of time and would like to visit LA too, this is a route you could consider. Taking a break in LA also helped Red Dot Diva get over some heavy jet lag, and get all pepped up for NYCC.

If SQ is not your great way to fly, then competitors Cathay and Qatar Airways offer a much more affordable ticket price at about SGD 2,100-2,400. Both routes have transits and you would have to change planes mid-way of your journey.

Whatever route you decide, NYCC is held during the low period in October, so there may be cheaper fares announced at that time. Keep checking for offers and be prepared to book for airfares a few months early to enjoy promotional prices!

Javits Convention Centre

#3 - Plan Early For Roomies and Hotel Arrangements
It is also never too early to start planning with friends about NYCC and locking in your trip dates and deciding on who will be your choice roomies.

Unless you have someone you could stay with during your stay in New York, a week's hotel stay will cost a bomb. Being a crowded megacity, the standard rooms in most hotels are cramped and smaller too, so if your group has four hefty plus-sized guys sharing a room, Red Dot Diva doubts there WOULD be much room.

In any case, other than being flushed with lots of cash, having at least a couple of roomies to share the hotel room costs would help you save some money.

Javits Convention Centre isn't exactly located at the pretty part of Manhattan (i.e. in local terms, it is at a rather ulu part of town), and there are not that many "budget" hotels nearby. The nearest, about half a block down from the convention centre, is Best Western Convention Centre. It is a simple, clean enough setup that came with morning breakfast but a room also costs at least USD 280 per night during NYCC week.

Red Dot Diva and her roomie chose this Best Western hotel because they both like being able to walk back to charge their various digital babies, freshen-up/ shower, or just take a break. Plus, one would find that you would start to amass loads of freebies and goodies while wandering around the convention hall. And it is always nice to have a room nearby where you can store some stuff securely, and to relief aching arms and shoulders.

This is just Red Dot Diva's and her roomie's personal quirk when it comes to conventions. There are many other cheaper hotel options in other places and boroughs, but you would have to remember that distances in New York is far greater than Red Dot Island. And you would need time and extra budget to commute to Javits via cab or subway.

The nearest subway for Javits is Penn Station, which actually isn't that near either. And Red Dot Diva is fully aware of how lazy many Red Dot Islanders are about walking. A cab ride one-way may cost you more than USD 30 plus tips if you are staying slightly farther in other boroughs - which may still work out OK cost-wise if a group of 2 or 3 of you are travelling together at the same time.

But then, when the convention day ends in the evening around 5-6pm, good luck in trying to hail a cab back to a hotel father away, or to dinner. And you can bet there would be crowds at Penn Station too. That may be another reason why you might want to consider slumming in an accommodation nearer to the venue.

So, consider the travelling distances, do your numbers and planning early together with your roomies and make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding accommodation budget and the costs of commuting.

#4 - Stay Warm
Being a tropical islander used to hot humid weather, Red Dot Diva has to stress on the importance of keeping warm.

Look at it this way. It is simply no fun if one gets sick during a geeky event for which one has been saving up and dreaming for months. So do Stay Warm. (Which also means, you'd have to invest in some thicker clothing!)

NYCC is held in the fall season, which means it is not entirely freezing but it may be cloudy and rainy, and one may be glad to have an umbrella handy. There is also a fairly good chance of nice sunny days so how does one dress for fickle weather conditions like this?

It is not an easy thing to dress for fall when Red Dot Islander-wear typically consists of no brainer casual tee-shirts, jeans/shorts or flip-flops.

The trick is to layer your clothes.

Singlets/ camisoles/ tees on the inside, then a warmer cardigan, light turtleneck or another plaid shirt, and a denim or leather jacket for the outer layer. And if you prefer it really warm, a thicker coat (best with a hoodie!) would work especially well. This way, if the weather switches to something sunnier, or if you're inside a building, you can then decide to remove an outer layer of clothing - depending on one's own personal chill-tolerance.

One of the best places to get all these layering clothes is at Uniqlo. So many colours at affordable prices! And their signature Heattech range really works. For a more fashionable (and costlier) look, Red Dot Diva likes getting her threads from the Espirit stores. There are those coldwear chain stores around town as well, but Red Dot Diva thinks they seem to stock up more for actual winter than fall, and they tend to lean to more umm... "Korean" styles.

Geek girls who like to plan their fall fashion early could start ordering from the Victoria's Secrets' online store. VS - a Red Dot Diva favourite - has a fantastic catalogue of fall clothes made of thicker rather longer-lasting material and there is usually a range of very pretty sweaters in different vibrant colours, like passion berry. Best of all, they are available in a wide price range (depending on the material used) and when it comes to sale time on VS, Red Dot Diva thinks they are worth buying even with the shipping cost.

What about the ladies who still want to wear short skirts and show off their legs at the convention? Easy! Go buy a few pairs of leggings or tights. Red Dot Diva says that both Uniqlo and Marks & Spencer offer a rather good range of thermal tights. She found a cute pair of dark grey argyle tights from Uniqlo which one could pair with almost any plain dress or skirt. And if you intend to buy a few pairs of tights, Marks & Spencer sells them in bundles of 3!

And oh! Don't forget to wear covered shoes when in New York - whether they be sneakers or leather boots. With the masses of people at the convention centre, you would *really* want to protect those little toes from getting stomped. When it rains though, boots may be less stinky than damp sneakers or sports shoes. Besides, how often is it that a Red Dot Islander is able to strut around in a swanky pair of leather boots? Just make sure they are comfortable to walk in when you're getting a new pair for the trip!

Red Dot Diva hopes that those planning to head to NYCC 2012 find some of these pre-travel planning tips useful.

Want to know how one should negotiate around the NYCC convention venue and events without getting too frustrated? Red Dot Diva will return to blog more about these in Part 2!

No comments:

Post a Comment