Your Guide to Attending the Calgary Expo

Calgary Expo
Calgary Expo
Everything you need to know

Your Guide to Attending the Calgary Expo

Even if it’s your first time to the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo, you can attend like a hero
By
Sam Maggs
Sam Maggs is a bestselling writer of books, comics, and video games. She’s an Associate Writer for BioWare on Anthem and the author of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, Wonder Women, and Girl Squads. Her comics writing can be found in recognizable titles like Star Trek and Jem & the Holograms at IDW.

Every year in Calgary, there’s a great weekend when zombies, Pokémon, the Avengers, elves, and celebrity guests all descend simultaneously upon Calgary. What do all of these things have in common? Well, they’re all headed to the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo, of course – and so should you!

I've been attending Calgary Expo for years now and I always have an incredible time - there's always something new to see or do, or someone new to meet. Here’s some tips I have for attending Expo like a pro!

Elsa and Ariel at the Calgary comic expo

You never know who you’ll meet at Calgary Expo!

What is the Calgary Expo?

Calgary Expo is four days of pop-culture perfection. An annual gathering of geeks at Stampede Park, it’s packed to the brim with artists, exhibitors, celebs, and fans, drawing almost one hundred thousand people through its doors. Expo is rad because you get the chance to interact one-on-one with celebs and creators; you can buy unique, hand-made merch; you can admire talented cosplayers; you can make a bunch of new friends on the floor; you can buy that awesome toy that you can totally get now that you’re an adult, dang it, and no one can tell you not to. It’s like if the internet… was real life! It’s a celebration of sci-fi- comic books, film, TV, horror, fantasy, animation, and more, and it’s in western Canada’s backyard.

Who should go?

What I love most about conventions is that there’s truly something for everyone, no matter what you’re into! Obviously you’re covered if you love comic books, video games, Dungeons & Dragons, or anime, but the con isn’t limited to folks who self-identify as “nerds.” Do you love original art or unique jewelry? Calgary Expo’s massive Artist Alley houses seemingly-endless halls of local and international independent creators who have all kinds of incredible work for you to peruse.

Are you a fashionista? You’ll want to hit up the cosplay contest to see brilliant hand-sewn and home-fabricated outfits, and can even take pictures with the hundreds of talented folks in costume on the con floor (as long as you as first, of course).

Even the celebrity guests run the gamut! Each year, the panels you can sit in on vary. There’s even a dedicated (and free!) Family Zone for kiddos with its own unique programming!

Celebrity Panel interview at Calgary Comic Expo

Saturday is your best bet for checking out mega-celebrity panels, while Thursday is a great day to shop

Insider Tips For Attending Like A Pro

Planning your days

You can grab an Expo pass online and have it shipped directly to you so you’re prepared before the weekend well in advance. The con runs from Thursday to Sunday, and day passes for individuals and families are available for those folks who might only have a couple of days free to hit up the event.

Thursdays are great for wandering the convention floor because it’s usually pretty empty.

Saturdays are the busiest, but tend to have the best guests and events.

Sundays are a solid bet if you’re looking to grab a last-minute deal on some geeky goodies that vendors are looking to unload.

Of course, if you’re as excited about the Expo as I am, you can’t go wrong with a four-day pass. Not only will you have access to each day of the event, you’ll also be able to get into the con two hours early on the Thursday, guaranteeing you have lots of personal space while you browse the floor for the first time.

Last-minute planner? No problem. You can grab passes day-of at the on-site box office (but just know there might be a not-insignificant line if this is the route you decide to take!).

Book your trip

Alright, you’ve decided to head to Calgary Expo! That’s great! Now what? Well, depending on where you’re coming from, you’re going to need to get there (planes, trains, automobiles, etc.), and you’re going to need a place to stay. You can use Expo’s Air Canada Discount Code if you’re coming in from further afield, and you can book in at one of the hotels super close to the con. I’ve personally had awesome experiences at hotels with convention-deal blocks like Hotel Arts, the Fairmont Palliser, and the Calgary Marriott Downtown!

Getting to the Expo grounds

Save yourself some stress and figure out how you’re getting to the Expo each day in advance. If you’re driving, you can pay for parking at Stampede Park for the day. If you’re vehicle-free, you can always use a ride-sharing or local taxi service, or you can take public transit – the BMO Centre is super close to the Victoria Park LRT Station.

Cosplayers at Calgary Comic Expos

Dawn your best costume with your squad at Calgary Expo

What should you do in advance?

Pack Like a Nerd

Obviously don’t forget to grab your pass, but there’s a lot more to remember to pack for your weekend of geeky goodness.

Try to leave room for all the swag you’ll be bringing home, but some convention essentials include: a reliable bag, a water bottle, cash, portable chargers, gum, sharpies, lip balm and moisturizer, hand sanitizer, empty poster tubes, comic bag and boards, aspirin, something to do in line, and, of course, patience.

Keep healthy snacks, like apples and granola bars, on hand for mid-day fuel ups.

A watch is handy so that you don’t have to drain your phone battery constantly checking the time. You might even want to have some social media calling cards printed up before you leave – you’ll be meeting so many new people, and you’ll want to stay in touch!

And the number one packing priority? Comfortable shoes. Almost all events take place on acres of concrete, and you’ll be walking a lot. Heels, unsupportive flats, or anything else generally uncomfortable is just not worth the pain. This is not the time to break in those cute new sneaks. Stick to something tried and true.

Schedule Like a Geek

Expo releases its schedule a few weeks before the event, so print one out and spend some quality bonding time with it. The con floor is always a great time – there’s so much to see and buy, you could easily spend all weekend just roaming the aisles admiring the incredible art. But if you stick to the floor alone, you’ll miss the best part of the convention: the panels, photos, and autographs!

The event has to squeeze a lot of content into just four days, so some of the things you want to do or see might overlap, so now’s the time to get your plan for the con in order.

Start by picking the panels and celebrity sessions you absolutely must attend. Don’t forget to factor in about thirty minutes to an hour between events for walking to the next location through a packed crowd, standing in line, hitting the bathroom, etc.

Pick a couple of back-up options! Just because a panel is smaller, or something you might not necessarily think you love in advance, doesn’t mean it won’t be awesome. Some of the best experiences you’ll have at a con are the smaller, expectedly delightful panels that make you a new fan of someone or something.

And, of course, don’t overbook and stay flexible; not everything is going to go according to plan, and let yourself be okay with not making it to everything you thought you would.

Grab Your Squad

Don’t wait until the day before the con to determine which scoundrels are going to make up your con team.

With a good group, you can save on hotel and gas fare, save spots for each other in line or at panels, and grab swag for each other when you go off to do your own thing. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can even think about putting together a group cosplay – the gang from Back to the Future, anyone?

Of course, it’s good to be aware that if you’re traveling with a bigger gang you might have to make some concessions on exactly what you want to do and see, and be aware that it can be difficult to find a ton of seats together at busy panels – so don’t be afraid to split off (with a plan to meet up later already in place, of course).

If you’re hitting up the convention alone – nice work! Alone cons are some of my very favourites because you can do whatever you want whenever you want wherever you want! Panels are super easy to attend alone because there are always a few single empty seats between groups of people right at the from of the auditorium. And whether you’re seated or in line, you’re surrounded by potential new friends with whom you automatically have something in common – your fandom for whomever you’re there to see! Just don’t forget to keep your phone charged up so you can send pics to make your friends and fam super jealous.

Celebrity panels at Calgary Comic Expo

Each year, you can check out great panels, large and small, at the Calgary Expo

What do I do once I get there?

Daily Programming

Depending on your budget and your willingness to brave some lines, you can check out top celebrity panels, grab an autograph, or pose for a photo op with the guests of your choice. If you do hit up a panel, don’t be afraid to line up and ask a question! If you do, make it something everything in the audience will understand and enjoy, and isn’t something the star has already answered a million times.

Silly in-universe questions (“Which of your characters would make the best personal chef?” etc.) always get a good laugh from both the star and the crowd alike. Photographs and autographs both happen super fast, so plan what you’re going to say and how you’re going to pose before you get there. Plus, make some time to walk each of the con floors – they tend to be emptiest during the busiest panels (makes sense) so schedule your browsing time accordingly. If you get tired, consider resting your feet at the Tabletop area and playing a couple of games of Pandemic or Settlers of Catan!

Special Events

Besides the daily awesomeness, there are also one-off special events you might want to make room for in your plan! Kick off your con with the annual POW! Parade of Wonders! on Friday, featuring floats, stars, and all kinds of talented folks marking through the streets of downtown Calgary. And you’re not limited to just watching – you can be one of the two-thousand taking part (as long as your decked out in your cosplay best, of course)!

Self-Care

Expo is super fun and there’s a lot going on and it’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement and try to do everything all the time constantly everywhere. But please, don’t forget to go easy on yourself! The crowds are big and the days are long and you won’t get far if you don’t take proper care of yourself. Stay hydrated (you brought that water bottle, right?), dress comfortably, eat as healthy as possible (by day three, you’re going to be really sick of con-floor pizza, I promise you), take time to rest, and pop a preventative ibuprofen or two for those swollen tootsies.

Vulcan statue at the Trek Station in Vulcan Alberta

Check out the Trek Station in Vulcan – just a short drive outside the city.

What should you do with down time when you’re not at the Expo?

The great thing about Expo is that the BMO Centre is right in the heart of Calgary. After Expo hours, or even if you just need a break, you can get out there and take advantage of all the great things the city has to offer. I love wandering down Stephen Avenue Walk, a historic outdoor pedestrian mall, for a bit of a break from the drier convention centre air. If you want to keep that con life going, don’t miss Redd Skull Comics (who offer a fab ladies’ night!) and Gamer Sundays at Dickens. There’s no shortage of yummy places to eat, too – take advantage of that Alberta beef life by hitting up places like CHARCUT, or indulge in the province’s most delicious donuts at Jelly Modern. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could even make the ninety-minute trek (get it?) south to Vulcan, Alberta, where “it’s only logical to visit.”

With that, fellow geeks and geeks-to-be, I leave you. Hope to see you in just a few weeks at Calgary Expo, where we can all live long and prosper!

The Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo comes to Calgary April 25-28, 2019. Visit the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo website to get your Expo tickets now.