Colossalcon 2019 - Swimsuit Anime Convention
Wave pool, slides, hot tubs and more... oh my!
Ah Colossalcon. Anime, swimsuits, waterslides and hot tubs. Can you think of a better combination of things? Perhaps peanut butter and jelly? Maybe biscuits and gravy or cake and ice cream? If the folks behind Colossalcon set out to make an event with a party-like atmosphere full of carefree fun, they succeeded. At this point there's absolutely no pretense of this convention being about cultural appreciation or education, if it even was in the first place. It's just bring your love of anime, a swimsuit, and enjoy. That's not to say you can't have the former, but let's be honest about why people attend.
Currently located in the middle of nowhere Ohio (just kidding Sandusky), Colossalcon wasn't always a water park convention. It started in 2002 near Cleveland and didn't move to the Kalahari resort in Sandusky until 2009. Since then, however, it has grown many times over and become known as an anime party at a water park. I mean, how could it not given that attendees cosplay swimsuit versions of their favorite characters while drinking copious amounts of alcohol? That's not very common at anime conventions.
In my Colossalcon East article I wrote about the Kalahari resort in the Pocono Mountains. The Sandusky resort is pretty similar as far as attractions and layout. You have over 800 guest rooms surrounding an outdoor pool and activity area. This is where most of the hanging out occurs. Then there's the arcade and indoor water park. While not technically as large as the Pocono or Texas locations, the Sandusky resort is large enough to hold all of the fun. There is a wave pool, lazy river, kids area, and lots of slides. Except for a special late night event, Colossalcon technically only takes place in the convention space of the resort. For a convention of its size, the convention floor space is quite small. The hallways are crowded and there isn't as many events going on compared to other cons. This works out okay since there are a lot of people who just come to hang out in the water park. I hate to say it, but this is probably the most ghosted con of them all. You just need a water park pass to enjoy the fun, not a convention badge. I opt to purchase a photographer badge just to be more legit. The special late night event I mentioned runs 11pm-3am the first three out of four days of the convention. The slides are open and attendees are welcome to cosplay and take photos and drink and swim. I've never been to it since I mostly do my thing during the day, but I know that attendees love it. You can do pretty much the same things during the day, but I guess I see the attraction of a night event. There is an additional cost for this and you must have a convention badge and you can only buy tickets at the convention.
While perhaps not as difficult as Dragon Con, getting a room at the Kalahari is challenging. With thousands of attendees, there just isn't enough hotel space for everyone. I don't mean just at the Kalahari. The entire city of Sandusky runs out of hotel space. During the busiest times you can't even find a place to park.The fields surrounding the resort are completely filled with cars. For some years Colossalcon had legacy bookings meaning if you got a room one year you were guaranteed one the next year. Things got messed up in 2019 due to people leaking the early booking link, so they just opened it up to everyone. These legacy bookings are now in jeopardy. This of course has upset a lot of people, but really the Kalahari resort is to blame here. Keep reading.
A convention during a pandemic?
Yep, a convention during a pandemic. Like everything else, conventions were really messed up by 2020. Colossalcon pushed their event to later in September, but it was ultimately cancelled. Room reservations and badges were allowed to rollover to 2021 and here we are. Just like with the ongoing legacy room booking debacle, you can thank (or blame) the Kalahari for this event happening in June of 2021. I doubt it would be if it was solely up to Colossalcon. You can tell from reading the Facebook posts that the Kalahari management are basically forcing the convention to take place. As far as I'm aware, this is the first convention of its size and notoriety to be happening in the midst on an ongoing pandemic. Granted vaccines will be widespread at the time of the convention, but people are understandably concerned. There are a number of precautions and changes in place to mitigate the spread of the virus. How they will affect the convention experience and whether they will be effective against spread is anyone's guess. I personally am not worried about catching covid. I'll be fully vaccinated and will still wear a mask and follow the rules. The tone on the Colossalcon Facebook posts regarding conventions held during a pandemic has shifted compared to last year. In 2020 people were adamant that conventions shouldn't happen and were almost cancelling anyone who held or attended one. Now, there are a lot of people excited to be going and telling others to stay at home if they are concerned about covid. I don't think this is because people want to be reckless, but rather they want to do something fun and normal. A year of shutdowns and restrictions have taken a heavy toll on the psyche and something like an anime convention seems like a light at the end of the tunnel. With many states like Florida and Texas having lifted mask mandates, I expect to see other conventions happen this year. Certainly Colossalcon East and Colossalcon Texas, since they are both at Kalahari resorts and Texas has no mask mandate. I wouldn't be surprised if Dragon Con happens in some fashion, but I'm not putting any money on it. Holiday Matsuri is also practically guaranteed to happen since it's in Florida in December and staff have been posting photos and talking about room reservations.
The outdoor pools are a perfect place for cosplay and photography. The pools are shallow so you don't have to worry about getting soaked but you still get water in your shots. The weather is generally sunny and warm in June and even if it rains you have four days to get shots done. The indoor water park is just okay. It feels cramped and the lighting is a mix of fluorescent, daylight, and LED. There are only so many directions in which you can point your camera before you get tired of looking at faux rocks and shadowed backgrounds. One location that stands out is a field at the back of the property. You can see it in most of the cosplay music videos posted online. It's almost perfect for the golden hour sunset shots. I say almost because the sun actually falls behind a wing of the hotel before setting below the horizon. Still, you get the nice orange glow for at least 20 minutes. You might need all four days to really get a good chance at it because in 2019 there was only one good day. Sunday is pretty much out since most people go home that day, including me. That leaves Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. It was cloudy on Thursday and it rained into the night on Saturday evening. Friday was the only day with golden hour, but it was a good one.
The cost to attend Colossalcon was on the high end for me. Out of all the cons that I've written articles about so far, this was the second most expensive after Katsucon. It's mostly because I didn't even decide to attend Colossalcon 2019 until two weeks before it started. It's really best if you plan waaaay ahead for a convention like this, but at that point in my life it wasn't on my radar. This was around the time I started to really dedicate time and money into Flannel Ninja and this hobby of attending conventions.
Not planning ahead means things like plane flights and car rentals are more expensive. If I had purchased flights months in advance I probably could have brought that expense down below $400. Sandusky is just a little too far away from a good-sized airport. It's about an hour away from Cleveland and two hours from Detroit and Columbus. If you don't have any friends driving to the con and you can't catch the Cleveland bus that does a special Colossalcon run, you have to rent a car. I managed to find a room through the Colossalcon Rooms and Rideshares Facebook Group. It worked out pretty good even though I slept on an inflatable mattress. The actual Kalahari room only cost me $100 since I split it with a bunch of people. The remaining hotel expense was because I flew into Detroit the night before and stayed at a hotel there. That's just how the timing of flights and driving worked out.
The Kalahari has a bunch of different rooms available with various bed configurations and amenities like full kitchens and whirlpool tubs in the room. The most affordable room is the two queen bed rooms that are $254/night at the con rate. They officially only hold four people, but it's possible to squeeze in a few more. The only problem is you only get four water park passes for those room and additional passes are $60-80. There are larger rooms available if you can get them, but if you work out the math the price per person goes up making them less of a deal.
The most expensive rooms are the 5 bedroom houses that sit away from the property. They're basically two story houses with full kitchens, a pool table, hot tub, and four bathrooms. They can hold up to 22 people and run over $2,000 a night! If you compare them to something like an Airbnb or vacation rental they're very overpriced.
There is a high amount of cosplay at Colossalcon. It's less about bringing your biggest or best like you would to Katsucon and more about your most fun cosplay. Putting your favorite character in shorts or a swimsuit immediately makes it more fun. Here are some of the more than 100 people I met at Colossalcon 2019.