Colossalcon East 2019
A Swimsuit Anime Convention!
I thought it would be a good idea to talk about some of the different conventions I've attended in the past year. My intent is to share some photos, video, and information about the cost in order to help people decide whether they should attend. It takes time and money to go to a convention and you want to have some confidence that it will be an enjoyable experience. My perspective is that of a photographer and videographer of course, so my interests may be different from yours.
I attended Colossalcon East for the first time in September 2019 and I had a nice time. Having just attended the popular parent convention (simply called "Colossalcon") a few months earlier, I had a good idea of what to expect. Both events are held at Kalahari water park resorts, with Colossalcon at the Sandusky, Ohio location and CCE at the Pocono Hills, Pennsylvania location. The Pocono Hills Kalahari is newer and larger, with more slides, more games in the arcade, and more guest rooms. You can read up on the Kalahari resorts over on Wikipedia.
This anime convention is only four years old, so it's not as well-attended as Colossalcon. That's not a bad thing. Smaller conventions are generally more chill and relaxed. There's more space in the hallways and it doesn't feel crowded or overwhelming. You can actually have casual conversations with people instead of having to yell over the din of the crowd. As someone who makes cosplay music videos, I look for a balance between being busy enough to have a lot of people in cosplay, but not too busy to make it difficult to shoot. Katsucon is a good example of a busy convention that has a lot of people and great cosplay, but it's difficult to find good shooting locations. This was the first convention where I coordinated with two cosplayers ahead of the event (@natly_cosplay and @torra.zwei). I generally just find people as I wander around the convention, but I wanted to try something different and work with cosplayers that I've shot before.
How's the resort?
The resort itself is part hotel and part family fun center. It has a convention center, the water park of course, an arcade, restaurants, shops, and a spa. I'd say it's a two or three star hotel - not very fancy and not too expensive. If you fill your room to the suggested capacity you can split the cost and come out alright. For the 2020 year, rooms start at $229/night for up to four people, with space for up to six at $50 per extra person. They have larger rooms and suites available that hold even more people.
I highly recommend staying on-property for a number of reasons. The biggest reason is water park passes. Your room comes with a matching number of water park passes, so a room for four people has four passes. At a value of $80-$110 per person per day, this is the number one reason to stay on-property. The second reason is you are right at the con. This saves you a lot of time from commuting to and from your hotel. If you get tired or need to change clothes, it's a short walk to your room. Three, parking is atrocious. While they have a decent size parking lot, it is quickly filled beyond capacity during the convention. The grounds don't have as many grassy areas as Colossalcon does, so I'm not sure where people park when the lot gets full. I arrived on Friday afternoon in my rental car and there weren't many parking spaces left. I found a spot in the back lot and left it there all weekend so I wouldn't have to deal with it.
The arcade seems larger than the one at Colossalcon in Ohio. You load up a card with money and swipe it at a game machine to play. Many of them spit out tickets that you can convert into all kinds of cheap plastic prizes. It's beyond me why people waste so much time and money collecting paper tickets from a machine, but whatever floats your boat. For me, the arcade is a fun place to do photos and video. It has all kinds of lights and visual distractions that make for good backgrounds. There's a pizza, burger, and salad bar type eatery right next to it that is probably the most affordable place to eat. The entrance to the water park is adjacent to the arcade.
The Water Park
The water park is the main attraction. This one is quite a bit larger than the Ohio resort, with a larger wave pool and more slides. It doesn't feel quite as cramped. I'm not a big swimmer and didn't even put on swim shorts during the convention. While not my favorite place to shoot in, I did get some nice footage there. The lighting is a mix of natural and daylight LED, but still looks decent on camera. This is definitely where you'll find the most people.
The weather for this area during September can be good or bad. If it gets warm enough they will open the outdoor pools. This was actually something that I considered before attending. I much prefer shooting outdoors because the natural light makes everything look better. Unfortunately, the weather was rainy and cool on Friday and Saturday, so the outdoor pools weren't open. I stuck to the arcade, indoor water park, and a few outdoor areas. Sunday blessed us with some nice sunshine and I got one of my best shots ever at the outdoor pool. There weren't many people in the outdoor pool, so if you like having a lot of space this might work out good for you. Not everything outdoors was open. The kid pools and food and beverage stands were closed.
I want to talk about the food. Since you are likely trapped at the resort all weekend, the variety, quality, and cost of the food matters. There isn't really anything nearby - certainly nothing walkable - and you don't want to lose your precious parking space. Thankfully, the Pocono Hills Kalahari has a good selection of restaurants that have good food at reasonable prices. There is no Katsucon Gaylord Hotel price gouging here. The average burger and pasta restaurant will run you $10-20 and you'll have a good meal. You can find alcohol everywhere. There's a fancy steak restaurant and bar called Doublecut near the convention center if that's your thing. There's even a buffet for feeding the troops and a candy store for your sweet tooth.
The Cost Breakdown
The cost of attending a convention like Colossalcon East is non-trivial for me. It's in Pennsylvania and I live in Washington State, so I have to fly and find ground transportation. The Pocono Hills location is more than an hour away from a major city. As mentioned, the hotel isn't outrageously expensive, but it's not a budget hotel either. I split a family suite with five other people, which runs over $400/night. Add in the cost of food, registration, and anything extra like vendor hall purchases and I can easily spend over $1K on a convention like this. Here's the breakdown:
Interesting Places To Shoot
I did some research before the convention, trying to figure out what the grounds are like. I kept seeing people on Facebook mention the waterfall. Sure enough, there's a waterfall on the property. It's not too far of a walk and you can definitely get some nice photos there. I didn't shoot there at all, but would like to if I return. This video gives you good directions to the waterfall.
Outside near the convention center is an interesting barbecue type area that made for good shooting location. It has this reddish stone, rustic wood branches, and gravel on the ground. It feels kinda gritty and almost like a western movie set. It's in my cosplay music video.
The friendly staff at the well-appointed Doublecut restaurant were very accommodating, allowing me to shoot inside without restriction. It has good decor and moody lighting.