Holiday Matsuri 2019
A Holiday-themed Anime Convention
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Holiday Matsuri is an anime convention that really stands out to me. First of all, it's a holiday-themed convention held in December. You get all of the great cosplay like at other anime conventions, but the cosplayers cleverly add holiday elements like Christmas colors, decorations, and string lights. This adds an extra element of fun and makes this con look and feel unique.
The Holmat staff really go out of their way to make sure attendees get what they want. You'll hear people say that about other conventions, but it's very true for this one. Holmat offers a lot of unique events, such as those sponsored by Cosplay Deviants, that attendees love and that you won't find at other conventions. They work with the convention facility to setup free overflow parking on the golf course. They ship badges ahead of the event. They live-stream events online. They have food trucks. They even made a great effort to have solid face-time with the attendees through a series of live-streaming sessions before the convention. Most other conventions are either unaware of these things, too afraid to host these kind of events, or lack the organization and staff to put it together.
I don't know the details about Holmat's business structure, as far as being a non-profit or not. Whatever it is, they don't let it get in the way of having fun. If you don't want to go to any panels or events, they won't be offended. That's not something every convention seems to understand. I see a lot of conventions get too wrapped up in the whole education, Japanese culture, and non-profit aspects of running their business. This affects the types of events and guests they have, as well as the overall feel of the event. While there is certainly value in that approach, I think attendees ultimately just want to have fun. They go to conventions like this to meet up with friends, make new friends, and create wonderful memories. Holmat avoids the pretense of existing for the sake of cultural education. They know we like anime and Japanese culture, and they know how to make it fun.
The Hotel & Convention Center
Based in Florida, the Orlando World Center Marriot is a pretty good hotel and convention center. It has a ton of hotel rooms, lots of convention space, and a beautiful campus. It's the Florida hotel resort that you see in ads - lush vegetation, pools, sunshine, etc. And it's not too hot or humid in December, hovering around the 70's. I found plenty of good shooting locations outside and even at night. In addition to all of this, Holiday Matsuri is holiday themed (duh!). You get all of the great cosplay with a Christmas twist. This really adds another element of fun to everything.
The convention center is attached to the hotel, which is very convenient. You can walk out of your room, down one of the many elevators, and go straight to the convention center. There is no crossing streets, taking Uber or mass transit (unless you are at a partner hotel), or getting odd looks from the locals. In fact, there isn't much else around the campus. This is a world-class Orlando resort located close to Walt Disney World. While there are a couple of tight spaces inside the building, there is generally a lot of room. Holmat doesn't even use all of the convention space, leaving one of the largest ballrooms in America untouched.
The inside of the resort is all fine and dandy, but the outside is even better. There's a large pool with lots of lounge-style seating, hot tubs, a bar with table seating, water slides, and more. I spent a lot of time around the pool and the area around it. It's landscaped with faux boulders that makes for excellent photo backgrounds. Think Disney-style faux boulders with the same kind of quality appearance. Everything is open until 10 PM and is very well illuminated at night. This opens up the possibility for night shooting, which is rare at some conventions. When it's just a convention center with no attached hotel, you tend to see the crowds thin out around 6 PM. People have to go elsewhere to eat at decent restaurant or even just to sit down comfortably. Since you are more or less captive at this resort, everyone is out and having a good time until late. It's a lot like Katsucon or Dragon Con.
I'm surprised that this con was significantly less expensive overall than many of the previous cons I attended in 2019. This is the farthest convention that I travel to - essentially the opposite corner of the country from me since I live in Washington State. I once again stayed with some friends that I met at a previous convention, which saved me a lot on the hotel cost. The plane tickets weren't too expensive, but the Uber/Taxi rides were. It's a 17 mile trip with three toll roads and the late-night ride from the airport was $50! Altogether, it was well worth the cost. If I had more time and knew more people I would have gone to the Disney parks, which are literally down the road from the convention.
The Final Word
Overall, Holiday Matsuri ranks high on my list of best anime conventions. It might not have the prestigious cosplay of Katsucon, but it also doesn't have the jam-packed feel. The combination of warm weather, excellent location, and good staffing is hard to beat. I will definitely return to Holiday Matsuri.
When you have pools and Florida sun, you of course have swimsuits. Mix that up with holiday-themed swimsuit cosplays and what a combination you have! That generally means a lot of green and red color, but also tinsel, garland, ornaments, wreaths, and string lights. Think about Ruby Rose from RWBY with her gun decked out in garland. Or Mercy from Overwatch with a Santa Claus white fringed dress. It's fun to see what people come up with and there are always surprises.
Watch my Holiday Matsuri 2019 Cosplay Music Video on YouTube to see all the fantastic cosplayers.