Beautiful location, beautiful cosplayers
Katsucon may not be the largest anime convention in America, but it certainly is one of the most prestigious. Set at the Marriott Gaylord National hotel and convention center in National Harbor, Maryland, this event is a gathering place for some of the most ardent and ambitious cosplayers. The draw becomes obvious once you attend.
The hotel has a grand and glorious design which inspires attendees to go all out with their cosplays. The massive atrium is a spectacle which makes your jaw drop even after attending year after year. Awash in modern colonial architecture, it boasts marble floors, an indoor water fountain, lush landscaping both indoors and out, and posh furniture and decor. There's a literal village of buildings on the atrium floor with brick pavers and iron gates. Stepping onto the ballroom level you are drawn to the iconic gazebo and massive golden drapes. It truly is a special place.
If you attend a lot of conventions you will inevitably hear about Katsucon. It has a reputation for attracting cosplayers of the highest skill and fame. Being from the West Coast it took a long time for me to finally venture across the country. Now that I've attended it's hard to stay away. National Harbor is right next door to Washington D.C. and very close to Ronald Reagan airport, so it's relatively easy to get to. Finding a room at the hotel is another matter - more on that below.
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The Gaylord National
The Gaylord National is one of a group of Marriott resort destinations bearing the Gaylord name. Other locations include Colorado, Texas, Florida, and Nashville and each of them are themed to their location. The National Harbor resort has a colonial theme which matches the American colonial history of the area. The Colorado resort has a mountain and railroad theme, etc, etc. They are all quite impressive in their size and design. What sets the Gaylord National apart is its massive atrium. Both the width and height are awe inspiring at around 200 ft tall and completely covered by a glass wall and ceiling. It's so large - you can see it from afar. The ballroom level has bright marble floors, large doors with sweeping gold drapes, and of course the famous gazebo where everyone lines up to get their photo taken. I personally have never shot at the gazebo. It's an okay-looking location, but I don't think it's worth waiting in line for except to cross it off of your bucket list.
On the south side of the resort is the convention center. It has over 500,000 sq ft of event space spread out across three floors. It's isolated enough from the hotel that the nighttime rave doesn't transmit up to the rooms. I wish I could say the same for the noise of the atrium. If you have an atrium view room you will always have the din of that space leaking into your room. It's a kind of white noise that never ends. You might not notice it, or maybe you put up with it for the fantastic views. It's definitely something to consider when booking a room. On Saturday in 2020, the hotel held an event on the atrium floor and had a DJ playing music until 2 AM. It was bad. Thankfully they didn't do this in 2022.
Effects of the Bug
It's impossible to talk about conventions without talking about COVID. It has interrupted so many events like Katsucon and even caused some to go out of business. Katsucon was fortunate to have held their 2020 event. COVID shut things down just 2-3 weeks afterwards. As I understand things, The Gaylord National was completely closed for some time in 2020. The resort took the opportunity to remodel the guest rooms. Katsucon returned in 2022 with not just a "masks required" COVID policy, but a vaccine requirement as well. I know people who were willing to get vaccinated just so they could attend 😄. That is perhaps the most telling example of how much of a draw this convention has. The decision to require vaccines was made closer to the convention dates, so some people were caught off guard. According to the CDC there isn't any evidence that conventions have caused any kind of boost in COVID cases.
Getting There and Staying There
National Harbor is right next door to Washington, DC and not too far from Baltimore. It's 15-20 minutes away from the Ronald Reagan airport, but there's also Dulles and Baltimore airports. It's one of the easier conventions to travel to. The DC metro has a line directly from the airport to The National Mall, so definitely consider making your Katsucon trip a Washington, DC trip. Uber and Lyft operate in the area as well. National Harbor is a shopping and dining destination, so there are places to eat besides the hotel. The cheapest option is Chipotle Mexican Grill where you can stuff your face with a monster burrito for under 10 bucks. You can also have a $50 steak at the fancy Old Hickory steak house. I recommend Nando's PERi-PERi for delicious Afro-Portuguese dishes.
The food choices at the resort aren't great, and they were worse for 2022. There is, or was, a buffet on the atrium floor and a sports bar as well. Both were closed for renovation during Katsucon 2022. This left the grab-and-go Marketplace and the expensive steak house. Neither are great choices IMO. The resort will certainly have all of its dining options open in time for the 2023 event. Guest rooms have a small refrigerator and there's a CVS within walking distance if that's your thing. Microwaves are available in the Marketplace. Staying at the Gaylord National is a challenge. With this convention being in such high demand, the rooms book up fast. Inside of 10 minutes everything is gone. If you want an atrium view room you had better be fast. I have two tips:
- Use a desktop computer and have your information saved in the browser. This way you can autofill the form fields and save a bunch of time. This can be the difference between getting a room and not. The same goes for credit card information.
- If you weren't able to book a room during the initial round, keep trying. While it's unlikely that anything will open up that day or even in the following months, rooms do open up in January just before the convention. As you get closer to the cancellation date people start cancelling their rooms and they become available again. Be sure to save the booking link somewhere.
What can I say about the cosplayers who attend Katsucon? Expect the best that everyone has to offer. This is where people show off their finest and fun-est. Also, feel free to wear yours regardless. While expectations might be high, in the end it's all about having fun. Try to remember that when you're con-crunching.