So you wanna go to Colossalcon...
Maximize your water park anime convention experience
Colossalcon is an anime convention held at the Kalahari Resort and Convention Center in Sandusky, Ohio. It’s a water park resort, so if you’ve seen photos or videos of cosplayers in swimsuits there’s a good chance that it’s from Colossalcon. It’s been held at that location since 2009 so it’s pretty well known. There are actually four Colossalcons. This article will focus on the one known as “Colossalcon Prime” since it’s the original and most popular, but the advice here is generally good for the others as well. The other Colossalcons are in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.
I assume that if you’re thinking of going to Colossalcon, you’re actually going to attend the convention. As odd as it might sound, not everyone who goes to Colossalcon actually attends the convention. I’m not talking about the “normies” - the regular folks with kids in tow who are unaware there’s an anime convention going on. I’m referring to the weebs and partiers and everyone who is there because of Colossalcon, but aren’t buying badges. As much as I hate to say this, you can totally ghost this con. You can stay at the resort, play in the water park, and attend the parties without ever setting foot in the convention. I know a lot of cosplayers who do this. They go just to have fun and take photos. I understand why people do this, but I think it’s appropriate to at least buy a badge to show some appreciation for the organization that brought it all together. It takes a significant investment of time, energy, and money to put on an event like this. Buying a badge is the best way to support the event and is one of the least expensive things you’ll do at Colossalcon. You can then hit the vendor hall and artist alley. You might even find an entertaining event or concert to attend. The convention has a good variety of panels despite its relatively small size. Colossalcon offers discount codes for registration throughout the year - just keep an eye on their Facebook page. There’s even a pass for all four Colossalcons.
Colossalcon is officially a five day event. It starts on Wednesday and runs through Sunday afternoon. There’s not much going on Wednesday, so it’s really a four day convention. All con-related events besides the late night swim and group photoshoots take place in the convention center. While not huge like some civic convention centers, the Kalahari convention center has the right amount of space for this event. It’s conveniently connected to the hotel at the intersection of two wings. There’s no concern about noise from the convention center bleeding into hotel rooms.
The Kalahari resorts are African themed, as the name implies. The founders are fascinated with Africa and have genuine philanthropic involvement with African artists. The design aesthetic feels heavy with dark, earthy tones of brown, tan and orange. Architectural elements include thatched roofs, mud walls, and geometric patterns. Concrete floors are stained brown and stamped to resemble stone. Walls are decorated with tribal art and artifacts, including masks, sculptures, textiles and faux animal skins. Papyrus font is used on signage. Bronze statues of African animals are scattered throughout. This styling also exists at the Pennsylvania location and I assume at the Wisconsin location, although Ive never been there. The Round Rock, TX resort is distinctly brighter and more modern in design, but it's also much newer.
Booking a Room
Going to Colossalcon starts with getting a room. It's the biggest challenge and biggest obstacle of attending Colossalcon. If you don't get a room at the host resort it's not the end of the world, but there are some big downsides to staying off-site. I highly recommend staying at the resort and I'll explain why.
The Kalahari hotels are destination resorts situated on large properties. They are generally located in less populated areas with less options for lodging. If you book a room at a nearby hotel or short-term rental property like Airbnb, you'll have to figure out a good way of getting to and from the resort. They aren't within a reasonable walking distance. Uber and Lyft aren't reliable. Sandusky is a small city with a limited number of drivers. When the con gets busy, you'll either have to wait a while for a driver or pay more money. These alternative lodgings aren't necessarily cheaper either, especially when you factor in water park passes. More on that later.
Parking is an issue. The lots surrounding the Kalahari resort typically fill up by Friday afternoon and stay that way until Sunday. People end up parking in the grassy fields around the lots. Again, it's not the end of the world but it's certainly inconvenient, especially if your car gets stuck in soft, muddy earth. The days before, during, and after the convention are blocked out on the Kalahari reservation calendar, so you pretty much have to book a room through the official room block. You can try calling the resort to book directly but they'll just tell you it's reserved for an event. Here's where the challenge starts. Colossalcon typically announces the date the block opens in July or August of the previous year. When the block opens it's a mad dash to book a room as fast as possible before they fill up. The rooms can disappear within minutes. The reservation system is managed by a system called “Passkey” and it doesn't hold your place in line or hold rooms for you. You must complete the booking process to get a room. This includes entering your name, address, credit card information, etc. The first night's stay is charged at the time of booking.
Starting in 2022 they split the room block and had two separate dates to give people a better chance of getting a room. There are specific strategies for getting a room through Passkey, but I'll save them for this other article.
Wristbands and Water Park Passes
This is the second obstacle to attending this con. If you don't stay at the resort and want to enjoy the water park, you'll have to pay for water park passes. The rates are $90 to 120 per person, per day. Colossalcon offers a limited number of passes at a reduced rate of $75. Either way, it's expensive and more than makes up for any savings you might find at a nearby hotel. When you stay at the resort your water park access is included. In fact, your wristband acts as both your room key and water park pass. Just tap it at the gates to get in.
If you don't care about the water park you can happily wander around the resort and attend the convention without a water park pass. In conflict with what I just wrote, you can actually enter the water park areas without a pass since the outdoor entry points are not very secure. They have turnstiles, but you can just walk through the wheelchair entrance which is often already wide open. This has been the case at the Ohio resort for a few years, but not at the other locations. You can't go in the water and you might be asked by staff to leave if they notice you don't have a wristband. There is also a “spectator pass” for sale at a reduced rate. It gives you access to the water park areas, but you can't go in the water.
Besides saving the cost of water park passes, staying at the resort is just incredibly convenient. Having a place to relax and refresh can make your con experience more enjoyable. Playing in the water and being out in the sun can be draining. By staying at the resort you can go for a swim in the morning and then return to your room to rest and clean up. In the afternoon you might peruse the vendor hall and attend some panels. Get a meal at one of the resort's restaurants before going to an evening concert. In the late, late night you might go to one of the many room parties or maybe attend the late night swim and sit in the hot tub under the stars. You don't have to think about driving to your hotel, especially if you've been drinking. Having a room on-site is key to having fun without wearing yourself out.
Room Types & Extra Person Charges
The Kalahari in Ohio has a number of different room types available. They range from the base two queen room to the house-sized villas. Deciding which room is right for you is important. In the first place, you don't want to spend even one second longer than necessary while booking a room. That's the difference between getting a room and not. Secondly, you want to make sure the room can accommodate your party while staying on budget.
You can preview the rooms by visiting the Kalahari website. The Ohio resort has a room with an actual kitchen, which most of the other Kalahari resorts don't have. You can save some money by preparing your own meals. In 2023 I opted for the Two bedroom Presidential Suite which has a private hot tub on the balcony. It's pricey, but fun to share with friends.
Be aware that each room has a specified number of guests for the listed price and a maximum number allowed at additional cost. Typically you can add 2-4 more people beyond the base number, depending on the room type. These extra persons are subject to a $50 per person, per night fee. I have yet to be charged this fee, but it's in the fine print. It seems to be up to the person at the counter when you check in. They will ask you how many wristbands you want. Don't be afraid to ask for as many as you need. I saw someone online say that they were given more wristbands than the room allowed. Just remember that these are your room keys, so you should only give them to people who you know and trust.
New room booking options for 2024 are VIP packages which include a room, VIP passes, and valet parking. These are already available for purchase before the room block opens, eliminating the stress and risk of getting a room. The downside is they are much more expensive than purchasing those items separately.
Getting to the Con
Let's say you were successful in booking a room. Great! Now you have to think about how to get there. As I mentioned earlier, the resort is kinda out of the way and Sandusky is a small city. You pretty much have to drive there. The nearest commercial airport is in Cleveland, approximately one hour away. There's also Columbus and Detroit, both about two hours away. If you don't live within 10 hours driving distance you'll probably have to fly in and rent a car, or get a ride from a friend. I recommend Costco Travel for car rentals. Costco has great rates, a free cancellation policy, and other perks. A Costco Membership is required, however.
As I mentioned earlier, the parking lot can fill up starting on Friday. I advise finding a parking spot and staying there or else you might end up parking further away in the grassy fields.
Transferring a Room
Plans change. Maybe you got a room but can no longer go. Or maybe you couldn't get a room but found one on the Rooms and Rideshares group on Facebook (link). Rather than just canceling, it's a good idea to transfer your room.
Canceling your reservation at the Kalahari comes with a $30 cancellation fee. This is clearly mentioned in the booking policies, so don't be surprised by it. If you transfer your room, you avoid this fee. If you're on the other side of the equation – you want to get a room – be prepared to pay $85. That's what the Kalahari charges to transfer a room.
You might ask yourself, “Why not just check the booking site and hope a room becomes available?” Well, you might be able to. However, at some point the booking site will be shut down and will no longer accept any reservations. This tends to happen much earlier for Colossalcon Prime than it does for the other Colossalcons. Booking for the other cons might stay open until a month before the event, even if they don't have any rooms available.
To transfer a room, you'll have to coordinate with the other party and do a three-way call with the Kalahari. It's inconvenient, but there's no other way. Schedule a time to call the other party and then call the Kalahari. If you're lucky, they won't charge you the transfer fee.
Restaurants and Food
Dining options are somewhat limited at the Ohio Kalahari resort. There are multiple dining locations at the arcade, indoor, and outdoor water parks offering burgers, grab and go sandwiches, and pizzas. There's a swim up bar connected to the hot tubs as well as a large bar near the outdoor pools. The lobby has a coffee shop with small grab and go items. Next door is a candy store with candy apples and fudge.
Inside there are three restaurants - Sortino's, B-Lux, and the Great Karoo Marketplace. Sortino's is an Italian restaurant with some tasty pasta dishes and prices ranging from $15-30. B-Lux is a bar and grill with burgers and shakes. The Great Karoo Marketplace is a buffet breakfast open in the mornings. If you aren't feeling any of these options you can explore the offerings of Sandusky. While it's not a big city, it is a resort town and has plenty of restaurants within driving distance.
Colossalcon is a fun event and certainly worth trying once. It's popular and with that comes some challenges, but with four locations you at least have some options. Definitely check out this article for more in-depth information and tips on booking rooms and staying at hotels for other conventions.