So you think you’re ready to march in the Dragon Con Parade? That is AWESOME! I’ll bet your costume will be great and people are going to love seeing you! To help you out I have jotted down a few tips on what it’s like to march and posted them here to help you survive the Dragon Con Parade. Have a great time!!!!
The more planning you put into your parade experience, the more likely you are to have fun on the big day – like some guy once said, “Knowing is half the battle!”
Here’s what this article will cover:
- Who Can March?
- Who Runs the Parade?
- Official TMI Email
- Staging Area
- Costume Decisions
- Rash Prevention
- Alcohol and the Parade
- Parade Length
- Shuttle Buses
- The Parade Route
- Staging Area
- Channel 69
- The Clench
- The Grundle
- DragonCon TV
- Bill’s Alley
- Charlie’s Revenge
- Sister Sue
- The Finish Line
- Post-Parade Personal Hygiene
- Weather Conditions
Who Can March?
The Dragon Con parade requires pre-registration, a process that happens months and months ahead of Dragon Con. The process for signing up for the parade can be found on the Dragon Con website. This guide will not cover the details of that process, as it could change at any time and it’s best for you to seek out the most current set of instructions.
For that matter, this guide is being published in 2023 and may contain outdated information by the time you read it, so please be sure to do your own homework to confirm that this information is useful to you in the strange, far-flung future you inhabit.
Who Runs the Parade?
The parade is organized by an all-volunteer staff, including its Director. Please be kind to all of them, as they must organize a giant list of marchers, distribute bracelets to section captains once Con begins, herd hundreds of marchers on the day of the event while overseeing a fleet of civilian vehicles and floats, coordinating with various agencies with the City of Atlanta, hotels, private property owners, a temporary bus service, and other people and places I’m not even able to guess at as I type this up.
Simply said: THEY ARE SUPER BUSY. You may want to be considerate when you communicate with them. (most fans are super respectful, anyway)
Official TMI Email
At some point in the weeks leading up to Dragon Con the Parade Director will issue an official “TMI Email” which isn’t “Too Much Information”, but rather a ton of good information that marchers may wish to know about that year’s parade, delivered in the form of an email.
That official email will always supersede anything you find in my blog post.
All marchers must wear special wristbands that have been provided by DragonCon’s Parade Organizers. Team captains report to a predetermined location in the days leading up to the parade to pick up wristbands for their group. Details about picking up your wristbands are addressed in the Official TMI Email.
At this point in time, marchers assemble in a parking structure owned by the North Avenue Presbyterian Church, on the east side of Peachtree Street, half a block south of North Avenue. Only parade participants should go into this area; a wristband is required to enter. It is a busy place and people without parade ribbons/bracelets are likely to be asked to leave.
Every single group has an assigned place to be in the Staging Area. The farther back you are in the parade list, the farther down you get pushed into the parking structure. Our group have been blessedly pushed down to the lowest level during staging for the past several years, which happily moves us out of the direct sunshine. There’s not as much to see down there, but it can be a bit cooler.
Those who have vehicles or parade floats must set up outside the parking structure, on Peachtree Street, facing south. There are additional, important instructions for parade participants in the official TMI Email, one of which addresses float and vehicle management.
Costumes can make or break your parade experience – what plays well in the hotel could kick your butt in the Dragon Con parade. If your costume does not provide good air flow around your body you will feel hotter. If your costume is too tight in places, it can cause chafing. Synthetic materials will make you feel hotter. Fur will cook you in your own juices. Helmets will roast you. Metal costumes will bake you (amazingly, I still see people wearing full armor out in the sun every year – what is wrong with y’all??).
Whereas sexy shoes/boots may bring a costume to life out on the floor of the Marriott, they will absolutely murder your feet on a hot trudge down Peachtree Street. Consider trading in those stiletto boots for some smart sneakers. Nobody will remember what you had on your feet five minutes after you walk past, but the blisters you get may last you for the remainder of the convention.
If you insist on being stylish, try to figure out the stress points of your footwear and consider using inserts, cushions, heel pads, and other methods of avoiding blisters.
Of these, I strongly, strongly recommend that you find some shoe inserts that you like. Remember: you will want to continue walking around the convention long after the parade is over.
If your thighs rub together when you walk, then this topic may be of vital importance to you. This topic concerns a LOT of our folks of different shapes and has nothing to do with body proportions and is not meant to shame.
People who work outdoors in summer heat (and those with Hutt-killing thighs) are familiar with the many methods of treating and avoiding heat rash, which is often referred to as “monkey butt” for reasons I hope you will never understand.
There are lots of solutions for avoiding chafed things, including baby powder, diaper rash creams, as well as glide-on balms and lubricants designed for professional long-distance runners and athletes (one example is “Body Glide”).
Training for the Dragon Con Parade
It seems like a great idea to begin walking outside at least a month ahead of the parade, to build up your stamina, but I’m no coach or medical expert. You don’t have to walk through your neighborhood wearing your gorilla bikini warrior costume to build up your stamina, but if you are healthy enough it might serve you well to build up your stamina for walking 2+ times the distance of the parade to ensure that you don’t poop out halfway through on the big day.
The year is 2023 as I am writing this post. It is an El Niño year, which has given us a scorcher of a summer. Temperatures have ranged well into the 90s for weeks on end. Even though the parade takes place in the morning, the high temperatures could easily begin pushing into the 80s before Noon, which is quite hot when you are wearing heavy fabric and fur and plastic.
Because of that, I like to be VERY hydrated for the parade and would encourage you to consider the benefits.
It is my understanding that you cannot compress the hydration process into a few hours, so in the days leading up to the parade I try to follow a reasonable schedule of drinking lots of water.
Consider how your body might react when it is exposed to heat stress, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition.
You will be subjected to cardiovascular stress, dehydration from exertion, and that crazy rush of endorphins from having 80 million fans screaming with excitement at your amazing costume!
There will be volunteers and scouts at the staging area handing out bottles of water. Don’t be shy; take one and say “thank you!”.
Use a Hydration Pack
One trick that I use to keep my own body temperature down is to use a Camelbak system. That’s just a brand name for a product that outfitters call “hydration packs”.
Hydration packs are backpacks with a silicon bladder/reservoir inside; nothing more than modern goatskins and are designed to be filled with water, which can then be accessed via a long flexible hose fitted to your mouth.
The real trick for making a hydration pack work for you is to fill it with as many ice cubes as possible, instead of just water. You can also pour in sports drinks that replenish electrolytes (Gatorade is an old classic but there may be better solutions now, so do some homework on what you think might be best).
Alcohol and the Dragon Con Parade
As much fun as it might seem, I do not recommend that you use alcohol in your hydration pack during the parade because you could seriously injure yourself and guarantee that you will not be asked back to march in the parade.
I know that it’s sacrilegious to suggest this, but in the interests of safe hydration it might be a good idea to avoid partaking of alcoholic beverages for a few days leading up to the parade. There is no faster way to deplete your electrolytes and put yourself into dehydration than going out to a banger the night before the parade.
Hydration is a fickle mistress. Even if you do decide to spend the week leading up to Con staying hydrated and electrolytically sound, you stand a very good chance of finding yourself waiting for more than an hour before your group rolls out onto the street to begin the parade.
If you arrive at the staging area with a full bladder you will probably need to find relief. There are several porta potties at staging, and there is a line. When you are building your costume, you may want to consider how to build in a quick access for this type of situation. I have heard that some people wear adult diapers, in case of these emergencies. I personally think that should be a last resort, or for people who already have medical conditions – but if you do decide to try adult diapers, please follow safe practices to avoid contracting a urinary tract infection.
The Dragon Con parade is about 1.1 miles long, but the distance you walk could be closer to 1.25 miles long if you include the distance you will walk on the way to the official staging area. It’s probably even more if you must walk from a faraway hotel room, a parking garage, or a MARTA station.
A good way to preserve some of your energy is to catch one of the free shuttle buses set up to ferry marchers from the Marriott Marquis over to the staging area. If you want to use one of those buses, consider adding a bit of extra time into your schedule. If you have medical equipment that requires special transport, the parade team asks that you reach out to disability services ahead of time. Bus riders are warned to catch a ride before 9:30am, at which point you are unlikely to make it to staging in time and may lose your place in the parade.
Information on the shuttles is available in the official TMI Email from the Dragon Con Parade team.
The Parade Route
The attached map highlights the unique names of most of the better known route milestones and includes the elevation above sea level for each.
Dragon Con Parade Highlights
Note: I used Google Earth Pro to help me determine the elevation data, to help you visualize the topographic challenges you will face during your trek from start to finish. Please do not use this data to construct bridges, let’s just call these ballpark numbers. If you learn nothing else from this section: you will climb nearly 7 stories over a distance of one-half mile, from Jan’s Price to Charlie’s Revenge.
Interactive Google Map Parade Map
For your convenience I have created an interactive version of this map, in case you somehow manage to wander off course?
Staging Area (elevation 1,018ft)
Marchers depart from in front of the North Avenue Presbyterian and walk south along Peachtree Street.
Channel 69 Broadcast (elevation 1,014ft)
Not far from the beginning of the parade there is a spot where you might find yourself on local television!
Atlanta’s UPN station, Channel 69, has been doing a live broadcast of the parade every year, and have been setting up their cameras on the west side of the road (to your right, as you march southward).
The crew employs a small jib crane to add movement to their footage, and they swing it out over the street to catch the action of costumed marchers – so don’t freak out.
Marchers are instructed to avoid stopping or mugging for Channel 69 because it causes backups and slowdowns. Please don’t be a rubber-necker, but also know that you may be temporarily asked to stop by an official, to prevent your group from being jumbled up with the group marching ahead of you.
Jan’s Price (elevation 1,009ft)
After the photo op, you will move down to and across a bridge crossing over Atlanta’s I-75/I-85 Connector.
This is the lowest spot of the march. Everything is uphill for the next half mile, this is Jan’s “price” for your participation in the parade (Jan was the former Director of the parade).
By the time you reach Charlie’s Revenge you will have increased your elevation above sea level by nearly 70 feet!
The Clench (elevation 1,021ft)
After crossing the bridge over the Connector you enter into the Clench, a deceptive stretch that conceals the true distance of your climb toward Bill’s Alley. A shiny John Portman skyscraper terminates your view to the south, and it’s only when you cross over Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd that you realize that the road twists to the right exposing another stretch before you reach the Hyatt Regency.
The Grundle (elevation 1,040ft)
This portion of the climb is more visually pleasing, thanks to the trees lining the roadway and the swoopy lines of the Truist Plaza building (formerly SunTrust Plaza, before a bank ate a bank). People along this stretch are especially friendly for some reason. I suspect they’re drunk.
This is a feature that happens inside of The Grundle. Before you reach Baker Street you’ll be captured by the cameras of Dragon Con TV’s broadcast of the parade, which include a fun fan-centric running commentary of the groups as they cross into view. Wave! Your friends with hangovers may be watching you from their hotel room beds (let’s be realistic: those friends are still asleep).
Bill’s Alley (elevation 1,055ft)
Once you crest the climb through The Clench and The Grundle, Peachtree Street makes a big turn to the left.
You will know that you have entered Bill’s Alley when you pass the Atlanta Hyatt Regency on your left. As our friend Foe reminds us, “It’s The Clench, The Grundle, THEN Bill’s Alley.”
This has traditionally been the most heraldic entry point for marchers, with people standing 20-deep along the sidewalk; many convention attendees watching and cheering from the balconies of their rooms – so be sure to LOOK UP along both sides to see everyone cheering for you!!
Be prepared to wave a LOT as you pass through the canyons of downtown. You are still climbing, but it’s a gentler gradient as you move south toward the intersection of Peachtree Street and Andrew Young International Boulevard.
Charlie’s Revenge (elevation 1,075ft)
If you make it to Charlie’s Revenge, you’re on the home stretch. (The exception proving this rule was the year when an X-wing fighter lost its rolling gear at the top of Charlie’s Revenge).
There is no grander feeling of success along the route than making that big lefthand sweep through Charlie’s Revenge, because it’s the first time in more than half a mile that you begin to go down a hill, and it’s a BIG downhill – about 3 stories!
Sometimes there is even a breeze.
Nobody can remember why this area has come to be known as “Charlie’s Revenge” at Con, but then most things at Con are hard to figure out. You just go with it because it just fits.
Charlie’s Revenge seems to be turning into Atlanta’s low-budget attempt to emulate New York’s legendary “Times Square” thanks to a growing number of digital billboards mounted to buildings framing the intersection.
Take a moment from staring up at the digital billboards to look down at a map of the world made from small hexagonal pavers that have been inlaid into the center of the intersection. I believe that this happened around the time of the Olympics, but that may not be correct.
On the northeast corner of Charlie’s Revenge there is a Hard Rock Café, on the southeast corner there is a Hooters restaurant. Up until last year there was a Wahlburgers on the northwest corner, but it closed earlier this year. Before that it was a Brazilian steakhouse, and before that it was a Planet Hollywood, and so on.
The southwest corner is just a corner of the Westin Peachtree Plaza.
Sister Sue (elevation 1,046ft)
At the bottom of Charlie’s Revenge you make another turn to the left, which puts you onto Peachtree Center Avenue Northeast, heading back in a northerly direction. This puts us onto Sister Sue, and we love her because this is a relatively flat stretch that lets you limp toward the finish line.
Save some energy for this stretch though, because this is your victory lap – try to give the people lining that portion of the route your good stuff, the stuff you had back before the beginning of the parade ;)
The Finish Line (elevation 1,028ft)
Your final course change will be a right-hand turn into the motor lobby of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.
At this point you have reached the end of the parade route, but don’t stop walking. Follow the line as the parade empties into the hotel.
You will be offered bottles of water and many congratulations.
You may want to fall into a heap on the floor, but please don’t stop to collapse or chit-chat just yet. Keep moving deeper into the hotel to make room for the people behind you who are just as tired.
Post-Parade Personal Hygiene
There are 26 Things You Should Never Touch at DragonCon. Please don’t be one of them. Go and find a place to take a shower after the parade, even if you have to bug a friend to use their hotel room. I cannot condone taking a bath in a hotel fountain, but I can endorse packing a washcloth, a bottle of Clubman Pinaud Eau De Cologne Lime Sec, some deodorant, and a change of clothes (including undergarments) and using them all to fix yourself up in a public restroom.
Every year is different, but you should not be surprised if you find yourself marching in high temperatures and high humidity. If you are unaccustomed to exerting yourself in these conditions, you should be on guard for to heat-related illness. Do not think twice about stepping out of the parade if you are physically unable to continue. Don’t be a hero, even if you’re dressed like one.
The Rest of Your Day
Once you enter the Marriott Marquis the parade is truly over, and you are free to return to your room to clean up. Be sure to continue to hydrate for the remainder of the weekend – you just completed a great workout. Be kind to your body!