Salutations, fellow beep-booping nerds. Hopefully, your holidays went as you hoped – and now that you’ve gone through the labors of hanging out with your family, you can prepare for the REAL reason for the season – MAGFEST!
With MAGFest almost upon us, it’s time for everyone to start gearing up and girding your loins – because let’s be serious, you haven’t started packing yet and neither have I. Now, if you’re like me, you’ve been spreading the good word about MAGFest to your friends, and hopefully you’ve been able to recruit some of them to become more members of the MAGFamily. But maybe, just maybe, if you’re like me, you’re running into people who’ve never been to anything like this before – no conventions, no music festivals, no weekend-long parties. And we pity these friends, for they lack wonderful life experiences – but they should not despair, for they have YOU to introduce them to the wonderful world that is a four-day long party filled with music, videogames, and various enebriative consumables! But even the most seasoned veterans forget things to tell their rookie friends to watch out or prepare for, and so, as my Giftmas present to you, I’ve crafted a survival guide of all the things I’ve learned over the years, both for general conventions, as well as MAGFest – for as any veteran will tell you, MAGFest is not just a convention, and you shouldn’t treat it like one. But first, a disclaimer:
The views expressed within are those of myself, Adam Seats, and mine alone. This blog post is in no way officially affiliated with MAGFest, nor should you expect that the views expressed within necessarily reflect those of people otherwise affiliated with The ChipWIN Blog. And stuff.
That said, I’m gonna break this dude down into four main chunks – Staying Healthy, Lodging and Transportation, Food and Drink, and MAGFest Particulars. As a final note, I’m gonna do a tl;dr Cost Analysis, just to be sure that you’re preparing for all of your expenses and making smart decisions. Woe betide the person who plans out their budget, only to fail to realize they would need to pay for parking, or food.
First and foremost, get this into your heads: Keeping healthy at any sort of long gathering like this is crucial. It’s easy to fall into a trap to get sick – you’ve got a bunch of people around each other for four days straight coming from everywhere imaginable, not eating properly, drinking heavily, not staying hydrated, maybe not keeping up on their personal hygiene, and WHAM you’re bedridden for days with the MAGFlu.
But there are people who’ve learned to beat it. DJ Cutman has a little treasure chest of healthiness he takes with him everywhere, and I asked him what was contained within, and what his secrets on beating the Con Crud were. His advice was as follows:
“I buy green vegetables and keep them in my room fridge – a little bit of broccoli and baby spinach can go a long way when you’re eating Dominos pizza for the third day in a row. I also bring hand sanitizer (magic shield) and Emergen-C/Airborn (Ether/Elixir) because fending off germs is a big deal.”
If something SHOULD happen, and you should find yourself deathly ill while at MAGFest, there’s a CVS within easy walking distance. I don’t know if they’ve got Emergen-C or Airborn, but there’s a pretty high chance they’ll have something to cure what ails you.
LODGING AND TRANSPORTATION
As I am writing this with such a short period of time before MAGFest, many of you have already settled your housing situation. Some of you have not, however, and some of you have decided to only come for one day. This section is for you. Now, I’m not gonna bore you with travel agent crap – anyone with an internet connection can look up what hotels are in the area. To that end, you should know that if you have a chance to book at the Gaylord, AKA MAGFest headquarters, you should do so. It is, however, quite pricey, but thankfully you have two hotels within easy walking distance. (Also, while I cannot speak for what any hotel’s prices may be, as they are always changing, remember that while booking the Gaylord with the MAGFest discount does get you some money off and the convenience of being but an elevator away from MAGFest, staying at the other hotels will almost certainly save you money, and might let you skip some of the more serious cost-cutting measures found within this guide.)
The problem with having a gathering at a hotel, however, is that hotel parking fills up almost instantly, which means that if you’re commuting, or if you have more than one car to your room, you’re looking at parking in the only deck in town, which can be pricey. Be sure to plan for that in your travel expenses.
To cut down on expenses, however, you need to know how to be smart. Look for roommates…many roommates. And don’t feel like you have to have them all lined up before you book your room. Numbers change. Yes, the hotel will charge you depending on how many people are in your room, but really, how does anyone know if someone’s just coming by to visit or if they’re actually staying in the room? And if someone coming by to visit should happen to drunkenly pass out on a bed, well, certainly no one planned on that, right?
Air mattresses are a good idea if you have six or fewer people who just so happen to be in your room – any more and it takes up way too much room. And speaking of room in your room, remember that you drove to MAGFest – all your luggage fit in the car on the way up, and it’ll still fit while you’re there. If there are things you can leave in the car until you need them, such as cosplay, or extra food (we’ll get to that soon), you’ll only be taking up room you could be using for sleeping room if you keep it all in the room.
You should try to bring your own towels too – I’ve found that while hotels do in fact have industrial washing and drying machines, the load a massive gathering such as MAGFest can generate may find the hotel short on towels. Extra soap and shampoo are also good – and BE SURE THAT YOU USE THEM. Let me repeat that: SHOWER ONCE A DAY, MINIMUM. No one wants to be around someone smelling funk-ass nasty because they got crazy at a concert the night before and decided to marinate in their own juices. This goes doubly true if you’re sharing beds – no one wants to wake up crusted in someone else’s grime. Personal hygiene, people.
As a followup to the previous note: If you should request the services of the hotel, be it to get more blankets, towels, or what have you, please remember to be kind. We are taxing them to their limits, and they will try to help us as best they can. They might forget things – and that sucks, but remember to be polite but firm in reminding them, so that things get done. Getting bitchy with the staff is a perfect way to make future dealings with them in future years suck. Likewise, BE SURE TO KEEP YOUR ROOMS AS NEAT AS POSSIBLE. At the very least when you’re leaving. The more work you leave for housekeeping, the more they’ll hate us. Plus, they might charge you for damages, and ain’t nobody got time for that. Damages could be for anything as small as makeup rings on the sink or in the tub (lookin’ at you, Homestuck kids), excessive trash, up to and including the big stuff like breaking mirrors or windows. Don’t do that.
FOOD AND DRINK
Staying happy and healthy in National Harbor is hard to do on a budget. There are very few cheap restaurants, and the few that are there often sell out of food by the second or third day, which might leave you at the whims of delivery drivers a town away in Oxon Hill. If you can, you should stop by a Costco or Sam’s Club and stock up on bottled water, Ramen, and granola bars. That’s not necessarily the most healthy way to do it, but reasonably speaking, that’ll help you out so you won’t have to rely on restaurants except for maybe once a day. You really should try to eat one good meal a day, you know.
Cheap restaurants near the Gaylord are Baja Fresh (fake Mexican food), Potbelly’s (subs and soup), Elevation Burger, and…well, that’s about it. There IS a McDonalds, which is on the edge of town and thus not within easy walking distance, especially when it’s below freezing, at night, and you’re drunk, but it’s good to take note of. Also, there’s that CVS I mentioned earlier – they have lots of pre-made wraps and sandwiches, as well as sodas, water, wine, and so on. Aside from those options, everything else you’re looking at is going to be about $20 for a normal human sized portion of food. There IS a great deal of variety in the area – but only if your wallet is prepared to take the hit.
There are many delivery restaurants based one town over, in Oxon Hill, which will deliver to MAGFest. I caution you against this unless you are in the most dire need, as they have many problems. For one, many of the places will wait until they have received several orders before setting out, which means that if yours was first, yours may be cold when it arrives – and at the Gaylord, there are no microwaves. Also, just in general, this means that you will likely be waiting for as long as an hour to receive your food – which can feel like an eternity if you’re ordering when you’re hungry. For two, many places will not let you split your order over the phone, meaning that if you do a large order with your friends, you’d better make sure that everyone has cash to pay you back, which can be difficult since the ATMs often run out.
As to drinking – let’s not mince words, many people who come to MAGFest are 21 or older, and many of them enjoy drinking 20 out of the 24 hours in a day. As National Harbor is in Maryland, there are numerous things available to you that are often banned in other places, like Everclear! Remember to stock up before you get to the hotel, because there’s nowhere to buy alcohol nearby except the hotel, and…well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not spending 12 dollars for a rum and Coke, thank you very much. (Hoodie swears to me that there is a grocery/deli in the area, but I’ve never found it. Maybe you should go hunting for it! Make it part of your MAGQuest. It’ll make your life easier, I’m sure.) However, I shouldn’t have to remind you, but if you’re bringing booze, remember to be responsible with it, stay hydrated (especially if you’re pregaming the concerts), and don’t accept drinks from people you don’t trust. Personally, I bring my own liquor selection (usually Kraken, Fireball, Jägermesiter and Malibu) and my own metal thermos that I keep my mixed drinks in – that way, nothing’s going in that I don’t know about, and if I get too crazy, I can’t drop the container and have it spill everywhere.
There’s not enough space on the internet to go over everything that you can do at MAGFest. There’s just so mu- oh, wait, no, there totally is such a place. It’s right here. Look at it, burn it into your brain. Seriously. There are lots of things to do, and lots of different tracks – you can just do the music track, you can go see famous YouTubers, you can mix and match, but if you don’t plan very, very carefully, you’re gonna be out of luck. If you’re a cool kid and have a smarty-pants phone, you can also download the schedule via the Guidebook app, which is awesome and lets you set alarms so you don’t miss things.
The main point is, you really need to sit down with the schedule, and I mean really get intimate with it – buy it a nice dinner, take it home to meet your parents, and then sit down and study it in all of its bare glory and figure out exactly what you want to do. Generally, I have a plan for what I want to do, and that plan changes about fifty times throughout the weekend. The major thing is to have SOME kind of plan, because if you go in there aimlessly wandering, you’re just gonna drift from thing to thing – which isn’t a horrible way to do it, mind you, and you’ll still have a lot of fun unless you’re some sort of anti-fun monster, but you will miss out on some of the more crazy things just by virtue of not knowing where they are, or getting to them after they’ve filled up.
Thing is though, you don’t really HAVE to plan on doing anything. There are enough games, either of the arcade, console or board varieties, that you could literally just spend a weekend trying everything and still miss out on half of the games they have. As I mentioned earlier, room parties are a big thing – no one will begrudge you missing a concert or a panel because you were having a good time with friends, because that’s literally the reason why we’re all getting together. Just figure out what suits you!
One final thing particular to MAGFest that might save you some money is how to properly approach the Dealers Room. The Dealers Room, located right near the videogame areas, is open 24 hours, though certain booths may not be. You’ll find all sorts of things, from modded Game Boys to collectible videogames to handmande crafts (I once bought a girlfriend of mine a Katamari which was themed like a Companion Cube – you can get ANYTHING there). Remember that everyone there is trying to turn a profit, so you should be extra wary with the collectible game vendors – always be sure to check prices online before you buy to be sure you’re not getting swindled. I’m not saying that people who vend at MAGFest are out to get you, because they REALLY aren’t, they’re good people, but they also make good money on impulse buys. If you see a super rare import game, just hop on Amazon and eBay to make sure there isn’t a vast price discrepancy – or if there is, it’s in your favor! Also, if you’re buying import games, make sure they’ll work on your system -lots of systems are region-locked. Most vendors will have information about what is and isn’t region-locked, though. Also, and this is truly just personal preference, but I’m all about haggling with game collectors if you know your stuff – but maybe don’t haggle so much with the people selling their own arts and crafts. Those people put a lot of time into making a quality handmade product, and deserve to be compensated – even the people who just do a quick two minute sketch in your sketchbook.
FINAL COST BREAKDOWN
When planning your budget, remember to account for the following:
-Travel expenses, including to/from MAGFest as well as if you need to get things from nearby towns, and the parking costs associated with it.
-Food, be it pre-bought food you bring with you, or food you buy in National Harbor. Remember that the latter means you’re going to be blazing through green(backs) faster than a pothead at Woodstock, and you probably want to avoid it unless you’re just made of money (in which case, hi, have you met me? We should talk.)
-Hotel expenses, which in addition to the actual quoted room cost may also include parking fees, resort fees (if you’re at the Gaylord), and tax
-Your ticket to MAGFest – you probably already have it, but if you haven’t paid, you shouldn’t forget!
-MONEY FOR THE GODDAMN DEALERS ROOM. Unless you are a champion of self control, you will spend more than you think you will, so be sure to watch yourself carefully here.
-An extra fifty bucks – because you never know what’ll happen. Keep it in your sock, if you have to.
THE-uh TH-THE-uh TH-THAT’S ALL, FOLKS. I, as well as many of the other Chiptunes = WIN bloggers will see you at MAGFest – feel free to come say hi! We don’t bite. (Except Kuma, but he’ll stop if you ask nicely.)