(griffin's 2013 BotCon adventure)


Mon 24/6
10.00 - check out & toyhunt nearby stores (the only time I have before BotCon to do some retail shopping)
13.00 - back to hotel to pick up bags & repack toys (and change clothes if needed - it's middle of summer there)
- FLIGHT - Orlando to Dallas Texas
14.55 - FL depart
16.45 - DFW arrive
- Flight - Dallas to San Diego
18.50 - DFW depart
19.45 - SD arrival
(check-in to hotel by about 20.30)
(see if anything is still open nearby)
- eat & sleep

I set the alarm on my phone to 8am, to give me a decent night's sleep after four days of very little.  I would have set it to be closer to checkout, but I figured I needed at least a couple hours to pack, clean, dress and check out... so that I could have 2-3 hours toyhunting.

However, 6.00am Florida time (which is about 9pm Monday, back in Brisbane)... an alarm clock goes off.

Not my alarm... but it woke me up, as I knew I couldn't sleep through my alarm.
After a few seconds I realised that it wasn't the sound my alarm makes, and started looking around for the source... while half asleep.
It was the bed-side clock, and who ever was in the room before me, had left the alarm on so that it would go off every day at 6am.  Probably not intentional, but it had me thinking that it would certainly be a way for someone to be evil, by setting an alarm for the middle of the night when you check out.  The next night it would either annoy the person staying in the room, or the people in the next room if that room wasn't occupied the next night. (it would just keep beeping for hours through the wall)

Anyway, so I eventually figure out how to turn off the alarm in the dark, and after checking that my alarm was still set to go off in two hours, I went back to sleep.  If I wasn't so tire, I wouldn't have been able to go back to sleep after that.

When my alarm went off, I proceeded to pack as much stuff as I could into my bag and backpack, and found that I needed a box to take with me on the plane, as all the new purchases weren't fitting... and I had to also allow for any toy purchases today. (if I got lucky)

So I put all the rest of the stuff in a couple of the tough Universal Studios bags, had another shower and got dressed.  With the TV on to distract me a bit, I only just managed to get downstairs and check out on 10am.
I left my bags with the bellhop, and gave him $20 up front to make sure he took extra care with them.
It was only $20, but you get treated like royalty.... As it meant that he not only took special care of the bags by having them stored in a separate locked room, but when I got back he was keen to call a taxi straight away, wanted to help me pack my extra stuff into the box I obtained, and gave me a couple of chilled bottles of water to take with me.

On the map below, are the four nearby toy sources to the Hotel.  Since I had the foresight to check out the Walmart the night before on the way back to the Hotel, I could now check out the remaining three on foot.  The original plan was to have a taxi take me to each and just wait for me out the front... but now that I didn't need to go to the Walmart, these three were close enough to not need to do that.
I just had to hope that it wasn't going to get too hot, as it was the middle of summer, and I was in tropical Florida.

I planned to do Target, Kmart and then ToysRUs, so started off by going through the Mall/Shopping Centre that was attached to the Hotel, so that I could stay in airconditioning as long as possible.
I also gave myself about 30 minutes to get to each one and check it out.

10.30 - I was at the Target.  Found the two Electronic Rescue Bots figures and a MMPR DVD for $5, plus bought some travel sized Listerine and deodorant (aerosol - used half straight away, as it was really hot).
11.00 - At the Kmart. No toys I wanted. Bought two packs of the white fudge Flipz pretzels.... to eat while on the run, and melting in the heat.
11.30 - Now at the TRU. Found a Rescue Bots Chase figurine (the most exciting purchase pre-BotCon, as it is limited and hard to find), and a Beast Hunters Voyager Ultra Magnus.
12.00 - Back inside the Mall, and now looking for somewhere to get a box to pack my extra stuff into.

The toys I bought...

I started by looking in the Food Court to see if there was anyting interesting to sample. There weren't any big-name chains there that I was interested in, and didn't have the time to sit down to eat something significant, so didn't feel like anything.

And here I was thinking that the movie Mallcop was just poking fun at a security guard being lazy by using a segway... I couldn't stop laughing to myself each time this guy scooted past.

An oversized Knock-off of TF2 Scout-class Nightbeat/Deadend... it was bigger than a Leader-class toy. This was in the independant toystore in the Florida Mall.  It had a lot of really old stock in there, but still over-priced, and nothing I wanted.

Mmmmm... Pretzels.
I can't help myself.  Each time I see a vendor, I have to stop and buy "one".

Okay... not just one.
Actually, that particular vender inside the mall (a big chain called "Antie Annes") was selling Home-made Pretzel Mix boxes.  When I was trying to make my own pretzels last year at home, I came across so many different recipes, because of the 3 stage cooking process with these (which is why they are so expensive).  I thought to myself, this would be an excellent way to have at least one lot of authentic pretzels when I get back home, AND, I'd have the official recipe to keep. I'd just have to buy the ingredients, which I now know from the box of ingredients (it has everything in it except butter).
It was about $10, and should make about half a dozen big ones... which is a decent price.
(I only just remembered - I forgot about it when declaring my stuff to Customs, just like I forgot about the Scorpion lollipop, as it was an animal that should have been declared... I mentioned the medications and chocolate, but forgot about this, which has flour and yeast, so could have been prohibited)

An awesome store - M&Ms.  I've only seen two, and they are both in America (New York, and this one in Orlando).  You can buy merchandise, and just about every colour M&M you can think of (that rainbow wall at the back... which is actually only the middle of the store, it is so big).

I asked in the store if they had any empty boxes that hadn't been thrown out yet.  I was told that they didn't have any at that time, but suggested that I check at the Apple store nearby.
Now, the Apple store was there three years ago, but since then, a Windows store had opened up almost right next to it.  It kinda makes sense that Windows would try to copy the Apple store concept, by having their own exclusive outlets as well.... but having it almost right next to it seemed a bit pathetic for being obviously copying Apple. (it should be noted, that at San Diego, there was an Apple store at the shopping centre near the Hotel, and guess what was two stores away from it... yep, a Windows store)
So here we had the Apple store, another store, the Windows store, an empty store, and the M&Ms store.
I was in such a rush to get a box and get back to the hotel that I went into the nearest one by mistake (forgetting that there was now a Window store between the Apple and M&Ms store... well, they tried to look like an Apple store on the inside as well). I ask one of the people if they have any empty boxes handy, so that I can use it for luggage when I fly out later that day.
Now here's the funny/embarrasing bit - I mentioned that the person in the M&Ms store recommended that I ask at the Apple store... thinking that I was IN the Apple store. When the guy went out the back for a minute, I looked around the store... and saw an Xbox set up.  I actually thought to myself for a second, why would Apple try to compete by selling a Window's product... before then having a good look around the store to realise that I was NOT in the Apple store.
Well, at least I worded it to sound like I could have already checked there and they didn't have one, or I chose not to go in there.
Fortunately he came back with a couple boxes, and I picked the bigger one, just to be sure everything would be covered (including the new toys, which would have to stay in their packaging until I get to San Diego).

Back at the hotel, by about 12.30, I had about half an hour to pack and tape up the box, and also change my t-shirt (as the one I was wearing all morning in the hot sun was now wet and would probably be a bit stinky to anyone stuck next to me in the two flights to San Diego.

I got my luggage from the bellhop, and as I noted above, he was keen to help... to the point of organising a taxi straight away. Which meant I had to be quick.  Off to one side of the hotel lobby, I threw stuff into the box, and changed my t-shirt (putting it in a plastic bag to keep it from touching anything else).
He gave me a couple bottles of chilled water as he saw that I was hot, and it was a hot day... so I stuck them in one of my bags, as I still had about 2 litres of soft-drink left from the two bottles I bought the night before.

Those two Rescue Bots Electronic figures didn't have an off switch... and I didn't have the time or resources to remove the batteries, which meant the kept making noises inside the box as I packed other stuff on top of them.  It was sure to get the attention of the luggage handlers, who would be on the look out for anything suspicious.  Also in the box, I put the Allspark Cube, which I didn't want to carry onto the plane, as it probably would have been confiscated at the security scanning point... for being a metal object that could have anything inside.

When I had taped up the box and wrote my details on it with my marker pen, put the roll of tape and pen into my other bag and was ready to go.  Now, to use up the rest of the deodorent, as aerosols aren't permitted in your luggage....

....it wasn't anywhere to be found.  I had it out separate to start with, but it must have ended up being caught up in the other stuff I bought, and packed into the box or the bag.
I had a quick look around the bag to see if I could find it, but couldn't.
If it was in the box, I didn't have the time to re-open it and retape it... the bellhop kept hovering to take my luggage into the waiting taxi.

I just hoped that this didn't cause any problems with my luggage now, as there was now three different things in the box that was likely to attract the attention of security - strange sounds from the Rescue Bots toys, a solid metal void on an x-ray scan from the Cube, and a pressurised aerosol can...  Man, if they don't just seize and detain the entire box, I'm likely to get into some sort of trouble over this.

Into the taxi, I tell him that I need to go to the airport.
We started talking about the weather, and where I was from (as I mentioned that it was winter back home), and he aske me if I had been there a couple years ago.  I was like, really?  This guy was not only the same taxi driver I had used in 2010 to go from the Hotel to Disneyworld, but that he remembered me from 3 years ago.  I couldn't believe it.  Even if he was a prefered taxi for the Hotel, it was still amazing odds to not only get him again right at this time, but to have him remember me from 3 years worth of customers.
I told him about how I was back for another toy convention, which must have been the unusual thing that he remembered, because that last time, we stopped at the nearby TRU store on the way, which had him asking about why I was in Florida (in 2010).
The familiarity of the Hotel and now this taxi driver, really made this stop-over worth it, as I almost felt "at home".

We got to the airport by about 1pm, giving me about an hour extra, in case there were any problems with my box.

I went to the self-checkin and started by entering my flight reference number, and intended to check in for both flights.  The first one was straight-forward, but all the seats had been pre-allocated, so since it was a full flight I couldn't change to an aisle seat... but that was okay. As long as most of the 2 litres of soft drink was out of my system before I got onto the plane, I shouldn't need to get up.  It was only about 2 & 1/2 hours flight.
The second flight was a little interesting though as it came up on the screen, an option to upgrade to First Class (for $135).  I've never had that option before, or ever asked... so thought that it might be something different, as it would give me an idea of what First Class is like in America. (I've flown the equivalent in Australia a couple times)
I also remembered that First Class passengers get 2 free items of luggage, compared to Economy passengers having to pay a fee for each item.  So even though only one of my two flights was in First Class, I wasn't going to be charged the fee that is charged for the entire trip. This meant that I would already be saving $75 ($25 for the first item, $50 for the second) of that $135. PLUS, you get a classy meal (probably worth about $20), and access to the First Class lounge (which had a $50 guest-access fee, with possibly some food or drink items for free too... plus free internet).
Throw in the bigger seating and first on and first off the plane... the benefits were worth more than the upgrade fee.  I was all for it.
(This compares to a minimum $400 price difference between Economy and Business on a similar 2.5 hour flight flight in Australia - so definitely worth it)

The machine printed out my boarding passes, and told me to drop off my luggage at the counter.  The luggage was labelled with "Priority" labels for being "first class" luggage, and I headed off to the "outer shopping area" (the stores that are past the check-in area, but before the security screening area).  This was good, as I could then be able to finish off my soft-drink while amusing myself in the stores, as it would have been seized if I tried to take it through security with me. (it's happened before, in 2007... when they started restricting the amount of fluids you could take with you on the plane)

Merchandise stores at the airport - NASA, Seaworld, Universal Studios, Disneyworld.
All three are places you need to visit when in Orlando... which is one of a handful of American locations that you need at least a week to see and do much of what is on offer.
Each have these stores at the airport, as a way of enticing new arrivals to their actual venue, while also giving departing passengers one last chance to grab some souvenirs of where they've recently been, or missed while they were in Orlando.

I picked up this map of Disneyworld, just to show how big it has now become (like I said, you need at least a week in Orlando, with at least 5 days spent here hopping between the different parts of Disneyworld).
It looks like there are a couple new additions since I was there in 2010... but just look at how many hotels they have on the property to choose from.

I had a look through the Universal store, to see if there was anything Transformers related that I missed and wanted. There wasn't... so I went over to the NASA store next. The first thing I saw at the front was Freeze-Dried Icecream - which I just love. (if you ever find some somewhere, you must try it... it is the most unique thing)

Below are a couple that I bought at the NASA store, and the one I bought at Universal Studios... showing that they are like a chalky block, that is pre-broken to make it easier to eat.
On the right is the Pretzel kit I bought earlier that day at the Florida Mall.  It has all the ingredients inside, except butter... which you don't really need, as it is just for sticking the salt or cinnamon-sugar more easily to it.

It was about 1.45 when I finally finished the bottle of Dr Pepper... which gave me about 20 minutes to go through security, catch the monorail to the terminal, and check out the Burger King. (and hopefully go to the toilet at least a couple times too)

The Burger King, like three before it, had the Memphis Pork burger advertised... so I was expecting that it was again, just a tease, and wouldn't be available.
I asked anyway... and behold, they were serving it!
After 9 months of wondering, and 3 BK stores promoting it but not selling it, I finally had one in my hands... and it was quite tasty.  Very messy (below right -a sloppy mess of shreaded pork in a sweet sauce, with melted cheese), but tasty. The one on the left was a Carolina Whopper.

I went to the gate, and waited for the boarding to commence at 2.25...

Went to the toilet twice in about 10 minutes... so was a bit worried that I had too much to drink, too soon to departure. Hopefully the two burgers help absorb some of the fluid in the system.

Hopped on the plane and we took off at 2.45.
They offered a free drink on the flight... I declined.

We arrived at Dallas, Texas, at about 4.30pm... which was almost 3 hours flying (an hour timezone difference).

Rushing off the plane, I found the nearest toilet.

I then looked for the departure schedule and a map of the airport, to locate the departure gate for the second flight, as well as the First Class lounge, which was called the Admirals Club.
The gate was in an adjoining terminal, so would be a bit of a walk... but surprisingly, the Lounge was actually next to the gate I needed, so I could stay in there until boarding starts if I wanted.

On the long walk to the Lounge I came across a Wendys... my other favourite burger chain in America. (but a lot harder to find than Burger King)

I had a look, and saw something that immediately caught my eye...

All bow down to the mighty, legendary BACONATOR....

Not suitable for those with a heart condition...

It started dripping clear oil as I ate it, so I started holding it with a serviette to prevent it dripping on me.  I kid you not, I went through three serviettes, that were soaked in oil when I was finished.
When I finished, I could feel my blood pressure had risen, and my heart pumping a lot harder.

I walked onto the First Class Lounge and asked at the reception desk if I was elligible to access it (I wasn't too sure).
They guy at the desk said he didn't think so, and that I would need to buy a guest pass, but then asked to check my boarding pass.  He scanned it, and it told him that I had access... plus, was entitled to a voucher for a free drink from the bar.

It was 5.20 by now, and I only had an hour left before boarding.
Inside I had a walk around (and another toilet stop... that darn Dr Pepper was still going through me), and then found the bar.  I tried a Canadian beer, but didn't like it.  At least it was free.
I then got a coffee and some choc-coated pretzel snacks (the only free stuff - other food was for a price), and hopped onto the net to check out the messageboard.

At 6.20, I left the Lounge and went straight over to the Departure Gate, which was already half-boarded.  I lined up and boarded... to my First Class seat.
Most of the other seats were already filled, and each person was already served a pre-flight drink.  I wasn't offered one, so I thought that I had arrived too late for one, so didn't say anything.  But then two more people arrived and sat in First Class seats, and the steward asked them if they wanted a pre-flight drink.
What, am I invisible, or not dressed up enough to be noticed?

Before we took off at 10 to 7, the steward was asking each person in First Class, which meal they wanted, and what drink they wanted with it.  So I told him that I was still waiting for the first drink...

I know it is insignificant, and would seem petty to make a fuss over it, but this is the one time I'm likely to ever be in First Class in America... I wanted to have all the frills.

Then I started feeling bad about snapping at the steward for ignoring me... so I was extra polite after that with anything he asked, or served.

The First Class meal.   I chose the chicken, which came with a salad and cheesecake.

The flight was only two hours, so after the meal was served, eaten and collected, there wasn't much extra time to fill... but I took out my computer and did a bit more work on setting up this BotCon report (creating pages in preparation for the different events).

We landed iin San Diego at 7.45pm (a one hour time difference from Dallas), and I collected my luggage.  At this time I noticed that my box had been retaped with Airport security tape... which had me worried that something might have been confiscated.  As long as it wasn't the Cube, as that was a hefty expense, and I only had it for 24 hours.

San Diego in relation to Los Angeles

Airport, Seaworld, Zoo, Hotel.

Town and Country Resort and Convention Center
500 Hotel Circle North
San Diego, CA 92108
Check-in time is ???
Check-out - 11am

135 p/night plus tax

Important toy and food locations near the hotel.

Grabbing a taxi, I told the driver that I needed to go to the Town & Country hotel, but we'd be making three stops on the way - ToysRUs, Target and Kmart.  I showed him the map above, and he told me that the Kmart had closed, so we just went to the TRU and Target. And then the Hotel.
The "nearby" Target and other stores I have on my map, are not within walking distance, as I had originally planned to walk to them if I had the time. The taxi took almost 10 minutes to get to the hotel from the Target.

No toys at either location for me to buy, but I did buy some food items and soft-drink from the Target.

My Walmart map (A, B, C, E only), which were some distance away from the hotel (green spot), so didn't end up going to any.  The Orange spot is a TRU.

Closer map of the Hotel.

The satellite view.

Closer salellite view of the hotel, showing the nearby bus/train station, and the "Fashion Valley Mall" - mostly just clothing stores, so no grocery or toy options.  There was a food court though, with several suitable fast food outlets... including pretzels and pizza.

From the map, I was expecting that the check-in lobby was at the main tower block, as most rooms are located there and would have the most foot-traffic.

But no...
Down the bottom where the "A" is, is the check-in building, suggesting that their main business (promotion) is the resort area.
So when the taxi dropped me off (about 8.45pm), I was thinking that there must have been a main check-in lobby on the other side of the property, as this one seemed small, and was no where near the main tower.
I asked at the desk, and was told that this was THE check-in location, so when I was dreading the long walk with my three items of luggage (I already had an extra box of toys & merchandise), I was directed to a golf-cart by the bell-hop.
We hop on and drive for about 2 minutes through the maze of villas... so just imagine having about 500+ adult, easily-critical collectors checking in over the next two days, and checking out sunday night/monday morning.... there are going to be a lot of people waiting ages to use the golf-carts (I could only see three), or walking the distance with all their luggage.

Knowing how easily adult TFs collectors at Botcon complain about anything minor, I think this is going to be a major issue this year, because it annoyed me to have to wait and then spend money to get to my room. And even if I didn't have extra luggage, I wouldn't have been happy to spend 5-10 minutes walking to my room.
There is going to be mayhem on Sunday and Monday when the exodus occurs, with hundreds of tired grumpy people loaded with luggage.... who will be forced to hand-carry their luggage a long way to the front desk, or have to pay to be driven there.

Promo images of the hotel from their website.

Map of the Hotel.
Locations to note...
Yellow - Grand Exhibit Hall (Dealer Room), San Diego Room (Panel room), Royal Palm Ballroom (Custom Class), Atlas Foyer (meeting point for tours), Tiki Pavilion (Golden Ticket dinner).
Red - Royal Palm Tower (where my room was), Lobby (right at the bottom).
Other - Rose Garden (Friday night Movie), bridge to Shopping centre & train/bus station.

The dotted lines are the best for wheelchair access, and was an indication of how much of a maze this place was.

The big tower block, from the direction of the shopping centre.

View from my room (the next day when it was light), making the premises looking very tropical...

And to the left of my room.

The room itself wasn't too bad.  It wasn't new, but wasn't run-down either.  The airconditioning worked well, and they had tea-coffee. No fridge though, and there was a fee on the water (only $1, compared to about $5 at other hotels).

The view from my room at night. (a bit blurry)

An out the other side, looking towards the transit station.  Note the bottom left, a covered drop-off zone that makes it look lik this towere block may have once been a stand-alone hotel, but is now just part of the Resort on the other side.

Looking over to the right, where the shopping centre was located.

Looking at the tower block from the Convention Center.

One of the two main entrances to the convention center.

The hotel block and the Convention Center to the right.

I was in my room by 9pm, so unpacked my clothes, repacked things I didn't need, worked on the computer for a bit, ate some of the snacks, and watched some TV until about midnight.

The Haul so far. This was all the pre-Con toys I ended up buying, which was very disappointing this year.


Go to next day - Tuesday 25th June

Or - Return to main index page

***All pictures in this convention report are mine unless noted or watermarked. Any that are borrowed, have the source credited/noted.  If you want to use/borrow any of my photos, all I ask is for you to please credit the source as well. I try to take as many of my own photos as possible, and usually only resort to using others if I failed to get something, or my photo wasn't clear enough.

OZFORMERS - The Australian (and Asia) Transformers Fansite for News and Interaction (started way back in 1996 - try to find a Transfan community that's older)
BotCon website - The official Collector Club and Convention website
To contact me --> griffin @ otca.com.au