Convention Breakdown: Anime Central
Anime Central is the Midwest’s largest anime convention, held annually in mid-May in Rosemont, Illinois. With over 30,000 people and tons of programming, you’re guaranteed to meet new people and have fun!
Location: Hyatt Regency O’Hare and Donald E Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, IL. The hotel is home to convention operations, Main Programming (bigger events like Masquerade, dances, and big guest panels), Tabletop Gaming, and Video Programming. The convention center has Registration, Exhibit Hall, Artist’s Alley, Video Gaming, and Panel Programming.
Badges: Anime Central begins online pre-registration in the fall (usually around September) for full weekend badges. They do offer a mailing option for $2 more – this gets you a fancier badge (the mailed badge is hard plastic and looks spiffy; the non-mailed badge is paper in a holder) plus your badge is mailed to your home the month before the con so you skip the line. However, even if you choose to pick your badge up at con, the wait times are really not bad – once entering the registration hall, expect to wait no more than 45 minutes to get your badge (often much less). Acen has registration tiers, with the price starting out the lowest when registration opens, then going up in price a few times before reaching the at con price, so it does pay to register early. However, be sure you can go, because badges are non-refundable and non-transferable. This means if you can’t go, you cannot sell your badge to another person, give it to another person, or get a refund!
Hotels: While the Hyatt Regency O’Hare is the main, host hotel, there are plenty of other hotels nearby (and farther away) that attendees stay at. With over 30,000 people attending, most of Rosemont’s hotel space is taken up during the con! Keep an eye on the convention’s Facebook page for announcements of room blocks, not only will these be at the best price for those hotels, but booking in the room block also helps support the con.
After the Hyatt, the next closest hotels to the convention space are the Hilton Rosemont, Embassy Suites, Doubletree, and Crowne Plaza, all of which are directly across the street from the convention center. The Aloft and Lowe’s are a little farther but still within a block. After that, the next closest hotels are the Westin O’Hare and Chicago Marriott Suites O’Hare to the north. Also to the north are Hampton Inn & Suites, Hyatt Rosemont (this is a different hotel to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare, while it’s not far it is definitely not right next to the convention center!), Courtyard by Marriott Chicago O’Hare, and Hilton Garden Inn Chicago O’Hare. To the south, there is a Motel 6, while to the west there is the new The Rose Hotel Chicago O’Hare. These are all somewhat within walking distance, though much more of a hike (especially The Rose, Motel 6, Courtyard, and Hilton Garden Inn).
Moving farther out, reasonably close but out of walking distance (meaning driving to the convention center or taking taxis/rideshare), there are a cluster of hotels at Higgins & Mannheim, including Sheraton Suites Chicago O’Hare, Holiday Inn and Suites O’Hare, Best Western at O’Hare, Edward Hotel, and Hyatt Place Chicago O’Hare Airport. A little north of there is the Residence Inn by Marriott Chicago O’Hare and Wyndham Chicago O’Hare. Just off of River Road on Touhy (well north of the convention center) is the Comfort Inn O’Hare. On Higgins, east of River Road, there is the Chicago Marriott O’Hare and Springhill Suites by Marriott Chicago O’Hare. Any other hotels will be much farther out (I have heard of people staying in hotels in Schaumburg, which is about a 20 min drive from Rosemont).
Transportation: Rosemont is fairly easy to get to via car, bus, train, or plane. Located next to O’Hare Airport (airport code ORD), most of the hotels in town have free shuttle service to & from the airport to make things easy. Be aware that Midway Airport (code MDW) is much farther away, around a 30-40 min drive (and thus a pricey taxi or rideshare trip). The cheaper (but more time-consuming) option to get to Rosemont from Midway is to take the Orange Line and transfer to the Blue Line at Clark/Lake. The CTA blue line has a stop in Rosemont, which is about a two block walk from the Hyatt. There is also a free Rosemont shuttle that stops at the Blue Line and will make a stop in front of the convention center (reducing the walk for those staying in the Hyatt, Hilton, Embassy Suites, Doubletree, and Crowne.)
For those driving in, be sure to check with your hotel about parking costs and policies. Some of the hotels may restrict your group to one car per room due to space concerns. Many of the hotels in Rosemont charge a lot for parking for overnight guests. If commuting to the convention, the best bet for parking is the convention center garage, located behind the Embassy & Doubletree (the entrance is down the small road between these two hotels) – this is around $13-15 per day with no in-and-out privileges. There is also a smaller parking garage behind the convention center (entrance is down Bryn Mawr Avenue across from the entrance to the Hyatt lot). The CTA Blue Line station has a parking lot, but it is a farther walk and you will have to return to pay for more time (as far as I’m aware you can only pay for 24 hours at a time).
Food: During Anime Central, there are often food trucks parked at the back entrance of the hotel (not guaranteed but the trucks have been there for a couple of years now and likely will return as they do good business!) The hotel itself will set up a grab-and-go area with a variety of reasonably priced quick meals (expect to pay around $10-15 total with a drink from what I’ve seen). The Expoteria in the convention center is decently priced for convention center food, depending what you get it is possible to get a meal with drink for under $20 and the food is not bad. Beyond that, see my Rosemont Dining Guide for the various food options in the area.
Programming: The hardest part of Acen is deciding what to do – there’s almost too many choices! Be sure to download Guidebook, the official app, which is kept up-to-date with any programming changes. The program book is pretty good, and usually not too badly out of date, but changes inevitably come up close to con. Plus, the app allows you to search, which is something the paper book still can’t quite do. You can also build your own schedule in the app, complete with reminder alerts, which is a big help at times.
At-con help: During the convention, if you are confused on where to go, there are two Customer Service desks available. One is in the convention center, just inside of Registration. Look for a big sign that says “Customer Service.” The other desk is in the hallway leading to main programming in the Hyatt. From the front doors, go to the left around the corner and down the hall (along the big glass windows) and you’ll see a nice big desk there.
Other things to note: Acen has an Accessibility Services department, it was one of the first conventions to have an entire department dedicated to these issues. Their two offices are located in the Hyatt, next to Customer Service, and in the convention center in Registration (usually the second booth from the entrance, next to First Aid). Acen also has an EMRT department – which stands for Emergency Medical Response Team. They roam around the convention to provide first aid to anyone who gets injured at con. They also are available to help if you need a hand, like if you need an ankle wrapped (but bring your own bandages for that). In addition to EMRT, IRT (Incident Response Team) is also available – they act as roving customer service and also help with incidents. They’re easily spotted by their black vests which say IRT in white. If anyone harasses you at con, find the nearest IRT member and report it immediately – nothing can be done if nothing is said until weeks after the con.
My review: Well, to say Acen is a special con that I enjoy is putting it mildly. I wouldn’t have dedicated more than a decade of my life to the con if I didn’t love it. I enjoy the programming, not that I get to it very often anymore, and I love the cosplay scene. My favorite thing to do at con is sit back in the Hyatt Accessibility office and watch the parade of cosplayers going by, both in the hallway and outside on the sidewalk. The only thing I don’t enjoy about Acen is the number of people who seem to think drinking alcohol in extreme excess is a fun thing. It hurts me to see people getting themselves very sick from too much alcohol. Beyond the people who don’t understand how to take care of themselves, however, the con is fantastic. Definitely worth checking out!