Outlander Conventions: How to Pick the Right One for You
With more Outlander conventions cropping up each year, it’s hard to know what convention would work best for you and your style. Outlander Cast breaks down the different types so you can pick the best experience for you.
Over the years I have been a fan of different pop-culture phenomenons, including Disneyland, Star Wars, and various Broadway shows, but the love I had for Outlander in book and TV form led me to look into attending an actual fan convention for the first time. As a beginner to the convention scene I was lucky enough to have some Outlander friends who are active on our Outlander Cast Facebook Page, Lisa Margulies and Christine Lewis, who were very experienced at attending cons all over the country and even abroad. I asked them for advice and attended two different types of conventions this summer. Here are some things I learned about Outlander conventions that helped me make my decision and hopefully will help you make your choice, too.
What’s good: All the networks and film companies attend these big sprawling conventions to promote their upcoming projects. San Diego Comic-Con started as a small comic book convention and is now bursting the seams of the San Diego Convention Center, with over 120, 000 people visiting over the convention weekend. SDCC will have its 50th anniversary in 2019, and as in past years, will for sure sell out months beforehand.
In the past, STARZ has gone all out to create a exhibit booth that reflects the show and then promote it with loads of swag. The actors and producers often come and do a panel, and often times you can get a ticket to the autograph signings. Oftentimes they will even show an episode or at least a snippet of the upcoming season. A big bonus is that once you are done checking out Outlander, there are a few hundred other panels and booths to check out. Most likely another of your favorite shows will be there. The ticket prices are generally reasonable but do not include hotel accommodations which can skyrocket when the convention is in town. I attended SDCC in 2017 and had a wonderful experience, getting to attend the heavily publicized panel, collecting lots of swag, and going to the autograph session on the final day.
New York Comic-Con is similar to SDCC: lots of fans, lots of long lines, many different production companies, actor panels, and lots of cosplay. Lodging and transportation costs are high in New York, of course, but the actual day ticket is under $100. In some cases, photo and autograph options are available for extra fees, but fans are quickly shuttled through lines with little time to chat. NYCC just announced a new lottery seat selection process offered for 2018 so if that pans out that would certainly help with the uncertainty of getting into a fan panel.
What’s not so good:
While large cons like SDCC and NYCC offer some flashy network-sponsored items such as fan panels and beautiful exhibit booths, there is absolutely no guarantee that you will a) actually make it IN to a panel; b) be able to chat with your favorite actor; c) get an autograph of your favorite actor. In fact, in the case of SDCC, odds are low you will even make it into the buying portal to get a ticket. In the case of NYCC, so far everyone has been able to buy a ticket, but you do need to preregister through their site and then wait for an email authorizing you to purchase.
It’s all based on how early you are willing to wait in line in the morning and just how lucky you are when trying to score a possible admission to an autograph session. And there are hundreds and hundreds of curious and casual fans wanting to wait in line with you as well so the odds of you having a personalized visit with the actors are much diminished in these large cons.
Also not guaranteed is your favorite show — in this case Outlander — will show up at the con. A few weeks before the 2018 San Diego Comic Con opened — and months after people purchased tickets — STARZ announced that they would not be bringing Outlander to the convention and would instead be promoting the show at NYCC. This news was very disappointing to me, and even more so to my fellow Outlander friends who had booked non-refundable hotel rooms and flights to attend SDCC before the STARZ announcement. I live in the neighborhood, so I was only out the cost of the daily ticket. A fan panel was held during the convention, and it was fun dressing up and attending, but it was nowhere near the excitement of seeing our beloved actors in the panels and possibly autographing items. In a bit of insider news, we were able to chat with Chris Parnell, vice-president of Sony Television, at the fan panel and he said that it was most likely that Outlander would not return to SDCC and that STARZ would concentrate on NYCC as the release date of Outlander has shifted towards the end of the year and therefore is better suited to the fall dates of NYCC.
Things you need to know: the large, all-purpose cons require patience, stamina, tenacity and determination. There are big pay-offs to be had, but some might find the crush of people and at times utter chaos of the large cons not worth the reward.
Is it right for you? If you prefer a relatively inexpensive day ticket, if you live near the convention and can commute from home or can find a good deal on a hotel, if you thrive on the competitive idea of trying to be first in line and don’t mind the unknown factors of whether you will get a picture of or even see an actor you love, this might be the convention for you. These conventions are also a cosplayer’s dream. If you enjoy making and dressing up in Outlander costumes, you can wear them every day of the convention and get many admiring looks and photographs. The exhibit floors of these large conventions can be a shopper’s paradise for fans of pop culture. One can shop the entire day without scratching the surface.
LARGE OUTLANDER CONVENTIONS
Examples: Starfury, Creation Entertainment
Creation Entertainment: Various packages are offered, starting at $999 for the front row and going down to $185 for a general admission ticket for the weekend. Single day seats as low as $40. Special VIP packages are auctioned off the week before the convention. Those ended up going for around $1,500 and included private meet-and-greets in a lounge area especially for the talent and the VIP guests. Photographs are extra and vary in price but can be as expensive as $150 per photo.
Starfury: Two different price levels, starting at $145 for a regular ticket, and higher for a gold ticket that includes some priority lines and more autographs.
Locations: Creation had a convention in Secaucus, New Jersey, this year and next year’s locations are not announced yet. This year’s Starfury convention is in Birmingham, England.
I attended Creation’s first foray into the world of Outlander conventions and I was curious to see what it would be like. For the most part I had a great time with a few reservations. I sprang for the Gold Package, which included a reserved seat close to the stage for the whole weekend, as well as most autographs and admission into a “Gold Only” Q&A with Caitriona Balfe, Richard Rankin, and Sophie Skelton. Having reserved seats was a wonderful change from the uncertainty of trying to get into panels at SDCC and waiting for hours just to enter the room. We were able to ask the actors questions almost without restrictions.
Sam and Caitriona were listed as the top billed actors at the convention until Sam had to cancel due to his promo work for The Spy Who Dumped Me. To make up for that lack, Creation booked several more guests. In total we had 11 actors over the course of the weekend and that was a huge amount compared to other smaller conventions.
Speaking of restrictions, the actors were not holding back on their language. This may turn some fans off, but I felt that it was a sign that the actors were feeling comfortable and talking as they would with friends. Stephen Walters was the weekend’s Master of Ceremonies and would let the panelists know it their Q&A was finished by inviting them to “Go f*ck off, now.” I found this hilarious but tender ears might have been burning by the end of the weekend.
Besides panels, a few other activities were fun and memorable. The karaoke night the first evening was hilarious at times—and some of the guests were even able to get onstage and sing with the actors. The second evening was a concert with Gary Lewis and Stephen Walters. Both are incredibly talented singers and songwriters and it was interesting to see them in this different setting. One of the days had a costume contest and our group had a wonderful time getting into the spirit by dressing up. We met other guests and admired their work, and our own Lisa Margulies took home top honors for her incredible Master Raymond costume.
What’s not so good:
Private conventions are very expensive. Also not all of the autographs and none of the pictures were included in the ticket price. I can see how one can be swept up and want to buy all the autos and pics of the actors because it’s so exciting and they are RIGHT THERE, but if you do you will end up spending a HUGE amount. I walked away without one photo because $120 for a picture with Caitriona (and not even the digital image—that is extra) would have been wonderful but just too much for me.
There was a vendor room but many tables were empty and a lot of the items that were popular sold out before the end of the weekend. I did love the vendors that did attend. Many items were hand-crafted and it was fun to chat with the artists and learn about their wares.
Another problem I realized as we got into the panel was the fact that the Q & As were not moderated or screened. This was something I mentioned as a plus for this convention, however, the lack of screening and control led to some obnoxious and rude questions. And creepy ones. At one point an actor heard a strange question and commented, “am I in the twilight zone?” And when one old lecher asked an inappropriate question of Lotte the audience had to boo him into silence while Cait had to turn her head to laugh at the crazy situation. Overall, the entire convention was a little unpolished.
Things you need to know: The head of Creation Entertainment hosted the costume contest and mentioned that while they would most likely not be back to Las Vegas next year, they would be choosing other cities to hold more Outlander conventions in 2019. He mentioned Chicago but was not clear on other cities.
Is it right for you? If your main goal is to see as many cast members from Outlander as possible, be able to ask them questions, see them in unguarded moments, and hear them sing (and possibly share the stage and sing with them), this might be the type of convention for you—provided you are ready to drop a hefty amount of cash.
Examples: Wizard World Chicago, Emerald City Comic Con
Price: Day tickets start at $35 but both offer VIP packages with Outlander guests when they appear. This year’s Wizard World is offering a VIP package with Sam Heughan, which includes attendance to the Con, an autograph and a photo with Sam, and a goodie bag for $375.
Locations: Chicago, Seattle
Wizard World is a Con that travels around the US, but the Chicago stop will host Sam, Caitriona, Richard, Sophie, Graham and Diana Gabaldon this August. These Sci-Fi conventions have the size advantage to host many vendors and celebrities but are not as overwhelming and hard to reserve as something like San Diego Comic Con. They also offer packages if you have your heart set on getting a photo and autograph of your favorite cast member, which SDCC does not do. There’s also plenty of cosplay at these conventions, another plus for fans who like to design and wear Outlander fashion.
What’s not so good:
There is no guarantee that cast from Outlander will be at the conventions, and it is not sponsored or endorsed by Sony or STARZ. Chicago is lucky this year, but nothing is listed as far as Outlander on the other stops on the Wizard World tour.
Things you need to know:
Additional autographs are available for purchase, but they can add up quickly. Some of the actors also offer an autograph and a selfie, something I have not seen the other conventions offering. I suppose that saves the convention from hiring professional photographers at each of the autograph locations. Caitriona and Sam do not offer this, but the other actors appearing there do.
Is it right for you?
If you live near Chicago or will be in the area in August and have a hankering for a selfie with Graham McTavish, this might be the convention for you. Diana Galbadon doesn’t attend many conventions so this would be a good place to get an autograph from her, as well.
PRIVATELY RUN OUTLANDER CONVENTIONS
Examples: Thru the Stones, Sasnak City, Fraser’s Ridge Homecoming, Outlandish Vancouver, BC.
Price: Price varies widely. Thru the Stones is $35o and includes several meals, panels, classes, autos and professional photographs. On the other end of the spectrum is Sasnak City; their top package is $2,900 and includes lots of extras such as cocktail parties with the actors, whisky tastings, group pictures, individual pictures and a swag bag.
Locations: private conventions are held all around the U.S. and Canada.
While it’s hard to make specific comments about private conventions because they are so varied, in general these are intimate gatherings with a small group of actors. There is no fight to get a seat and often the actors will be having meals with you and taking the same tours. There is time for casual conversations and the actors most likely will have their guards down and be more “themselves.” Some genuine friendships between actors and guests are often forged. At some small cons, there are “Suite Parties” where you are visiting with the actors who may even break out a guitar and sing. At many of the smaller cons, classes related to the Outlander theme are part of the schedule; Through the Stones offers many interesting classes such as Silk Dyeing with Natural Plants, Native American People & Traditions, and of course Whiskey Tasting. At some of the private cons you are presented with a beautiful swag bag with handmade Outlander items.
What’s not so good:
The price for these small conventions can be hefty and the booked actors may not be the ones you are interested in seeing. Sam and Caitriona have never been booked at a small, private convention—and the way their careers are exploding, I doubt they ever will. The private cons are sometimes held in states and cities with limited access, making transportation expensive and time consuming. Sometimes the convention is held in winter months and the weather can be unpredictable. That can be a hazard for the talent as well: Lisa Margulies says “Terry Dresbach and Grant O’Rourke came to Thru the Stones in 2016 and there were some worries about the weather. Terry’s flight made it out after the convention, but Grant spent extra time in snowy Iowa in the con organizer’s own home!”
Things you need to know: This conventions are limited in guest numbers, so if you decide to try one, register right away as they sell out quickly. Before booking the convention, check out flights and transportation to be sure arriving at the venue is affordable. Check with each individual con to see if cosplay is encouraged or featured–it varies.
Is it right for you?
If a smaller convention books a guest you are dying to meet and hear from, this may be the perfect type of con for you, provided that you are willing to spend a good bit of money in many cases. If you live in the same state as one of these smaller conventions or at least in the region, I would also consider it a great idea as you will save on the cost of transportation. I was looking into going to Thru the Stones in Iowa myself, as their guests this year are Ron D. Moore, Terry Dresbach, and Edward Speelers, three people I would dearly love to meet. However the plane fare and transportation to the hotel, which is out of the way, already put a stop to my plans, never mind the ticket price and hotel fees.
Lisa Margulies: Start small and pay your highest dollar. Choose an experience that has the greatest intimacy value. You will be rewarded with great personal memories and lifelong connections. From traveling to a Scottish Festival for a coveted autograph and meet-and-greet or attending an all inclusive, star-packed convention weekend, you can’t go wrong by investing money in an event that guarantees time and contact with our beloved Outlander World. My Thru the Stones experiences and SASNAK CITY weekend were unique in this way. Whatever you choose to do, know that you will make some amazing lifelong friendships that transcend the Outlander world!
Christine Lewis: All the conventions I have attended have had good and bad aspects, but I thought Creation’s con overall was the best I have tried so far. It can be very expensive with all the add-on items, and there were some strange, unpolished aspects of it (especially since they are veterans of Star Trek cons) but with some adjustments I think it is a good way to see a large volume of talent, reserve your seat, not miss panels for autograph lines, and have some fun evening activities.
And as for my recommendations? I think everyone needs to weigh what is important to them against what they can afford. Not everyone wants to spend this kind of money to see their favorite performers in person. And a big issue that has come up this summer is cancellations by actors. Sam has cancelled three conventions this summer and there have been some bitterly disappointed fans. Would you still want to attend a convention when your favorite actor cancels at the last minute? I was initially very sad that Sam did not attend Creation’s Las Vegas convention but by the end of the weekend I wasn’t even thinking about it because the other guests were so entertaining and interesting. Even Caitriona mentioned that it was kind of nice that Sam was not there because he “kind of sucks all the air out of the room.” She said it with a smile, but for her to be the headliner was a really special opportunity for fans to concentrate on questions for her alone.
The Outlander Cast Facebook page is a great resource if you are weighing the pros and cons of attending a particular convention. We have fans from all over the world and I guarantee someone has been to a convention you are thinking about. Whatever you decide, I hope you have a wonderful time, make new friends, and have special memories as I did this summer.
Have you attended any Outlander conventions? If so, which were your favorites and why?