Even for the experienced con-goer, D23 Expo can be something of an anomaly. The programming schedule in particular is a bit odd, with a few big anchor in the main hall occupying most of the day with a small selection of other events in the three smaller rooms. Read on for a look at the programming space D23 Expo uses, how they handle lines, camera restriction, and a primer on the beauty that is StagePass.
Relatively speaking, the panel schedule at D23 Expo is always pretty light. D23 really only offers four programming rooms: the Walt Disney Archives Stage, Stage 28, Stage 23, and Hall D23.
Stage 28 and Stage 23 should remain relatively unchanged from their 2013 arrangements: Stage 23 offers bigger panels to a crowd of a few thousand, with a big screen on a big stage; Stage 28 hosts smaller panels, with no in-room cameras broadcasting to a jumbotron – if you want an unimpeded view, arrive very early and sit up front. The Archives Stage is new but promises to host small, intimate “fireside chat” type events.
There are also additional “stages” on the show floor (“Center Stage”) but these are more exposed and are not traditional convention panel rooms.
The Expo formerly made use of the Arena, a fantastic venue that seats about 4,500 when set up for convention stages and features stadium seating – a real benefit for the vertically challenged. However, for 2015 D23 Expo has instead chosen to switch to a more Hall H-like setup, putting 7,500 seats into Hall D of the convention center. The pros and cons are obvious: we’ve gained 3,000 additional seats but lost our stadium setup.
Queuing for Hall D23 is its own mess: like they did for Star Wars Celebration, Hall D will be dedicated to the line for Hall D23 (this is essentially a flipped version Celebration layout, with the panel queue occupying the opposite side of the exhibit hall). (It’s worth noting that Disney was involved with Celebration as, obviously, they now own Lucasfilm – but Celebration continues to be put on by convention conglomerate ReedPOP.) Hall D23 is scheduled to open at 8:00am each morning, so you may want to arrive prior to that if having a seat for the big animation & live action preview panels is important to you. If you want to wait overnight, that is scheduled to begin at 10:00pm the evenin before. There is no overnight line for Sunday’s panels and the line will open at 5:00am through the main entrance.
If you are attending one of the big events in Hall D23, you will likely be forced to check your cameras and/or any recording devices. (If security is as inept as they were in 2013, they will also make you check some things that obviously do not have cameras or microphones, like, say, a Kindle Fire, because they don’t understand the difference.) This is a huge hassle that really slows down the line – it will take you forever to bag up your electronics and check them, and even longer to get them back after the panel. Do yourself a favor and just drop it off in the car before heading into Hall D23. Disney also has a tendency to force you to walk in single file and be ushered to your seat, just like you did in kindergarten! It’s silly, and it only adds to the ridiculous length of time it takes to get everyone seated.
Particularly in Hall D23, don’t expect your usual convention panel experience: these are tightly produced events that leave no room for audience Q&A. You’ll watch this more like a show. Someone, often a Disney executive, will host a segment of the panel and will lob a few softball questions at their guests. Even the celebrities they trot out only appear for a few minutes, and it’s not as loose as comic con panels. There can be amazing moments, though – see the end of the 2013 animation panel where Idina Menzel sang “Let It Go” live for the first time. You’ll have to decide if the long wait and long lines are worth it for you.
If you decide to see the big live-action or animation preview panels, know that they’ll probably eat up at least half of your day, if not more: between waiting in line, checking your electronics, being ushered to a seat, waiting for the room to be filled, and then the actual two hour event, it’s a big chunk of time. (Hopefully Disney will improve upon their 2013 performance where these big panels started nearly 30 minutes late and ran extra long.) If there’s only one or two films you’re interested in at these big events, check to see if there is a separate panel just for that individual film – it would save you a lot of time, and be much more in-depth. (And don’t wait around just for a new Star Wars trailer – there’s no new footage coming this weekend.)
For those film preview panels, you’ll need to arrive to the line very early. But as the picture on the left shows, sometimes even the big room at D23 goes unfilled – even for something as big as a Marvel TV series (although I wouldn’t expect Marvel to go as unnoticed this year).
D23 Expo does have one big advantage over other con’s panels, though: StagePass! StagePass is a wonderful system that acts like a FastPass for your panel. If you don’t know what FastPass is, you probably shouldn’t be at a Disney convention, but here it is anyway: stop by the StagePass booths in Hall A to have your badge scanned and request a StagePass for any available panel.
How do you tell what panels are available for StagePass?
- Only Stage 23 and Stage 28 offer StagePass. You must queue for Hall D23.
- Only panels beginning after 11:00am offer StagePass.
- StagePasses will be distributed beginning at 9:00am for panels starting at 11:00am – 2:30pm. Panels that begin at 3:00pm until the end of the day will have StagePasses available beginning at 12:30pm.
- There is a large screen hanging over Hall A that displays whether StagePasses have “sold out” for each panel.
Once you have a StagePass, simply arrive at the StagePass queue for your particular program room at least 15 minutes prior to the start of the panel. If you show up less than 15 minutes early, you might lose your spot to someone in the standby line.
If all the StagePasses are sold out for a panel you want to see, don’t worry: only about half the room is reserved for StagePass holders. You can wait in the standby line, and you will probably get into the panel if you arrive early enough.
Like any convention, gauging public interest in a panel can often be more art than science; but in general it is relatively easy to get into a panel with only a minimal wait.
Note that rooms are cleared after each panel – otherwise, the StagePass system wouldn’t work. You can have one morning StagePass and one afternoon StagePass per person each day.
You can download the PDF version of the schedule or use the online interactive schedule, which includes full panel descriptions. The interactive schedule is pretty terrible online – you can only create an account using Facebook and it doesn’t even work very well. It’s designed more for the app, where it’s at least slightly more functional. You can also get the full descriptions in the PDF download of the souvenir guide.
Some of our top picks for the weekend:
Friday, August 14
- The Magic Behind the Muppets. 10:00 – 11:00am, Stage 23. Yes, we know many of you Muppet fans just caught these fuzzy, felted friends at SDCC last month. But you can’t pass up another chance to see Kermit on stage!
- Mousequerade. 1:00 – 2:30pm, Stage 23. Disney hasn’t quite figured out how to run a really good masquerade, or even a really good costume contest – but the quality of the costumes is top notch. Here’s hoping 2015 is finally the year Disney gets this event right.
Imagineering 60 Years of Disneyland. 5:00 – 7:00pm, Stage 23. This panel not only serves as a great 60th anniversary retrospective for Disneyland, it also hosts some of the greatest names in Disney history: Marty Sklar, Richard Sherman, Tony Baxter, and a lot more Disney Legends will be on hand to look back.
Saturday, August 15
- Disney on Broadway: “The Originals.” 11:00am – 12:10pm and reprised at 2:00 – 3:10pm, Stage 23. Some of the biggest names in the Disney on Broadway world right now have made it to the west coast for a musical revue. Ashley Brown, James Monroe Iglehart, and Josh Strickland will sing from the Disney on Broadway catalog with a five piece band behind them. Come early and enjoy.
- Welcome to Zootopia! 1:30 – 2:30pm, Stage 28. If you want to get a preview of Disney Animation’s next feature, Zootopia, skip the dragged-out animation panel on Friday and hit this instead. The directors, producer, and artists will on be on stage going into detail on the upcoming release.
- Pixar Secrets Revealed! Hear the Stores They Didn’t Want You to Know! 3:00 – 4:00pm, Stage 28. Definitely the winner of the most misleading title award, since they are obviously fine letting you hear these stories considering they will be telling them on stage in public for an hour. That said, Pixar behind the scenes tales are a hoot and a half, so this is probably still worth checking out.
Sunday, August 16
- The Shorts of Walt Disney Animation Studios: From Paperman to Prep & Landing, Feast to Frozen Fever. 11:30am – 12:30pm, Stage 28. Commercially released short films are something of a dying breed these days, so come celebrate one of the few companies still animating them at this panel.
- In Conversation: Wilma Baker and Ginny Mack. 4:30 – 5:30pm, Walt Disney Archives Stage. This is one of those rare events that could only pop up at something like D23 Expo. Baker and Mack were artists who worked on Disney animated features dating all the way back to “Snow White.” A true glimpse into cinematic history that’s sure to be fascinating, and certainly a worthwhile way to close out your weekend.
What panels will you be catching this weekend at D23? Let us know in the comments.