2021 Guide to Empire City Con


What is a fan convention? More importantly, what is Empire City Con?

A fan convention is an event planned by fans, for fans of a particular work, creator, or genre. There are as many types of conventions as there are interests — there are conventions on gardening, dentist equipment, knitting, you name it. They can involve anything from small events with less than a hundred attendees to giant expos with 50,000 attendees or more.

Empire City Con is a small convention: our attendance last year was about 500 people. We’re exclusively focused on the Cartoon Network show, Steven Universe (here’s a handy explainer if you haven’t seen much of the show yet). What makes Empire City Con special is our focus on creating an atmosphere which is welcoming, approachable, and fun for everyone, even if you don’t attend a single panel. From a previous attendee:

…it had a small town vibe to it; everybody was approachable (even the VAs [voice actors]! When they weren’t on stage answering our questions they were having conversations with random fans who would just come and strike up a conversation with them). It was an atmosphere where all these people you’d never seen before were definitely strangers but could, at a moment’s notice, be friends. At any moment during the con there was a good chance you’d hear some group somewhere…or maybe even the entire floor the con was being held on…spontaneously break out into a song from the show accompanied by a legion of ukuleles!

Should I go with a parent or guardian/do I need to stay with my kids?

You’re very welcome to attend with your family, and indeed many do! About a quarter of our attendees each year are 18 or younger, and another quarter are 18-20. Steven Universe is an excellent show for kids and adults, and we are proud to reflect that with our programming and atmosphere.

Because Empire City Con does not provide childcare, we require anyone 14 and under to be accompanied by a guardian throughout the con, so both the guardian and minor should purchase a pass. Children under the age of 5 can attend for free with their guardian’s admission. Check out our Age Policy for more specifics about registration and age requirements.

What do you do at a con? What kind of events should I expect?

Our 2021 schedule won’t be available for several months, but you can check out our previous StevenCon schedules for an idea. We’ll have paper copies of the schedule, but you can also download our app so that you can plot out a schedule for yourself!

All of our programming will take place indoors on the ground floor. There are plenty of lounges and seating areas around the venue whenever you want to take a breather, and we’ll have a Quiet Room open Friday – Sunday through our official programming hours. Remember that it’s good to take breaks and it’s okay if you don’t attend everything. To paraphrase Garnet, a con is an experience, and the most important thing is to go! have! fun!

Is dressing up or cosplaying okay/required? Will I be able to take pictures?

Cosplaying is optional! We encourage participation in cosplay to the extent of your comfort. Non-SU cosplay is also totally allowed. Just remember that Empire City Con is an all-ages event, and all clothing choices should reflect that, cosplay or otherwise.

We take con etiquette and safety very seriously. If a cosplayer has said it’s okay for you to take pictures, that’s great and you’re welcome to. But it doesn’t matter how cool a cosplay looks or whether someone else is already doing it, always ask first — no photography or touching the costume or props without consent.

In addition to our planned cosplay events you can expect to see informal meetups and photoshoots get planned by attendees by word of mouth or via our Instagram and Facebook page.


Getting there

There is daily bus and train service from Charlotte to other cities in the region (find out more on the city website). Hotel parking is free.

JetBlue, Frontier, Southwest, American, and Delta Airlines all have routes through Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT). If you fly in, you can take advantage of the hotel’s airport shuttle service.

The venue

All of our programming will take place in the Sonesta Charlotte Executive Park, a pet-friendly,  smoke-free hotel about 15 minutes from the Charlotte airport. The parking drop off point is right next to the entrance to the hotel. There are four elevators on the ground floor as well as multiple stairwells. Charging outlets are located throughout the ground floor, and wi-fi is publicly available throughout the hotel.

Our attendees are eligible for a flat discounted rate of $115/night. If you book your room online, you’ll need to follow the ‘book now’ link on our Location page to get the discounted rate. If you book over the phone, be sure to mention that you’re there for Empire City Con to get the group rate! 

The hotel check-in time is 3 PM, and you have to be at least 21 to check in. Check-out is 11 AM. Please note breakfast is not included with the price of your room. If you reserve when you book your room, the cost of the buffet is $5; otherwise it’s $15.95. Empire City Con will not provide any meals over the course of the convention, so you’ll want to include breakfast in your food budget. Each room at the hotel contains a mini-fridge. A microwave is available next to the bar in the lobby for general usage

Services in the area

Food options

Sonny’s BBQ, Chili’s, McDonalds, and The Kabuto (sushi and steakhouse) are within a half mile of the hotel. There are several options for groceries nearby, including an ALDI, Food Lion, Costco, and several local stores on South Blvd, where there’s also a host of affordable restaurants (5-10 minutes drive, 20 minutes walking — see the map below).

Other services

Michael’s, Joann’s, Walmart, and Target are less than 15 minutes drive away. The Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center is about 16 minutes away and offers emergency services (including emergency pediatric care). Use this link to add the Empire City Con 2021 area map to Google Maps if you have the mobile app.

General convention tips

Double-check that you’ve packed everything

Remember that unless you’re attending with a guardian, you’ll need to present some form of state ID to register (see this list of valid forms of state ID). 15-17 year olds attending without a guardian may present a student ID instead. Most of the vendors in the hall as well as guests will accept card as well as cash, but if you prefer using cash (for budgeting purposes, for example), bring the amount you’re willing to spend beforehand. There is an ATM at the hotel, but withdrawal fees may apply depending on your bank.

Take care of yourself

Remember to take breaks! Eat full meals, and keep snacks and water on you, especially if you’re planning on attending panels in a row. 

Use and respect social stickers

At Empire City Con, we provide stickers for attendees to use which mark the kind of interactions they’re looking for — green if they are open to conversation and want to make new friends, yellow if they just want to talk to people they already know, and red if they don’t feel like talking to anyone at the moment.

We also provide pronoun stickers and disability indicators for blind/low vision and Deaf/hard of hearing attendees. If you do not respect the identities of our attendees, you will be asked to leave without a refund. Read more about accessibility at Empire City Con.

Still have questions? Find out more on our FAQ page.

If you need more information on the Empire City Con experience, please contact us at empirecitycon@gmail.com!