Getting Ready for Fanfest

I'm going to Reykjavik once again this year, to attend Fanfest. This will be my third one. I enjoyed the previous two so much that I could not resist making the investment to sojourn in Iceland once again to congregate with the EVE Online faithful.

What is Fanfest?

Fanfest is the annual convention for players of EVE Online and DUST 514, hosted by CCP Games. It's an opportunity to make Real Life contact with the people behind their keyboards, and to celebrate the community of the EVE universe. It's also where CCP Games provides a glimpse of their plans for the future of EVE Online, DUST514, and other games in development (e.g., Valkyrie and World of Darkness). Finally, it's a fantastic opportunity for CCP Games to immerse themselves in discussions with some of the most dedicated EVE Online and DUST514 players, either informally in social activities or in structured workshops and roundtable meetings.

Over 1,400 players attend Fanfest, though it feels larger because of the additional press, CCP staffers and guests. As it has been for the past two years, this year's Fanfest, scheduled for May 1-3, will be held in the Harpa concert hall and conference center. This is an excellent, modern meeting facility in the heart of Reykjavik, though it feels only just large enough to accommodate the size of Fanfest. It is just a short walk away from the CCP Games headquarters, however, so I can see why they would want to keep using the Harpa facility for Fanfest.

The Harpa Concert Hall and Convention Center - obviously designed by a Caldari...

The Harpa Concert Hall and Convention Center - obviously designed by a Caldari...

The limited space in the Harpa is one of the reasons that Fanfest has sold out earlier each year, and I don't expect that this year will be an exception. So, if you are interested in attending Fanfest, you should not delay in booking your tickets early, as they will definitely sell out again.

One of my first posts on this blog was a summary of impressions from last year's Fanfest event. My enthusiasm is well documented there, and it has not waned. If you are a devotee of EVE Online or DUST514, you absolutely should make at least one trip to Fanfest. Unless you despise gathering with other human beings, you'll absolutely, positively have a great time - I guarantee it.

Traveling to Iceland for this event is not an inexpensive commitment, however. To make the most of your trip, some advance planning pays off. What follows is my advice for the Fanfest newcomer.

Getting to Fanfest

Depending on where you are traveling from, this can be the most expensive part of your trip to Fanfest. The number of flights to Reykjavik is limited, as only a few airlines fly there. I travel extensively out of Atlanta on Delta for business, and have earned a lot of frequent flier points, but can't use them because Delta nor any of their partners fly to Iceland in April or May. So, I have to get a little creative, and other Fanfest attendees may have to do the same.

The Icelandair packages, offered on the CCP Fanfest website, are generally a good option, as they provide an all-in-one hotel and airfare deal that is less than what you would pay if booked separately. This is what I did this year, though in past years I booked airfare separately.

Last year, I flew on Icelandair last year from New York (JFK) to Keflavik International Airport (KEF), and enjoyed it - it's a well-run airline with good service. The first time I went to Fanfest, in 2012, I was in London on business, so I flew on Iceland Express (now operated by WOW Air) from Gatwick (LGW) to Keflavik. This is a no-frills airline but an affordable option.

This year, I'm using Delta points for a free ticket from Atlanta to New York JFK, and then catching my Icelandair flight from there.

Keflavik International Airport is actually some distance away from downtown Reykjavik - about 50 miles. The best option by far is to take one of the large, comfortable Flybus coaches operated by Reykjavik Excursions. The round trip fare from the airport to any of the major hotels is a bargain. Catch the Flybus from the airport, and it will take you to the main depot outside of Reykjavik, then board one of the smaller vans or buses to your hotel. Be sure to double-check which bus you are getting on at the depot, because it's too easy to get on the wrong one as they are not all clearly marked. Ask the drivers to ensure you're boarding the right vehicle. Expect to spend an hour or so getting from the airport to your hotel, traversing over the otherworldly lava fields.

The distance from Keflavik airport  (A) to the Harpa in Reykjavik (B) is about 51 miles. Expect to take at least an hour to get to your hotel.

The distance from Keflavik airport  (A) to the Harpa in Reykjavik (B) is about 51 miles. Expect to take at least an hour to get to your hotel.

Accommodations

The first two years I attended Fanfest, I splurged a bit and reserved rooms at the Arnarhvoll, one of several nice hotels operated by Centerhotels. It's located directly across the street from the Harpa, and it features a fantastic breakfast on the top floor restaurant - worth taking advantage of because of both the food quality and the beautiful panoramic views of the Icelandic horizon. If you can afford to spend a little more, I can't recommend the Arnarhvoll highly enough. The decor is functional Scandinavian, but the rooms are very comfortable.

If you are booking airfare and rooms separately, be sure to check out Centerhotel's special "4 nights for the price of 3" deal offered to Fanfest attendees. Any of these hotels are within comfortable walking distance to the Harpa and to the downtown shopping district. However, all of the single rooms were nearly booked up as I was writing this post - but it's still a good deal even if you get the double room, and more so if you are splitting expenses with a friend.

This year, by taking advantage of one of the Icelandair packages, I reserved a room at the Centerhotel Thingholt, which I understand is a bit more well appointed than the Arnarhvoll. The Thingholt lobby bar has been the unofficial evening headquarters of EVE University attendees every night during Fanfest for the last two years, and I don't expect it will be any different this year. All UNIs and friends are invited to come hang out with us each evening!

The Ísafold Lounge & Bar, in the lobby of the Thingholt hotel - the unofficial evening hangout of EVE University during Fanfest - everyone is welcome to join us!

The Ísafold Lounge & Bar, in the lobby of the Thingholt hotel - the unofficial evening hangout of EVE University during Fanfest - everyone is welcome to join us!

There are a lot of other good options for hotels in Reykjavik as well. It is a small town and the Harpa is within walking distance of a large number of good quality guesthouses, apartments and hotels. (If you had a good or bad experience during past Fanfests, please share them in a comment.)

Get your tickets!

After surveying the prices of airfares and a suitable place to stay, you'll have a good idea if you can afford a trip to Fanfest. My Icelandair package, including taxes and fees, cost $1,523, and includes:

  • Round-trip flights from/to New York (JFK)
  • 5 nights at the Centerhotel Thingholt (including breakfast each day) - I am arriving two days early on April 29 (see below for why), and leaving on Sunday evening, May 4
  • Flybus round trip ticket from/to Keflavik airport

$1,500 is not a small amount of money, but I have spent more on other vacations, and had a lot less fun. I think the expense is worth it, especially since you are getting a double-bonus here: a sustained EVE Online nerdgasm experience and in an exotic country that too few people get to see.

Still, this cost does not include food, drinks, and the most important thing of all - your Fanfest tickets. I cannot emphasize this enough: buy your tickets as soon as you have made the mental commitment to attend Fanfest. They will sell out, and sooner than anyone ever expects.

Fanfest tickets are $175.00 (€115.00) or 14 PLEX, and include admission to:

  • EVE Online, DUST 514 and EVE: Valkyrie presentations - this is the main reason to go to Fanfest. The quality of the presentations, mostly delivered or moderated by CCP devs, are generally very good, and the daily keynote addresses always contain some important revelations about the future direction of game development. See last year's agenda to get an idea of the kind of presentations you can expect.
  • Live tournaments (if you register to participate) - tourneys are available for EVE and DUST, with some pretty snazzy prizes. They do consume a lot of time, however, so if you want to tourney, be prepared for a substantial portion of your Fanfest time to be dedicated to this.
  • Player/developer roundtable discussions - these are some of the most interesting events at Fanfest, involving one or more CCP developers engaged in discussions with players on a specific game aspect. They are also very popular, and always become "standing room only" events - get there early if you want a seat!
  • The big "Party at the Top of the World" on Saturday night - if you like loud rock music and a nightclub atmosphere, you'll love this party. It always includes several local bands (who are consistently good) and a techno dance hall, and the drinks from the cash bar are flowing liberally throughout. Last year, I spent an evening drinking beer and dancing (very badly) in the techno hall with fellow UNIs and a bunch of good folks from both RvB and Razor Alliance, and thoroughly enjoyed myself, much to my surprise. (By the way, UNI professor Seamus Donohue is a techno dancing god - can't wait to see him in action on the dance floor again.)

There are also several optional "add on" activities available, at additional cost:

  • Golden Circle Tour (Wednesday, April 30) - I attended this last year, and even though the weather was lousy, still had a great time. It's a tour of Icelandic landmarks, and definitely worth the price. If you've never been to Iceland before, sign up for this six-hour tour - it's a great way to get to know the country, and also start bonding with about 500 fellow attendees. Cost: $65 or 6 PLEX
  • Exclusive charity dinner with CEO, Hilmar Veigar Pétursson and CCP staff (Thursday night, May 1) - a very nice meal featuring local cuisine and discussions with CCP developers who move from table to table throughout the evening. I've never attended this event, but I understand the food is good, and it's a great opportunity to meet the CCP team - and all proceeds go to charity. Cost: $150 or 12 PLEX
  • The infamous Developer Pub Crawl (Friday night, May 2) - imagine 1,000 EVE Online players, split up into teams, each led by a CCP dev, and then marching throughout the streets of Reykjavik from bar to bar, getting progressively louder and drunker. I have never attended this event, but I signed up for it this year. All I know is that my fellow UNI and experienced party expert, Bairfhionn Isu, has done it twice before and always got a severe hangover from consuming something called "Brennivín" - he assures me that he will coach me through the experience this year. Sounds like fun - I hope. Cost: $60 or 5 PLEX
  • Blue Lagoon Hangover Party (Sunday morning, May 4) - to help 400 people recover from the "Party at the Top of the World", a trip to the beautiful Blue Lagoon for a soothing soak and a cocktail should work wonders. Cost: $90 or 8 PLEX
  • Sisters of EVE spouse ticket - a few UNIs brought their significant others along with them last year, and from what I could see, they had fun, even though they were not EVE Online players. Part of the reason for this was this special package of activities for spouses, which includes an extended sightseeing trip, and entry to the Party at the Top of the World. Cost: $275 or 22 PLEX

This year, I signed up for the Charity Dinner and the Pub Crawl, for an additional $210. Last year, I went on the Golden Circle Tour with fellow UNI and Most Interesting Pilot in EVE, Croixant, and we had a good time, although the steep hike back from the impressive Gullfoss waterfall almost killed me. (I still highly recommend it.)

Food and Drink

Eating and drinking are not cheap in Reykjavik, so be prepared to spend some cash. You can buy liquor, beer and wine at discounted prices at the duty free shop in the Keflavik airport, so be sure to do that after you arrive, if want to save money on your refreshments.

One thing about Fanfest is that there is a lot of drinking throughout the entire event. It's like a party that doesn't really end - it just ebbs and flows, even during the day. Beer is always available at the concession stand at the Harpa - and the burgers and hot dogs there are acceptable for a quick midday meal.

Over the last two Fanfests, I rarely left the Harpa, and I have resolved not to limit my dining choices so much this year. Everyone tells me that I must try the Hot Dog Stand, which apparently is an Icelandic national treasure, known for their gourmet hot dogs. For some odd reason, Icelanders are crazy about hot dogs, which is sort of weird - but then again, Icelanders are sort of weird, but in a good way, so it makes sense.

Bairfhionn Isu tells me that Icelanders also like to eat roasted puffin, and we've resolved to give that a try. I have mixed emotions about this. But as they say, when in Rome...

Another odd Icelandic dish that the locals love to get visitors to try is "rotted shark". I tried to eat this the last time I was there, but could not get past the horrible urine-like odor to get close enough to sample it.

One thing that I have tried on past trips and can recommend wholeheartedly is the lamb soup, which is hearty and delicious, and available in just about any good restaurant.

There are some great pubs in downtown Reykjavik, including The English Pub, which is pretty much what it sounds like - friendly and a decent beer selection.

The Laundromat is also popular, especially for a quick late-night meal.

Weather

Mother Nature is strange in Iceland. Last year, I arrived in a snowstorm in the early morning. By the afternoon, it was sunny and all the snow had melted away. You never know what kind of weather you are going to get, but as one local told me, "Just wait a few minutes and it will probably change."

This year's Fanfest is being held later than in the past, and I'm hoping that will make for more temperate weather. Regardless, be prepared for anything, and bring a good coat and wet weather gear.

Give Yourself Some Time

In my past two excursions to Fanfest, I arrived on the day before it began, and left the day after. I've regretted it both times, as I didn't really have any time to just wander about, shop, and absorb some of Reykjavik's atmosphere in a relaxed fashion. This year, I'm arriving two days early to do just that, and I've passed on the Golden Circle tour to hang out in the local pubs and meet up with early-arriving UNIs.

If you can afford to come a little early, or hang out for a day or two after Fanfest, I recommend it. There's plenty to do and see, for at least a couple days. During the frenetic pace of Fanfest itself, with the packed agenda, all the parties and craziness, there's little time for just taking a break.

The absolute best part about Fanfest has very little to do with any of the formal events. It's the opportunity to meet the people that you fly with in EVE Online, either together or in opposition, and having a chance to chat with them about the game and why they play it. It's like talking in a corp chat channel, but face-to-face, for three great days. If you're a fan of EVE Online or DUST, you can't beat the Fanfest experience.

BE THERE!

So, that's my general overview and advice about Fanfest. It's a great event, well run, and a lot of fun. Though it is not cheap to attend, it's a good use of your vacation funds. I am looking forward to being there again.

If you have any other questions or suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

Fly safe! o7