I saw a bunch of my favourite people and made some new friends (hi!), but overall the tone of this con was subdued. It didn't feel like a real con except for that one moment as we passed through the hotel lobby on Friday night (whereupon I started bouncing excitedly and going "zomg that just totally made me feel like I was at a con! :DDD"). I don't know if it was the size of the hotel (I don't think it was much bigger than the Lumos hotel, though) or the presence of other conventions (e.g. the Southern Baptists o.O;;) but there was very little of that sense of fannish unity that's always been present at other cons. I think mostly it's because Portus is clearly not the Con of the Year, just like Phoenix Rising wasn't the Con of the Year last year -- Terminus is it this year for both crazy shenanigans and fun programming. Portus was just full of crazy shenanigans. XD
I wouldn't say Portus was anti-slash -- I mean, a Snarry vid preceded the Welcoming Feast -- but there was a clear dearth of slash programming. I don't think HPEF is to blame; I think the majority of slashers are at Terminus this year, and that's just how the cards fell. Aside from the few workshops I'd planned to attend, the only one of interest to me specifically was the presentation on whether Draco was redeemed, but it was titled "A Nod of the Head: Was Draco Redeemed?" When I saw that, my immediate reaction was YOU CANNOT NOD ANYTHING OTHER THAN YOUR HEAD!!1!1 So I didn't go, because I was afraid I'd have to listen to the phrase "nod of the head" repeated more than twice, and I just wouldn't have been able to handle that. My weird squicks, let me show you them. I did spend most of the con singing "I'm a Little Teapot" to myself (and others, much to their amusement), so there you go.
I only ended up going to one presentation, called "Building Your Fantasy World" by Valerie Frankel. I learned nothing new at the presentation aside from a few pointers to resources on world-building, but I got really excited when I realised that the presenter was the same lady we saw the night before wandering the hotel with a flying pig tied to her head. I meant to go to three other presentations, but it turned out I couldn't be arsed -- one of them actually ended up not happening because the presenter never showed up. The same thing happened with the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff panel, but in that particular case the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs of hogwarts_elite decided to hold their own impromptu panel instead, and I'm told it was pretty good. The other two presentations were on Saturday, which was also my birthday, and my birthday wishes were to go and see Hellboy II, which we did, skipping the programming altogether (as expected, the movie was made of awesome crack). I also had ambitions to attend Quidditch preliminaries on Friday and the water Quidditch match the following day, but really, we were just too busy hanging out and drinking to bother.
Once again, they picked a hotel without wireless access; apparently HPEF brought in its own wireless routers for the common room, but people told me that these were frequently overloaded due to high bandwidth usage. SURPRISE! Except not. Internet access has been a problem at every. Single. Con. It's really fucking annoying by this point. My roommates and I didn't have to pay for access because we paid for an executive-level room, but not everybody can afford that. Oh, yeah, having access to discounted executive suites was AWESOME. I spent way less money on random food/coffee purchases because the executive lounge provided all that free of charge. Definitely hoping that they'll work out a deal with the Azkatraz hotel.
Unlike last year, they picked a hotel that was majorly out of the way of everything local. I mean, we had to cab it and ask for rides to get anywhere from the hotel; walking was not at all an option (in a milder climate, it might have been, but this was Texas. In July.). I realise there was some issue of time pressure in picking the hotel, but it's really fucking unfair to force attendees without cars/friends-with-cars or those unable to pay out the nose for cabs to pay hotel-level prices for food and such. Registration is not that cheap, and neither is the hotel stay. Not everyone has a roomful of people to split the cost of pizza delivery. The sports bar downstairs in the tower lobby was the only place with reasonable prices, but their selection was teeny and not at all vegetarian-friendly.
Registration went quickly, but I was presented with a choice of two badges -- one with my real name and one with my screen name. Uh, I said during online registration I wanted my screen name on my badge; why did they waste paper on printing the other badge? D: On the other hand, the volunteers were capable, well-informed, and easily found throughout the con. I'm convinced this is why I was on the whole impressed with the organisation this year; you really can't beat an awesome group of volunteers.
The Welcoming Feast tex-mex buffet was great, as was the Leaving Brunch food; these events were well-organised and the queues for food moved very quickly - there were eight separate queues, and in both cases we didn't spend more than 5 minutes standing around. I still remember how long it took at TWH to get our food, and then the rancid non-buffet offerings at Lumos (that was so bad I registered without feasts for Prophecy), so a definite thumbs-up for the food organisation this year. Not so much for the themed Portus drinks, though -- I preferred the Prophecy-style picture menus, and the queue to get drinks at the Masquerade Ball was completely ridiculous. The drinks were hit and miss this year -- I quite liked the Portus Punch but could have lived without the others, and the punch was only available on the evening of the Masquerade Ball. This, I am told, is because very few people submitted drink ideas so the "winning" drinks were all from the same three people or something. So, not really HPEF's fault but I wish they'd stuck with the Prophecy format for advertising the drinks.
The Ball was not very well-attended compared to previous years, I thought, or perhaps it just seemed that way because the ballroom was so huge. I like the idea of having Wizard Rock play at the ball but in practice it was kind of... counter-intuitive. People were dancing, but it wasn't really working if you were watching from the sidelines -- Wizard Rock is not dance music; it is jump-up-and-down-whilst-flailing-wildly music. The DJ in the Crocodile Bar next door had a much better selection. ;) Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls were pretty good, but Ministry of Magic, yikes. They had a fun set and the music was good, but ye gods, they can't bloody sing. The whole time I was there I felt like I was at the very first round of American Idol auditions in Tone-Deaf City. If I never have to listen to them butcher One Republic's Apologise again, it'll be too soon. We left as they were in the midst of said butchering and didn't venture back into the ballroom. So yes. I love the idea of Wizard Rock at a con ball-type event; it gave the whole affair a very movie!Hogwarts feel. But we need better WRock singers to make it really awesome. :P
All in all, I had a fantastic time but as I said at the beginning, this was mostly due to the company I kept; I honestly can't tell you how I would have felt if it were my first con and I didn't know anyone. Definitely looking forward to Terminus, and starting to get really excited for Azkatraz '09.
Photos from the con are here, but be aware that I am not posting any people pics publicly, aside from a few group shots with no identifying information.