Aetherfest 2012 Review

As you read this review please keep in mind that it is written from only the opinions and observations from our crew. We were not on convention staff and we were not vendors. We sat in on one panel (Dark Steampunk) with Steam Engine Intrepid, and otherwise were just VIP-bought attendees there to enjoy the convention like most others. Also, it’s important to know that we were not at the first Aetherfest, so this was a first impression for us as well. With that said, we’ll cover what we didn’t like first, and then cover what we did like, so we can end on a good note.

What We Didn’t Like

We were part of the Dark Steampunk panel with Steam Engine Intrepid at twelve thirty in the afternoon as the first panel of the convention. This was too early, and everyone had to make additional plans and struggle to be there for that panel. The Dark Professor was still scheduled to be at work at that time, so he had to pull some strings in order to be at the panel. Three people (including myself) were there on time and the rest showed up as soon as they could. We only had 30 minutes for the panel.

In addition to this, the hotel check-in wasn’t until 4pm which meant people didn’t have rooms to get changed into costumes and had nowhere to put their luggage. This made it very inconvenient and stressful. We feel like the convention panels started too early prior to hotel check-in. The hotel liked saying that this is a standard check-in for ALL hotels, but we disagree. We’ve been attending a lot conventions for over 10 years (mostly larp and gaming cons) all over the US and this is the first hotel we’ve ever been to that had such a late check-in. Most hotels we’ve been too were noon to 2pm check-in. So, maybe check-in is just late in the day out in Texas, but in all honesty it felt like a poor excuse.

Fortunately, there were people who were kind enough to share their room space (as a few people arrived a day early). Both Cameron (one of the Convention planners) and Jeremiah & Kelly Loder offered us a place to get ready. We stored our luggage in The Loder’s room and got into costume. We’ll talk more about these kinds of positive things further on.

While it was nice to have the same room for all the panels, which made it super easy to find any panel, it had some draw backs for us. There were few panels that we were interested in at this convention. Not to say that the panels weren’t good. When we didn’t want to attend a specific panel, there really wasn’t anything else for us to do. At most conventions, there are panels scheduled on top of each other, so there are more choices. At this convention, the panel didn’t overlap so that you could attend all the panels. With only one panel running at a time, there were times where we felt like there was nothing to do if you weren’t interested in gaming or buying something in the vendors room. We also felt like some popular panels or interesting panels were too short, and some panels were too long.

While it was nice having a description of each panel on the schedule, it wasn’t as easy to check the times of the events. Having the time grid makes it easy to see when and where a panel or event is scheduled and how everything lines up. If there was a schedule sheet like this floating around, we missed it. The schedule we had was missing an open and closing time for the vendors room, registration, and the SCARS Larp… or we didn’t see it, which still poses an issue. We couldn’t properly plan a visit to the vendors room, or coordinate with people to play in the LARP together. We completely missed it, which was disappointing.

First, we had to deal with hotel issues the majority of the day on Friday – which we’ll get to later – so we didn’t have a chance to play. Then on Saturday, we had some prior obligations during the morning and noon, which wasn’t a big deal because we figured we’d play after noon into the evening. We were then being stopped by random people wanting to role play with us and needing to discuss breaking a spell… obviously there was something fun going on and people wanted to role play with us. So, we stopped to talk to Jim (who was running the LARP) only to find out the LARP was going to be over in about an hour. There was going to be soft larp all night, but the main event was pretty much over by the time we got food and other obligations out of the way. This was very disappointing! If we had known the actual LARP schedule, we could have planned our activities better. If this was posted somewhere, I can’t imagine how we missed it.

As for vendors, there were a couple of observations. First, there seemed to be a lot of empty space that could have been used for more vendors. Butterfly Creations was up in the terrace in the miserable heat outside, and judging from the space in the vendors room all weekend, they could have been in placed in the comfort of the air conditioned vendors room. However, we don’t really know if they were in the terrace for a specific reason or by request, this was just an observation of space vs location.

In fact, we feel like more guest vending could have been accommodated in the vendors room as well. Having the guests vending in the gaming room felt out of the way and less trafficked. I was told there was a sign that directed people to the guest vending, and I did hear some announcements here and there directing people to them, but it didn’t seem like this was enough. I never saw the sign, so I’m not sure what else to say about the advertising. One of our crew members spent a majority of his time in the gaming room and he observed traffic to and from the Con-Ops room and some flow for the auction, but not much traffic overall. Even our Captain took a stroll up there and spent a couple of hours of observation and concurred that it seemed like a lack of traffic. It’s shame, because they were very friendly and welcoming, and there was some really nice stuff up there!

Our crew had the VIP badges, because we enjoy the extra perks… but we didn’t feel it this time. We got shirts, but they didn’t accommodate our heavier sized crew member. He informed them weeks prior to the event that he would need a 4X size. At the registration table, the shirt vendor said he did not get this information from whomever handled our transaction, so our crew member didn’t get a shirt. Then there was the preferred seating that we thought VIP passes would include. There was no clearly mark VIP seating. We didn’t attend many panels this time around, so we can’t say whether or not it posed a problem. It still felt like the perks were a bit lacking. Then there was the dinner.

We love the idea of having a VIP dinner, but it was very poorly communicated. We didn’t know what we would be getting for diner and didn’t get a choice. We were sitting at the table with salads and drinks being brought out and none of the wait staff could tell us what the meal was going to be. Airship Aurora joined us for dinner and their Captain notified them they needed a vegetarian meal. It looked like an impromptu toss together of vegetables and didn’t look all that appetizing or fulfilling… but I can’t know for sure since I wasn’t the one eating it. The salad and chicken dinner wasn’t too bad for the majority of our crew, but one of our crew mates didn’t like it at all. Not having a choice was less of a bother then not knowing what we were getting until it arrived at the table. Also, having the dinner outside in Texas on a hot humid day made the experience far less enjoyable for us. We would have loved to enjoy more of the performances and table mingling, but it was just too miserable outside. Our Captain was dealing with a health issue (non-contagious) all weekend, so being in the heat for long periods was just not an option.

So, now that we’ve covered the Convention specific topics, let’s get to the root of the problem… the Hotel. As beautiful as that hotel was, it was not worth the terrible service. The St Anthony Hotel in San Antonio, TX is supposed to be a Luxury Hotel, but it lacked the Luxury service. This may sound harsh, but we had a terrible experience that caused an outburst of anger. We currently have no plans to attend the next Aetherfest if it’s at the same hotel. Luckily, I saw a comment on a recent thread that says the next Aetherfest won’t be there – good! We felt like they didn’t care about the Steampunk convention, as much as they say they did, as well as didn’t provide our crew and friends with the proper service that we payed for.

First of all, it took the hotel 9 hours to get our room situation resolved, and even then it was sub-par and making due with what we could get. The 4pm check-in and poor excuses was annoying at best, but not unmanageable. However, the nine hours of stress and anger was completely unacceptable. We arrived early because we needed to be ready for the Dark Steampunk panel… we wanted enough time to arrive, get breakfast, get into costume, and hopefully checked in. We spoke to the front desk about early check-in and advised them of exactly what we needed. They said they would call us as soon as what we needed was available. They never called us. As people with the same type of rooms and arrangements were saying they had checked in, we got the impression that they had our type of rooms available but hadn’t bothered to contact us. So, we check the front desk and sure enough there are rooms available. We were not thrilled that they hadn’t bothered to contact us. Fine, it was another annoying but manageable situation. We actually loved the room we were in… it was spacious and lovely. Then The Intrepid arrived.

We find out there are no adjoining rooms, which was what was on the reservations. It was specifically asked that Intrepid and Horizons have adjoining rooms on the reservations and we were told that would happen. When we were later told there is no such type of room at the hotel, we felt lied to. As a compromise, we agreed to have us move into another room and have our crews side by side… but the rooms weren’t cleaned yet. So, we have Intrepid and the Captain of Airship Aurora in our room until everyone can get their rooms worked out. During this compromise, our Captain very specifically asked, does our room have TWO bathrooms AND TWO beds. They said yes. She asked a second time TWO BATHROOMS, and was told yes again.

We waited several hours and talked to the front desk three times to finally get the rooms. The rooms were not correct. They did not have two bathrooms. Even the Intrepid crew didn’t get the rooms they needed. One bathroom will not work for three adults and three children. Due to some health issues between Horizon crew members, it’s extremely inconvenient to share the bathroom, so this is just not acceptable. So, then we have to move rooms yet again, and wait yet again. When we get to our next room, there are people in it.

At this point, we’ve changed rooms, never got what our (both crews) reservations where set for, and it’s been nine hours. After being in a car for 8 hours, and then dealing with the hotel for 9 hours, we are tired, hungry, and cranky. Our Captain had been on the side lines, fuming, letting the First Officer and Intrepid deal with the issue. Now, the Captain goes off like a bomb. Attempts from our First Officer and She IS are fruitless as our Captain storms through the hotel and goes off at the front desk. You have to know that we don’t make scenes, throw tantrums, and foster drama, but at this point our Captain is so angry she is seeing red. People at the front desk are overwhelmed and not dealing with the situation appropriately. At that point, the staff should have immediately fetched a manager… instead the Captain demands a manager. In frustration of the lack of ability of the staff to react appropriately, she turns and goes upstairs to the management office and gets one herself.

We won’t go into details on the explicits, but our demands are met. The manager finds us an appropriate room then escorts us up to it to inspect it before moving anything. There were apologies, hugs (yes, management hugged the Captain), and in the end they comped the first night and parking charges for both crews, provided dinner for Intrepid, and also supplied some beverages for the Order Birthday Party (we’ll tell you about that later on).

Now, don’t get me wrong, all was not well. This room was smaller than the original room and not nearly as nice. The bed posts were obnoxious because they constricted the view of the TV and the beds were extremely creeky. No one could turn over in the bed or get up for a potty without waking up everyone else. This room was not even on the same floor as the Intrepid. Our two crews very much wanted to be close, but alas we didn’t get what we wanted. At least at this point, the bomb was defused and Captain was able to tend to her health needs.

There were other great disappointments with this hotel. One of our crew members spotted a roach… only one… but one is enough to cause a problem if it happens to travel home in the luggage or end up in someone’s food in the kitchen. We talked to house keeping and told them very specifically that we needed more towels and toilet paper for BOTH bathrooms. They were asked three times, and in the end only supplied one bathroom. We had to ask them again for more towels and toilet paper. They also rang the room door bell every morning at 9am while we’re still sleeping, which is very annoying. Why don’t they do their rounds at noon like other hotels we’ve been to? There were also occasions when I had placed the latch so that the door wouldn’t close all the way because I was tired of having to go let people in the room every ten minutes while I’m trying to relax. Every ten or so minutes house keeping was knocking on the door yelling into the room “Do you want your door open, Miss?” Why yes! Yes I do. That’s why it’s open. Now please stop asking.

For lunch on Saturday, we arrive at the pub an hour and 15 minutes prior to the Birthday party. There are several empty but not yet cleaned tables. We sit at the one clean table. There is no one to take orders, so you have to go up to the bar to make your order or to get a menu. Our order consisted of two cheeseburgers, one nachos, and three drinks. As we waited for nearly the entire hour and 15 minutes, we see the bus boy come around and slowly clean one table and then disappear. So there are several people standing around who eventually leave when no one bothers to clear tables. Finally, a bar/kitchen manager comes by and asks how we are doing. We complain and she very quickly gets our order taken care of. By this time, we have to very quickly scarf down food… no room for tasting it! Then get off to our other obligations. All in all, the staff of the hotel seemed pretty incompetent or perhaps they were just lazy.

The majority of the hotel was hot. When we first arrived at the hotel, the lobby was miserable. Then several hours later, the lobby was suddenly very cool and nice. Obviously, they had just turned on, or turned up the A/C. The hallways and bathrooms were all hot. The vendors room, gaming room, and ballroom were ice cold. They obviously had good A/C, but it really felt like they were cutting corners. For a Luxury hotel, you would think the whole building would be air conditioned. Before the Church Convention, the lobby was nice and cold. Yes, the church convention.

One minute, there is Aetherfest and then suddenly, I come down and find a Church event with a casino setup in the lobby with scantily clad woman and their young children present (how inappropriate). I start hearing that people are being kicked out of the lobby, that these church people are harassing our members about being in the lobby because they are having a private party. There were people saying that the Hotel breeched the Aetherfest contract, because our registration and vending room had to be closed and the lobby was pretty much off limits. Personally, we walked through that lobby whenever we pleased, because it was ridiculous, but we didn’t get hassled by anyone.

The next day, the lobby was hot again and despite complaints it remained hot. The excuse that it’s just spotty was just that, a lame excuse. When the lobby was crowded with scantily clad church goers, the lobby was obviously air conditioned and well capable of handling the occupancy. The hotel clearly had no regard for the comfort of the Aetherfest guests but cared plenty for the other convention party.

On Saturday, Airship Isabella begins getting their vending stuff prepared. It’s my understanding that they have a private guest room setup for their vending. This is where the Order Birthday Party is supposed to happen because ASI is great like that! The manager asks me where the birthday party will be (since they are providing some drinks) and when I mention the location she says there is a mistake because ASI doesn’t have a private room in the contract. So, ASI ends up setting up their vending in the main lobby. It’s not a huge set back as far as I can tell, because the front lobby gets the most traffic and the party was held in the lobby without a hitch. However, this situation greatly annoyed our Horizons crew. We may not be part of Airship Isabella, but we have a great fondness for them and it only added to the negative hotel experience.

This whole ordeal made us feel like the hotel didn’t really care about this convention. They said several times that Aetherfest was important but their actions proved otherwise.

What We Enjoyed

The aesthetics of the hotel were amazing! There is no doubt that this hotel is gorgeous. It was an 1800’s style Victorian hotel with lots of brass, a grandfather clock, and huge chandeliers. We were very excited to come to this hotel because we wanted to take pictures. Sadly, due to the constant disappointments and heat, we didn’t do the photos we had intended.

The hotel was two blocks away from The Alamo. The Steampunk group gathered and walked together in a parade to the Alamo to take a giant group photo. It was hot outside, but it was great! People out in the town were fascinated and taking photos of us. It was really cool.

As we mentioned earlier on, when we didn’t have a hotel room yet, both Cameron and The Loder’s offered to let us use their rooms to get into costume and store our luggage. They didn’t have much room in their single-bed room but they were very generous, letting three people hang out in their room and even allow one of us to nap on their bed while they went out for a walk in town. We talk to other people who said others had done the same for them. We also had people in our room temporarily. It was very nice that people were helping each other out and trying to make the best out of situations. This is part of what makes such a great community!

There was a point in which Pablo (who ran the convention), and Cpt. Whittaker and Amelia Whittaker of Airship Isabella (ASI) were having a private talk with hotel management. After the meeting, this manager approached the Captain and First Officer to talk about the issues our crew experienced. This gave us the impression that Pablo and ASI addressed the fact that we had issues, which was fantastic! It’s nice knowing that people in our community put some real care and backing into each other. Management was checking in with our Captain throughout the weekend.

From our observations, both Pablo and Cameron handled the hotel issues and complaints as calmly and with as much poise as anyone possibly could. They remained positive in attitude and friendly all weekend. Also, seeing a recent comment that the next Aetherfest wouldn’t be at that hotel means we can make plans to attend without dreading the hotel. Pablo was also very receptive to the feedback that our First Officer gave him. We appreciate the hard work and positive nature of both hosts.

Despite what we didn’t like some things about how the panels were arranged, it was nice knowing exactly where every panel was and not having to choose between two great panels. You could go to any panel you wanted to go to. This was extremely convenient. It also a lot of fun being part of the Dark Steampunk panel again. There were interested people and some laughter.

Saturday was when most of the fun happened for us, since the majority of Friday was wasted. The Order Birthday Party was great. The Order and Faust came out to give love to The Child. There was chocolate trains and gears, cupcakes, some drinks, and presents. The Child had a good time, and everyone seemed to really enjoy the short but pleasant festivity. Even Darwin Prophet was playing music on the piano for everyone!

It was also really cool having Airship Isabella in the main lobby (Peacock Alley). It seemed like no matter where you were headed, you could stop and say “Hi!” to any number of the ASI crew. Being right in the lobby meant they were often the first steampunks any hotel guests would see and talk to. It drew in some curiosity and possibly attracted new people to the community. In fact, one of our favorite things to do is buy stuff from ASI! Our First Officer had some new commissions to pick up and as always, we loved it! I highly recommend going to ASI for commissions for things like armor, masks, gun holsters, goggles, and top hats (and just about anything). They put a lot of effort, love, and pride into their work and we’ve never been disappointed!

Speaking of ASI, we had a great private talk with Cpt Whittaker and She IS. This meeting was one thing we looked forward to, in order to share ideas and get input on plans for the future. It’s not something we can really talk about at this time, but it’s worth saying that there is a lot of creativity that goes into the community and more to come. We were both flattered and inspired, and we hope to help contribute a lot more to the community in the coming year. It was hard to get him pinned down, but we got our schedules worked out!

We love the idea of VIP passes with perks. At the Emerald City Expo we really enjoyed the dinner (with entertainment) and preferred seating (seats reserved up front at panels and concerts). Despite the disappointments we mentioned earlier in this article, we did still like that there were VIP passes at this convention. It’s nice having one meal that you don’t have to spend on at the convention, since it’s included with your VIP purchase. It was a nice dinner where we could mingle with other Airship Crews. We had a great time!

We also enjoyed the gaming room. The gaming room was nice and cool, so when the lobby and other locations were miserably hot, it was nice to take a break in the gaming room. The Guest Vendors were so welcoming and nice… and in some occasions they were entertainingly silly. On Saturday night a group of us (including Little Beard) enjoyed a card game and let off some steam until about 2am in the morning. It was great that the game room stayed open all night, so people had a place to gather and have a good time without resorting to a cramped hotel room. This also meant that others could just drop in and join the game. This was just an impromptu thing and a fun time!

The auction was another great thing to come out of this convention. Our First Officer Thomas Reinier brought up the idea of having a charity auction and our group COGS (Central Oklahoma Grassland Steamers) decided on Autism Speaks as the charity. He brought the idea to A Steampowered Cause to get it in motion, since we were not prepared to plan it ourselves. There was a lot of work put into it and the auction went very well ($1300 raised)! We’d like to say thank you to Jennifer Anne Rodriguez, Robb Bates, and everyone who donated or bid at the auction!

It was also a surprise and pleasure to find Shane DeFreest at the convention with a press pass. We consider Shane to be a Titan in the rpg industry. We met Shane back in a LARPing club we’d been in for about 10+ years. It was great being able to chat with him about our community and our new hobby of Steampunk. He seemed to really enjoy himself and he fit in well. Our First Officer introduced him to Airship Isabella and we hope they get a chance to talk more! We think he’d be a great asset to the community.

As always, the people are the best part of the convention. We loved mingling and talking with people, making jokes and being utterly silly, getting to know people, and just having fun together. We enjoyed the company of Steam Engine Intrepid (because we love you guys!), Airship Isabella, Airship Aurora, Little Beard, The Loder’s, and many other crews and steamers. Thank you all for making this convention worth it!

In conclusion, we were disappointed but we accomplished the goals we had and greatly enjoyed the people and events. Next year, we are hopeful for something great.

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