Pensacola has a vibrant and active nerd culture scene all year long, but for one weekend a year, it really takes over the town. In 2018, that weekend will be Feb. 23-25, as Pensacon makes its annual return.

A pop culture gathering of epic proportions, this year's convention will encompass official events at the Pensacola Bay Center, the Pensacola Grand Hotel, the Saenger Theatre, the Pensacola Little Theatre and the Rex Theatre, setting a massive footprint throughout Downtown Pensacola. That footprint is augmented by the area's hospitality businesses, a number of which get into the Pensacon spirit with official, themed after-hours events, as well as decorations and themed food and drink specials throughout the weekend.

And it even takes over our airport, as by official proclamation, Pensacola International Airport is re-named Pensacola Intergalactic Airport for the month of February, complete with themed signage, airport gates transforming into "stargates" and more.

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"Pensacon has brought visitors from more than half the continental U.S. and Hawaii, as well as the U.K., Australia and South America for their first experiences with the city," said Pensacon President and CEO Mike Ensley. "And that experience begins as soon as they step off the plane into the Intergalactic airport and as they visit the many themed restaurants and bars during Gallery Night and all weekend long."

Fans of science-fiction, comic books, horror, fantasy, gaming, art, music, film, cosplay and much more will find plenty they want to do this weekend. But Pensacon is not just for the hard-core nerds -- there's something for everyone at this all-inclusive, family-friendly convention.

I've been attending and covering Pensacon since the beginning. And this year, as I have for the past three years, I'll be serving as a volunteer. Here are five things I love about Pensacon that I think everyone -- nerd or not -- will love, too.

 

1. THE GUESTS

Pensacon's main draw for many people is its incredible guest list. Each year, the convention hosts more than 100 celebrity guests -- actors, authors, artists, musicians and more -- who appear to greet fans, sign autographs, pose for photos and discuss their work in panel presentations.

So who are these celebrities? Well, there's a complete list at pensacon.com, but among the highlights are:

·         Jason Isaacs, star of the "Harry Potter" film series and "Star Trek Discovery"

·         "Star Trek: The Next Generation" stars Brent Spiner and John de Lancie

·         Brian Herring, creator and operator of BB-8 from the current "Star Wars" films

·         Charles Martinet, voice of Mario and several other characters from popular Nintendo games

·         Lou Ferrigno, TV's "The Incredible Hulk"

·         John Barrowman, star of "Doctor Who," "Torchwood" and "Arrow"

·         Arthur Darvill of "Doctor Who" and "DC's Legends of Tomorrow"

·         Maisie Richardson-Sellers of "DC's Legends of Tomorrow" and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

Pensacon also features cast reunions from popular movies and TV shows including "Fright Night," "Land of the Lost" and "Voltron: Defender of the Earth," as well as cast members from "Game of Thrones," "The Walking Dead," "Star Wars," "Star Trek," “Dragon Ball Z” and more.

 

2. THE PEOPLE

You'll meet an amazing array of friendly people at Pensacon. It really is an opportunity for the nerd community to come together in the name of shared fandoms and fellowship.

Even if you're not the chatty type, Pensacon offers some of the greatest people-watching opportunities you'll ever experience. While it's by no means required, many attendees cosplay, dressing up in elaborate costumes representing their favorite pop culture figures. These typically aren't store-bought Halloween costumes; they're painstakingly-crafted original pieces made with love and pride. Most cosplayers will happily pose for photos, but it's considered polite to ask before snapping away and to not touch anyone without their expressed consent.

All of Pensacola puts on its best face over Pensacon weekend, so you'll likely find people in good moods everywhere you go, including many who get into the spirit even if they're working elsewhere or unable to attend the convention.

 

3. THE SHOPPING

Whether you're looking for something for your own collection or seeking out gifts for friends, the vendor floor and Artist's Alley at Pensacon offer opportunities that you won't find anywhere else.

You'll find all manner of collectibles including comic books, posters, T-shirts, jewelry, prints, toys, games, DVDs and more on the massive vendor floor, which takes up the entire arena floor at the Pensacola Bay Center.

Artist's Alley is on the third-floor concourse at the Bay Center, circling the arena, and here's where it gets really special. Dozens of artists are set up here selling their work, and most also offer commissions, work made to order that they will complete on site, as well as their original artwork, prints and other hand-crafted pieces. You'll find a number of veteran artists here, professionals who have worked on some of your favorite comic books, cover illustrations and other famous works. This isn't stuff you can pick up on Amazon or at the corner store.

 

4. THE COSTUMES

I mentioned that a lot of attendees like to cosplay at Pensacon, but to truly see the best of the best, make time Saturday night to attend the annual costume contest at the historic Saenger Theatre. Dozens of cosplayers will parade across the Saenger stage to show off their work for a packed audience and professional judges as they compete for cash and prizes. It's one of the biggest events of the weekend.

Additionally, Pensacon invites a number of professional cosplayers as guests. Their work is always worth seeing, and these lovely people are definitely worth meeting.

 

5. THE REST

There's so much I haven't gotten to! There are after-hours parties at a number of downtown venues; 'round-the-clock gaming at the Pensacola Grand Hotel; video game tournaments; cultural performances including improv, music and dance; a film festival; fighting exhibitions and other outdoor activities and so much more.

If you can't find something to entertain you this weekend, please seek medical attention, because I fear you may be dead.

For complete ticket and event information, visit pensacon.com.