Anime Central is by far my favourite cosplay convention in all of North America. Find out why in this review!

Anime Central (or Acen for short) is located in Rosemont, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. It’s one of the largest Anime cons in North America. I personally have been to this convention 3 times. If I could go every year to Anime Central, I sure as hell definitely would.

I was supposed to go this year in 2020, but then the pandemic happened and ruined everyone’s plans. 🙁

Name: Anime Central

Date: Usually the 2nd or 3rd of week of May, the same weekend as Victoria Day in Canada, or a week before Anime North (May 18-20 in 2018 when I went)

Location: Donald E. Stephens Convention Center and the Hyatt Regency O’Hare Chicago

Website: https://www.acen.org

Hotel room availability: Difficult (hotel rooms sell out fast)

Costs

Weekend Pass: $50-70 USD, depending how early you buy it

Hotel rooms: Around $200-$300 USD/Night (with Anime Central hotel block)

Parking: $15 a day for parking at the convention center. You can also park at the train station nearby for about $7-$13 (depending how long you stay)

Budget: Approximately $300-$400 USD if lodging with 3 other roommates ($100 for hotel, $50 for food, $70 for weekend pass, $30-$50 for gas, $50-$100 for items in the dealer’s room). Bring lots of money!

Overall costs: Expensive. Everything in Illinois is expensive!

Anime Central Crowd and Atmosphere

Let me just start by saying this: the crowd and atmosphere is the BEST thing about Anime Central. I don’t know, maybe it’s a Midwestern thing. But I find the attendees at Anime Central incredibly friendly and social. There’s really no pretentious vibe or elitism at the con.  Pretty much everyone is there is there to have fun, and that alone makes it a great atmosphere. Acen combines the warm and friendly vibe of a small con, while having the fun and energy of a big con.

Here are some crowd highlights I’ve seen at Acen:

  • While you’re going up or down the escalator, people will stick out their hand to hi-five you on the opposite escalator
  • Wrestling/gaming chants while you’re waiting in line for a panel or event (I remember a Mario cosplayer starting a “Fuck Luigi!” chant and everyone joined along)
  • People singing random songs together at night (see my video above)

I’ve been to many cons and there are few with an awesome crowd and atmosphere like this. It’s truly something special.

Here’s a video by Patrick Goelz showing how epic Anime Central is!

Anime Central Location And Venue

The convention is surrounded by roads and highways. But everything is close by, including restaurants, a subway station and even the airport!

As mentioned earlier Anime Central is located in Rosemont, which is about 30 minutes-1 hour away from downtown Chicago. It’s one of those cons that’s located in the “middle of nowhere.” Acen is surrounded by highways and big roads, so it’s not too pedestrian-friendly

Fortunately, everything is close by. There’s a subway station that’s about a 5-10 minute walk, making it easy to reach the con by public transit. I use that train all the time to get from downtown Chicago to the convention.

The O’Hare International Airport is also not too far away, and the subway line stops at the airport. I personally take the hotel shuttle bus and fly out as soon as the convention is over, so it’s very convenient for an international attendee like me!

Acen takes place at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center and in the Hyatt Regency O’Hare Hotel. I noticed that the convention center is really bright, and the hotel is pretty dimly light, which gives it more of a chill vibe. There’s a long enclosed bridge that links the two buildings together, so you don’t have to go outside!

Hotels

Anime Central hotel
The good news: Acen hotels are right beside the con. Bad news: they’re expensive as hell.

Unfortunately, this is one of the downsides of attending Acen. Hotels around the convention are expensive and difficult to obtain. So if you’re looking to get a hotel at the con (which you absolutely should), be prepared to spend at least $200 USD/night. For us Canadians, that’s around $300 CAD. So either save up or get some roommates.

I always dread having to book a hotel for Acen. It involves the typical hotel lottery routine. And my wallet cries when I have to pay up for the hotel bill. But is it worth the price? YES!

The good news is that most of the hotels are within a few minutes’ walk to/from the convention center, so you can easily pop in and out of your hotel throughout the weekend if you stay in one of these hotels.

Tip: There’s a Motel 6 that’s about a 20 minute walk (or 5 minute bus ride) from the convention. That’s your best bet if you wanna save some money while staying around the convention area!

Cosplay Photoshoot Opportunities at Anime Central

It’ll be hard to find scenic areas to shoot at Acen.

Beautiful and stunning cosplay photos in the middle of a concrete jungle? HAHAHHAHA!

Maybe I’m unaware of the secret spots for Acen. But as far as I know, you won’t find many cosplay photoshoot opportunities here. As mentioned earlier, Acen takes place in the middle of a highway intersection, so all you get is concrete and boring landscape. While the Hyatt hotel has a pretty interior, it’s going to be insanely crowded at most times of the day. And it’s kind of dark inside, so you’ll need some good lighting if you plan on shooting inside the Hyatt. At least you won’t need a photography pass!

With that said, there’s a lot of open space outdoors. So if you just want photos in general and don’t care about the setting, then you shouldn’t have much issue finding a spot.

Acen also hosts group photoshoots! So if you’re looking to get some shots with characters from the same series as you, then definitely book some time for this.

Food And Drinking Options

Deep dish pizza (Anime Central)
As a Canadian, I’m obligated to try out the most famous Chicago food – deep dish pizza!

Despite being in the middle of nowhere, there are a lot of restaurants around the area! There’s a fast food joint inside the dealer’s room, as well as a quick food service in the convention hotel lobby. There’s also a nice bar/restaurant inside that overlooks the convention. I’ve personally dined there and it was fun watching sports on TV while people-watching.

You have numerous sit-down restaurants across the street and a few minutes’ walk from the convention area. I also went to a fashion outlet mall nearby with a food court there as well.

There are LOTS of bars in the area, including inside the Hyatt convention hotel.

To be honest though, I mostly just ate my deep dish pizza I ordered for the whole weekend because it’s so filling!

If you want to get your drink on without bumming for booze at a party, I recommend stocking up before you arrive at the convention. There’s no liquor or convenience story in the convention area.

Here are all the dining options compiled by Acen:

https://www.acen.org/dining-guide/

Tip: The Hyatt Regency O’Hare hotel has microwaves on some of the hotel floors. So you can save money by buying groceries and using the microwave to heat up your food!

Anime Central Programming

Anime Central has a reputation as a party con. But there’s actually a lot of decent programming that takes place during the weekend!  For a big con, it does not disappoint at all.

Here are the highlights:

Dealer’s Room

As you would expect from a big con, the dealer’s room is huge. If you’re from Canada like me, you’ll notice a lot of industry giants like Crunchyroll, Funimation and Viz with their large vendor booths.

A few cosplay wig stores like Arda were present at the con. So if you wanted to buy new cosplay wigs without having to pay shipping, the dealer’s room at Acen is your best bet.

A lot of organizers from various cosplay conventions were selling tickets to their con at a discounted price. This is a great way to save a few bucks on your next convention!


Tabletop and Video game room

Both the video game room and the tabletop gaming room at Anime Central are 24 hours, which is AMAZING!

Like many American cons, this video game was HUGE. There’s a wide selection of console video games to choose from; you just deposit your badge with them and they give you the cartridge (to think how this will work post-pandemic is depressing). I remember me and my friend heading to the video game room in the wee hours of the night playing Mario Kart 64; it was totally awesome.

I didn’t spend too much time in the tabletop room, but it seemed to be a popular area. It was located in the basement of the con hotel. I played some fun card games with my friends there, and it was pretty fun.

Raves

If you’re looking to get your dance on, then Anime Central is definitely for you! There are two raves, one on Friday and one on Saturday. They start from 10 PM all the way to 4 AM in the morning! I remember me and my roommate were up to 4:30 AM in the morning, and TONS of attendees were still up either partying or going about the convention. We’re both night owls ourselves, and even we didn’t have the energy to stay up that late with that much energy!

One of the raves is called Soap Bubble, which has been going on for almost 20 years now. You have to audition in order to DJ at Anime Central, so I’d imagine they take their raves very seriously! And they get DJs from all over the world, including Japan.

On a side note I find that at many cons, my friends and I run out of things to do late at night. Either the late-night programming is incredibly thin (e.g. Anime North), or the con itself just completely shuts down at a certain time (e.g. Holiday Matsuri). At Anime Central, it was the complete opposite; I had too many options for activities at night! From the rave, late panels, 24-hour video game and tabletop gaming room, restaurants, and a few other unofficial parties I was invited to…I couldn’t keep up. I never have that problem at any other con…it’s an awesome problem to have!

Accessibility

I feel like Anime Central is fairly accessible for those mobility-challenged. There are numerous elevators, escalators and ramps inside the hotel and the convention center. As mentioned before, there’s a long enclosed bridge that links the two buildings together. They also have an Event Accessibility Services where they can help you with things such as priority seating.

However, the distance between the convention center and the hotel is pretty far, whether you take the enclosed bridge or by going outside. As far as I know, there’s no shuttle between the two buildings, so you’ll have to make the trek each time you want to switch buildings.

Also, some of the panels take place in the convention center, and you’ll have to go in a circle in order to reach the panel. Even though you literally walk by it using the indoor bridge, the entrance is closed off there (probably due to crowd control measures).

So while the con is definitely accessible, the distance between the con center and the hotel is big enough that you should plan ahead if mobility is an issue for you.

Summary

Senpai (Anime Central)
Senpai approves of this con.

Pros

  • The best crowd and convention atmosphere I’ve ever been to (so far)
  • Video game room AND tabletop gaming are 24 hours!
  • A ton of programming and activities to see and do, all the way in the morning to late at night
  • Convenient and easy location both by car and by transit (Airport and Metro station nearby)
  • True definition of a party con 😉

Cons

  • Pretty expensive to attend, especially if you plan on staying at a con hotel
  • Hotels are difficult to book, need to book right when they open
  • Photoshoot opportunities are limited here
  • Some might be put off by the party atmosphere at night

Verdict

Anime Central is criminally underrated. It’s truly one of the best cons I’ve ever been to. The crowd and atmosphere is unlike any other; you will have a great time here (if you have the right attitude). There are numerous activities and panels to attend, from early in the morning to all the way at night.  And if you love to party, Acen is YOUR con!

Highly recommend attending. And as a bonus, you get to visit the awesome city of Chicago!

SCORE: 4.5/5