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A few months ago (wow, has it been that long) I did a post on Cisco Live 2011 – Why you should go… and wanted to now follow that up with what you should expect while you are there as well as what you should bring with you.  If this is your first time I hope that this helps, if this is your 2nd, 3rd, etc time – please post in the comments with suggestions.  Each and every one of us experiences the event a little different, so sharing is always helpful and appreciated.
What do you need to bring with you for this event and what should you do to prepare?  Pack a good size suitcase and leave room!  You have the chance to get so many shirts, bags, whiz bangs, and other nick-knacks at World of Solutions you will need the space.  Not to mention if you shop at the Cisco Store there and get shirts, books, golf balls, pens, etc – you will need a place to take all that stuff back with you.  The first few years I would up shipping things back, and that does get expensive real quick!

Word of caution:  This is all based on my past experience at this event – so please keep that in mind.  I have queried to validate some of the information as well as used the brochures published on the Cisco Live website.
Next lets move onto registration and check-in for the event.  I am assuming you have already checked into your hotel and are raring to get your conference badge, so what do you do?  Well – the registration hours are listed in the chart below. At registration there is usually a small kiosk of computers there where you sign-in with your Cisco Live account, validate all the information and then submit it.  It, if I recall, will either tell you the station you need to go to or you can go to the nearest one.  Once you have your badge, you will go over to another kiosk and pick up your Cisco Live material and bag. In the bag will be writing utensils, advertisements, game cards probably, and (fingers crossed) a USB drive with all the presentations on it.  Most of these presentation are also available via the Cisco Live Virtual site, so you might want to grab some of them before you go.

Registration Hours

Saturday 3 PM to 7 PM
Sunday 7 AM to 5 PM
Monday 7 AM to 7:30 PM
Tuesday 7 AM to 7 PM
Wednesday 7 AM to 6 PM
Thursday 7 AM to 5 PM

Registration is located just inside Bayside D past the food courts on the left.  There is usually someone standing there to assist you or help you line up.  Be warned though, on the first day or so it takes them time to get everything figured out, so please be patient and understanding.  This is also the area where Wold of Solutions it – but more on that later.  I was able to find some nice Mandalay Bay maps on their site – link – that I have marked up and annotated based on my past experience at the event.  Here is a map of where you should expect Registration to be (clicking on the image will make it larger).

Quick talk about the Meals at Cisco Live and how they work.  Per the scheduled, there are no meals on Saturday as there are no classes.  On Sunday, meals will be available only to people who have Labs and Seminars that day – and their passes will have a special designation that shows that.  On all the days, they have people at the doors who make sure that each and every one of us has our badge on when we enter, so make sure you keep it visible!  They usually have plenty of seating (you might be surprised by the sheer amount of tables!) and a good selection of “buffet style” servings.  They funnel people into different buffet lines as demand increases, so a table that is full of food might not be the one you get as they will open that up as more people arrive.   One thing to keep an eye for – the walnuts that contain nuts 🙂 (Thanks to @networkingnerd for the picture)

You will find all this wonderful grub over in Bayside B.  Be warned, the food hours are pretty strict – so make sure you are there when they are open! The hours are listed below.  Where is says WOS – that is referring to World of Solutions

Sunday Breakfast 7 AM – 8 AM
Lunch 12PM – 1 PM
Monday Breakfast 7 AM – 8:30 AM
Lunch 11:30 AM – 1 PM
Tuesday Breakfast 7 AM – 8:30 AM
Lunch 11:30 AM – 2 PM (WOS)
Wednesday Breakfast 7 AM – 8:30 AM
Lunch 11:30 AM – 2 PM (WOS)
Thursday Breakfast 7 AM – 8:30 AM
Lunch 11:30 AM – 2 PM (WOS)

And the map to all of this is here:

When it comes to World of Solutions, be prepared to get scanned! The place is filled with vendors giving away stuff, making you sit through presentations, as well as some eye-candy (check out Bluecat Networks, Lancope, Computer Associates and a few others).  Networking World had a post on all of that last year, you can check it out here.  Usually they will scan your badge after a presentation (yes, they want you to sit through an “informational” pitch on their products), scan your tag, and they let you have some free stuff.  Expect Shirts, Flashy things, pens, candy, USB drives, screaming monkeys, and more! Oh, and there is usually plenty of snacks and appetizers as well as free BEER and WINE. Below is a map that is available via Cisco Live that you can look at.  Just click on the picture and it will launch you to the Cisco Live 2011 Exhibitor page where you can see what vendor is where.

So, lets talk about the classes and such now.  I briefly mentioned that you might get a USB drive in your bag that has ALL the presentations on it, but then again you might not.  What you want to do a few days before is log into Cisco Live Virtual, download all the PDF for the classes you are going to attend and copy them to your Laptop or Tablet computer.  I usually toss mine on Dropbox and access what I need during the class, but some people prefer to keep them on the local computer.  Why do I use Dropbox and not keep them local you might wonder – its simple – I normally use my iPad (really don’t need laptop) for classes – but if I ever need to switch to my laptop, the presentation are readily available and I do not need to go looking for them again.
Some of the other things that you should know about classes is that silence is golden – so remember to mute your phone, computer, buzzer, whatever you have that makes noise.  If you have a laptop and are not sure if the sound is on when you boot up, use a set of headphones in the headphone/speaker jack to keep the noise down.  The classes can be quite large ( think 400 + people in some) or very small (think 50) and any noise can make it difficult to hear a presenter. Another thing with the classes, you will be scanned prior to admittance by the event personnel on-site to make sure you are scheduled for that class.  If you are not scheduled, you will have to wait outside until the class starts and they can see if there is space available.  Two more things for the classes – there are usually power strips there, so first come first serve on these.  Last thing, food and drink are allowed – but keep it down with the noise. If you find that you need to leave a class early – phone call, not what you thought it was, over your head and you are lost – nobody will look down on you. We have all done that at one time or another. Just sometimes things are not what we thought they would be and we find that our time is better spent elsewhere.  Don’t be afraid, but just be courteous to the others around and leave quietly.  Please don’t let the door slam, close it gently – it is appreciated. You will also see the occasional person dozing off, try not to wake them unless they snore.  Bonus points if you can get a picture and post it on twitter for all to see!  Oh yeah, if you are in a class with Mr. Tugs, he likes red lipstick applied to his face when he is sleeping – seriously, he told me so!
One more thing to note on the classes, they are spread across three floors in the convention center.  So be aware that the class you have next could be some distance away!  It is easy to start to lose your way, but the event personnel there will help guide you. Just ask and they will be glad to help! Maps of the convention center can be found here:  Level 1 Level 2 Level 3.  These are direct from Mandalay Bay’s website, so they are as accurate as I can find – and yes, it is that big of an event!
Now for some yummy stuff! In between the classes they usually have snacks available – coffee – soda – fruits – chips – brownies – cookies -etc.  Some of these snacks go fast, so be aware.  They are usually good at keeping and eye on them and will refill them quickly, but as it gets closer to class time the tables get sparse. Below are some of the snacks we had last year, you can see brownies – rice crispy treats, cake and Pringles!  YUMMY!!!

There are computer kiosk available at the event – they are in usually in very convenient places along the way to and from classes as well as near World of Solutions.  They can be used to view your schedule, check e-mail via a web application link, as well as complete the all-important after class survey.  All you usually need to do is scan your badge and it will log you in.  From there you have all the conference information at your fingertips.  New this year ( was tested last year ) is a web/smartphone application.  I do not have information on this, but I told you will be able to change and do all your surveys from that as well.  Looking forward to seeing what it is!
The keynotes are held in the Mandalay Bay Events Center, you will pass by this on your way to registration or the food area.  It is a LARGE arena and most of the prime seating up front is reserved for special guests, CCIE/NetVet attendees, as well as the press.  Regardless of where you sit in this event, you will have no problem seeing since this is an arena where they have boxing fights, UFC, etc – all the seats are great.  The keynote speakers usually use the screens for their presentations and such, and they also have a live video presented on the big screens.  John Chambers is very engaging during the Keynote on Tuesday, you can also expect a demo of some new technologies from Jim Grubb.  They do a very good demo that usually goes off without a hitch – but it is live, so problems do occur. Padmasree Warrior, the Cisco CTO, does her keynote on Wednesday, and this years Closing Keynote is with William Shatner on Thursday afternoon – really looking forward to that one.  Oh, and one more mention for all of the Keynotes – the host is Carlos Dominguez, and he does a wonderful job as well!

Customer Appreciation event is HUGE! No idea where this years event it – that is usually a closely held secret that gets revealed soon.  Not coming from me, so need to wait an see.  They have lots of food that is usually good (last year was OK) and free beer and wine.  The most interesting thing about the event is the unique hats that are handed out. Each year they are different, and they keep what they are under tight wraps until you arrive at the event. Here are some of the hats over the years:

…and my all-time favorite. No idea why this one is my favorite, but I think it is just outta this world!!!

I cannot write this post without a brief mention of those of use who are NetVets.  We are attendees who have attended 3 of the last 5 Cisco Live US conferences.  Usually we have a red lanyard attached to our name badges and such.  If you have a question, do not be afraid to ask us.  We where in your shoes at one time, we have no problem giving you the same misdirection we received (just kidding).  Most of us are helpful and understanding and will do what we can to assist.  Once nice perk we NetVets get, we have our own lounge on the 2nd floor.  NetVet only, so if you are one, enjoy the perk!   You can always find drink and food here as well as a generally relaxing environment.  Since it is only NetVets, the crowd is small  – and probably most of us know each other from past years.
So, that about wraps this post up – see you in July (only about 3 more weeks!!!!)
Oh, and be sure to see what Mr. Tugs had to say as well in his post Cisco Live Las Vegas – Last Minute Tips – Great info as well!
One quick last note, Cisco Press is giving away a trip to Cisco Live 2012 in San Diego, CA.  This contest is open to US Residents and you can enter by clicking HERE