Fantasy Fest is an annual 10-day party in paradise for grown-ups and this year is special in honour of its 40th Anniversary.
Started in 1979 by a small group of Key West locals, the party was created to bring visitors to the island during what was a typically quiet, but beautiful season.
It worked. Fantasy Fest has grown every year since its inception and is now the wildest extravaganza around. Flamboyant revelers from around the globe bring their creativity and imagination as they descend upon Key West each year in October for costuming, parades, libations and fun.
It's the annual spell when Key West goes nuts – hosting thousands of thirsty spectators, more flashing than at Mardi Gras and some imaginatively-placed dabs of body paint.
It also generates about $30 million in revenue to the island chain.
Naturally, there is a code of conduct. The Key West Tourist Development Association and the Key West Police Department welcome everybody to the celebration but will apply some rules of conduct. Cover-ups are encouraged to avoid illegal exposure on public property and on all city streets outside the designated “Fantasy Zone."
With so much drinking and so many boisterous crowds, you'd think plenty of Fantasy Festers would wind up in jail but it’s not so. Key West on a party weekend is probably quieter than Brooksville with just a few over-imbibers or others detained for disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace.
Fantasy Fest usually attracts 70,000-80,000 spectators about this time in October. This year, it features some pretty weird-sounding events, like the Painted Petting Zoo with Glitter, a Coral Head Blues Fest, Royal Coronation, a Havana Cabana Pool Party, Bahama Village Goombay Festival in the historic village neighbourhood, a Zombie Bike Ride, Smokin’ Tuna Walking Dead Contest and the annual Toga Party at Sloppy Joe's (Hemingway's bar and a national heritage landmark, of all things).
Where else can happy hour start at 8 a.m.? Where else but at Key West's Fantasy Fest can you walk the streets with a plastic glass of booze? Outdoor boozing is as normal as one gabbing on a cell phone in Key West.
Between the bodypaint and booze, Fantasy Fest could be a county commissioner's worst nightmare but in Key West, the festival is welcomed as a chance for local exhibitionists to blow off steam at the end of another hurricane season and to rub elbows (or whatever) with scantily-clad tourists.
The decadent and frivolous event culminates with the Fantasy Fest Parade, a two-hour show of painted flesh, outlandish floats and partying goes on until about 5 a.m.
Hosted by Bud Light, the parade winds through world-famous Duval Street from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.
Duval, which locals boast is the "longest street coast to coast," is in reality just under two miles long, features 75 of Key West's 500 bars and 37 art galleries, anchored at the Gulf by Sloppy Joe's bar and speakeasy, and near the Atlantic by gay bar La Te Da.
Lavishly decorated floats and costumed revelers entertain tens of thousands of spectators in the event. With this year's theme of “In Tune But Off Key: Celebrating 40 Years of Fantasy" theme, expect to enjoy a visual symphony by parade floats, walking groups, and ever biking groups.
The Bud Light Fantasy Fest Parade route begins in Woodstock in all its Rock N Roll glory (the end of Southard Street) travels through Disco, Punk, New Wave, Bubblegum Pop, and Gangster Rap before making its way to the musical mix we are listening to today. Be prepared to Twist and shout, do the Loco-Motion, do the Dougie, perform the Macarena and most definitely moonwalk the night away! The parade kicks off at 7 PM on Saturday, Oct. 26.
Visit fantasyfest.com for where to play, stay, eat and drink and shop.
If you can’t make it to Key West this year, dates for the 2020 Fantasy Fest will be Oct. 16 through Oct. 25.