I have been going to Fantasy Fest in Key West for 10 years now. I love Halloween—the crisp, chilly air, images of the full moon and wispy clouds, jack-o'-lanterns glowing, fall leaves rustling in the breeze—I enjoy the feel of it. I also love getting dressed up—I never understand why people don't want to put a costume on or it least a silly wig or hat. It's just plain fun. So Fantasy Fest is an incredible opportunity to not only dress up in a costume but to be able to use anything as a costume—walk around in your pajamas, wear your favorite string bikini with a bunch of beads, wrap tin foil or caution tape around yourself, anything goes. And it is entertaining and hysterical to see all of the many outfits and costumes and body adornment that people come up with.
Often when I mention that I'm going to or have been to Fantasy Fest, people's reaction is "not me!", or "no thanks", or "what's that like? I heard it's absolutely insane". Or my favorite one to respond to: "isn't that just a big gay party"? The fact is, Fantasy Fest is a mixture of people, parties and places. You can do it anyway you like. You can be in the thick of it at the tourist end of town—Duval Street near Malory Square—jammed into bars with a bunch of partying people and yes, some of them are quite drunk. Or you can be in midtown where it is still lively and crowded but not as jammed and not as crazy and you can actually shop, sit and eat, and walk around a bit. Or you can get off of Duval and go to all the places around Key West that are delighted to have you on the weekend when everyone else is on Duval Street. If you don't want to be in the melee, you simply go to the bars that are off the beaten path and you still see the occasional person in costume and get a taste of Fantasy Fest, but many people will be in regular clothes and many locals will be hanging out there.
As for nudity and sex—I've had people think that you just see people having sex in the streets. I've never seen that. I've never seen someone nude that wasn't painted and wearing a thong. I have seen people kissing and making out but you can see that in lots of places when you go out at night. You do see painted bodies—the large majority of them are upper body, so women with their whole front or breasts painted. 90% of the time the painting job is tasteful and covers them really well—if anything they are works of art. You'll see breasts painted like a boustier or a vest—or mermaid or princess—it's actually very cool and you will find yourself complementing people who got painted. Only a few people do full body painting and they're usually excellent, like one year I saw four women all painted as big cats—Tiger, cheetah, and Leopard with the fourth girl having zebra stripes. They looked amazing.
At the opposite end of Duval Street—yes this is the area where there are a few gay bars and where the gays tend to frequent—is actually loads of fun and not near as crowded and messy—less drunks and trash than the tourist end. I find this end of town a wonderful respite from the craziness at the other end and I enjoy being able to actually get an open bar stool and be waited on quickly. The gay community has their own parties and things going on in the street like drag queens running through an obstacle course and lip sync contest. All of it is a lot of fun and you will see straight couples watching and you will see the man laughing and having a good time, and probably his girlfriend or wife had to drag him up to that end of town.
The pedestrian parade on Friday night is my favorite, most fun thing that I do all year. You get into costume and walked through the streets along the parade route with several thousand other costumed fun people. We are all in a festive mood and complementing each other on our outfits (or lack thereof ;-). You see really creative stuff. The parade route is lined with people who enjoy seeing all the costumes and they hand you beads, drinks and other goodies. Marchers in the parade follow a flatbed truck which has a band on the back of it. There are host homes along the way who put out refreshments—anything from lemonade or ice tea, beer or shots, to cookies or granola bars.
On Saturday night is the big parade with all the floats and I don't think you can see better floats anywhere else except maybe the Macy's parade. For Florida this is the parade to see. One incredible float after the other. And you will be weighed down with beads by the end of the night. It is not difficult to get a spot—you simply walk up to Duval Street one hour before the parade and join the crowd.
I can't recommend Fantasy Fest highly enough. But I realize it's not for everyone. There are people that don't enjoy the crowds or would be bothered by walking through a beer puddle or seeing two gay guys with their butt cheeks exposed wearing caveman costumes. I'm not offended by anything and I don't mind people being drunk and loud—I don't mind the trash in the streets—it's all part of being at a big party. The little negatives are far outweighed by the positives. This is Mardi Gras and Halloween combined—and the weather and the setting couldn't be better. What a blast!
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Hi! I'm a lover of life, people, and fun! I have a 23-year professional background in Marketing - Communications, as well as substantial event planning experience. I'm out and about several nights a week in S. Florida. I've lots of good information to share! I'm always being asked all sorts of things - so it made perfect sense to start blogging! I seek to help people with the information I provide -- whether it be to help them market their business; hold a fabulous event; choose a restaurant; or have an incredible weekend in my area! Sometimes I just seek to inspire you, or make you think. Thanks for reading and sharing. CHEERS! P-