If you aren’t familiar with Fantasy Fest in Key West then here’s the skinny…it’s a “10-day party in paradise for adults.” (Source 1) It’s always held in the last week of October and it was started in 1979 by four friends and local business owners to curb the winter blues with their businesses. The idea is that each year has a crazy costume theme that everyone embraces for the 10 days. Here are some examples of themes from the last 40 years like House of Horrors (1981), Junglemania™ (1991), Tinseltown Dreams™ (1995), Super Heroes, Villains & Beyond™ (2013)… well you get the idea! This year’s theme is “Cult Classics & Cartoon Chaos!”
Fantasy Fest History & Founders
Fantasy Fest was founded by Bill Conkle, Joe Liszka, Tony Falcone, and Frank Romano. We all know the party is always pumping in Key West today but back in the 1970’s the winter season was always dead and businesses suffered. So these four local business owners came up with an event idea based around costumes and parades and Fantasy Fest was born! Since 1979 the festival has grown and become an economic driver for the region with some 75,000 revelers that attend every year.
This is not a family friendly event but it is one to remember for sure! The cool part about this festival is that they are always trying to embrace Key West culture and bring those elements into every year. They are not all about the Benjamins either as, “Many Fantasy Fest events and activities serve as important fundraisers for local non-profit organizations, including the iconic King & Queen of Fantasy Fest campaign, which raises money for AIDS Help of Monroe County.” (Source) You can read all about the history here. The hosts have done a really good job of marketing this event, trademarking, and merchandising. You can get cool shirts, koozies and more every year when you attend.
Fantasy Fest King and Queen!
Every year they hold a special event called the Royal Coronation Ball (it’s on October 21st this year). This two-hour stage show includes a three course plated meal, a cash bar, local celebrities, contestants performing and they vote for the King and Queen of Fantasy Fest! This is a benefit for the A.H. of Monroe County, Inc. and it’s held at the famous Coffee Butler Amphitheater in Key West. Click here for more info!
Masquerade March (Locals’ Parade)
The Masquerade March (October 28th) is a key piece of the week-long celebration at Fantasy Fest. It is widely known as the “locals’ parade” and features community, costumes and the creative side of its participants. They label it as a, “grown-up moving cocktail & dance party that begins at the Frances Street entrance of the Key West Cemetery. This moving mosaic of costumed revelers strut their wacky costumes on a route that winds its way north to Fleming Street stopping at participating guest houses, which – while supplies last – hand out complimentary beverages.” (Source) You don’t want to miss this so check out all the info here!
Bud Light Fantasy Fest Parade
Don’t get the march confused with the parade as The Bud Light Fantasy Parade makes it’s way around the island on October 29th. This isn’t your grandma’s parade though as there are large cash prizes totaling upwards of $15,000. This a spectacular parade where all the participants really go all out to make sure their presentation is on point. “The parade is a splendid moving party with festive floats, wild walking groups, bicycle brigades, and even human-powered kinetic machines that entertain tens of thousands of spectators in the premier Fantasy Fest event.” (Source) It’s time to get your Key West on so check out all the details here
Key West Community Embrace
The reason that they have been so successful with Fantasy Fest, as I mentioned earlier, with 75k people attending, is because the community has embraced it and has created smaller events to complement the big party. Here are some things you don’t want to miss during the 10 day stint.
The Bahama Village Goombay Festival is on October 21-22. This is a free island street party that features music, arts and crafts, and food. There are an assortment of bands ranging from gospel to reggae and will be showcased at the corner of Petronia and Fort Street. There are lots of wonderful vendors and food and drink options. Here is more information.
Another great event to check out is the 39th Annual Headdress Ball presented by the Key West Business Guild. Located at the beautiful Coffee Butler Amphitheater in the heart of Key West you can “see talented headdress makers, judged from the shoulders up, compete for the first place prize of $3,000, second place of $1,000, and $500 for third place. Eight great talent acts will also be featured. Laurie Thibaud of Aqua Idol fame returns as emcee. Bar and food service available during the performance.” The monies from this event go towards LGBTQ+ tourism. Click here for more info.
Don’t Miss The Fun!
Are you looking for adventure like you have never seen before? Check out Fantasy Fest and get ready for the party of a lifetime! Are you looking for more cool events to check out in Key West? The Fall and Winter are jam packed with exciting events ranging from watersports, rock concerts, comedians and more! Check out 25+ events we think you shouldn’t miss out on here.