A Local's Take on Fantasy Fest 2017

I have several clients who have asked me about Fantasy Fest here in Key West! If you haven't experienced this unique event, it is just a little different than your traditional Halloween celebration. 

The very first Fantasy Fest was held in 1979 when two local businessmen, Tony Falcone and the late Bill Conkle, organized a party to bring more business to the island during a typically slow season. Fantasy Fest has certainly boosted the economy in Key West by filling up hotels, local bars, and restaurants during this time period. Job well done, boys!

It is said that the number of people that join this festival every year ranges from 25,000 to 75,000. The event has escalated to a ten-day celebration that includes balls, a large parade with floats, costume competitions, fundraisers for AIDS and other great causes, body painting, drag queen contests, costume parties, and pet and neighborhood parades for the whole family!"

Sometimes Fantasy Fest can be overwhelming for locals, but this year seemed to bring back the original vision that was sparked in years past by so many creative people! After the Florida Keys were hit so hard by Hurricane Irma, it was like the island needed to blow off a little steam and have fun again. The numbers were down, but the spirit of the festival - for me and many others here - was as strong as ever. Here is a local's take on Fantasy Fest 2017!

The Goombay Festival is the family-friendly kick-off to Fantasy Fest and takes place in the streets of Bahama Village. It starts on Friday and continues the next day Saturday from noon to midnight. There are a few must-dos, whether it's your first or 50th time!

  • Shop - Stop in some of the great local shops like Coast, Wanderlust, and Besame Mucho.
  • Drink - Order a Goombay Smash cocktail from the wonderful bartenders at Blue Heaven - Robyn, Dustan, and Wendy are usually at the bar right in front of the gift shop!
  • Listen - Blue Heaven, Andy's Cabana, and the stage at the end of Petronia Street all feature great local music. Stop in, relax, and enjoy!
  • Eat - Try some conch salad (aka conch ceviche), which can be found at many places, but go to Mr. Johnson at Johnson's Grocery. Not only are you supporting an awesome local family, but it is the best ever! Also, make sure to try an arepa - a delicious stuffed corn cake! These can found at almost every booth. I always pick one that is still on the grill. 
  • Experience - For those who like a good ol' fair ride and funnel cake, walk all the way down to the west end of Petronia Street and catch a ride! 
     

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On the first Sunday of Fantasy Fest is a favorite event for family fun: the Zombie Bike Ride! It begins at East Martello (the home of Robert the Doll, who is scary in his own right!) and ends on Duval Street with street parties at the Tiki House, Amigo's, and Bagatelle. Artists such as the famous Tony Gregory, Crystal Smith, and Rasa Tubyte set up and paint zombie masterpieces. 

"WeCycle Bike Shop's Zombie Bike Ride was created in 2009 by Marky Pierson of Wonderdog Studios and Evan Haskell & Chris Needham of WeCycle Bike Shop. The bike ride quickly grew from a couple hundred people to nearly 5,000 in 2013. The ride is a little over four miles long and takes a leisurely pace down US1 along the Atlantic Ocean, right at sunset. The Zombie Ride has grown to epic proportion with the help of thousands of fun-loving, bike-riding, costume-sporting, and rock-and-roll townspeople. A police escort leads the ride down US1, past the Zombie Beach Bash at Salute! On The Beach, and down to Duval Street where the ZombieFest continues." - Zombiebikeride.com
 

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The famous Tutu Party is on the Tuesday of Fantasy Fest, and the Pet Masquerade is held on Wednesday. This family-friendly event takes place at the beautiful Casa Marina every year. The sand sculpture there said it all after our battle with Hurricane Irma this year: "We are 1!" This fun event benefits the Lower Keys Friends of Animals, Inc. You will find animals and their owners dressed to the nines, sometimes matching each other! The two- and four-legged entrants are in it for fun, but there are trophy prizes, too. I think my favorite this year was Copper, who decided he just wanted to hang out in the water and watch everyone from there! The Pet Masquerade supports a great cause and is always a great time! 

 

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“Let It Fly” was the theme for the Third Annual Smallest Parade in the Universe on Thursday at the Key West Theater on Eaton Street! A miniature procession of artist-made 18” floats bobbles down a make believe Duval Street backdrop as the audience watches both the live parade and simultaneous large screen streaming videos. This whimsical event benefits MARC, Monroe Association for ReMARCable Citizens, a non-profit providing life services for Monroe County’s adult developmentally and intellectually disabled residents.

 

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Now to Friday of Fantasy Fest and one of MY favorite events: the locals walking parade! After a lot of planning and no time to actually work on my costume until the day before, I came up with a tree fairy of sorts. It was my first attempt at a headpiece, and it came out pretty darn good! All the supplies were purchased locally at Home Depot, The Seam Shoppe, Halloween Shop, and the new hair supply shop on White Street. Locals and a few savvy tourists join in for a stroll down Duval in their best costumes. Many are homemade and are just INCREDIBLE. Layla Laser and her daughter are the ones to watch every year! 

 

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On Saturday of Fantasy Fest week, we have the official parade! This year, I was lucky enough to participate with the amazingly creative Wonderdog team and walk first with them. The theme of the float was "Power to the People!"

"Key West Weirdos, Bringing Back the Weird, Wild & Wacky, Future is Female, Unity, Quality, Diversity. Our lead FEST Float represents the Heart of Key West - her people! Colorful, diverse, magical, and united. The old & new weirdos return in full force. Power to the eccentric, artistic, and quirky citizens of Key West. There will be various small 'crews' of people with coordinating/matching costumes that will represent some of the characters from the 2017 poster. This year's poster is a celebration of artwork from previous Fantasy Fest posters over the past 30+ years. Also featured are props and set pieces from the Zombie Bike Ride, Tutu Tuesday, and the Masquerade March." -Marky Pierson

 

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Sunday is Children's Day at Bayview Park from noon to 5 pm, where kids get their faces painted and have a little fun too! There are also rides, food, and a costume contest for the kiddos, too!

However, it ain't over to the fat lady sings! From 4-8pm, the last official party of Fantasy Fest happens every year at LaTe Da, where the owner former Fantasy Fest King, Christopher Rounds, knows how to throw a wonderful party! We will see you next year, everybody! 


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