Key West, Florida
Want to learn about the best-kept secret for street celebrations in the United States? It’s a wild 10 day costume party held in October called Fantasy Fest in Key West, Florida.
If I had to describe Fantasy Fest in one sentence, I’d say it’s Burning Man meets Mardi Gras for Halloween on a tropical island.
Key West is the southern-most island of the Florida Keys. A diverse place that attracts a mix of gays, bikers, pirates, artists, strippers and entrepreneurs. They all live the motto “One Human Family.”
After hearing about the famous Fantasy Fest festival for many years while living in South Florida, I finally made it down to Key West to see what all the hype was about.
Spending a week at Fantasy Fest is incredibly fun, absurd, and liberating all at once.
What Happens At Fantasy Fest?
Anything and everything goes! Well, for the most part. Fantasy Fest is a festival of thousands of fun-loving party people who descend on Key West every October for an adults-only extravaganza.
Party people dressed in wild costumes mingle in the lively streets while drinks flow freely to get everyone into the spirit. There are parades, themed parties, body painting, live bands, and all sorts of craziness.
When Is Fantasy Fest This Year?
Fantasy Fest is usually held in October each year. This year in 2023 the dates are October 19th – October 29th. You can see the full 2023 schedule of events here.
The Fantasy Fest theme for 2023 is “Uniforms and Unicorns”.
Key West: The Conch Republic
Key West is America’s own little Caribbean island, known locally as the Conch Republic, because locals fancy themselves a separate country. The island is located at the southern tip of the beautiful Florida Keys.
Driving from Miami to Key West is an adventure in itself, over the unique Overseas Highway. Most people break up the drive into a few days, so they can explore the other islands of the Florida Keys.
In Key West, you’ll find certain laws a bit more lax (like allowing “open containers” on the street) and such a unique blend of people and styles, you actually do feel as though you’re in another country.
Spend an afternoon walking past Key West’s pastel colored homes or browsing some of its 50 art galleries while still never more than a dozen blocks from the sea in any direction.
The whole island is walk-able (or bike-able), with quaint lanes bordered by tropical flora, feeling a bit like a secret garden which you can navigate by foot, bike or moped.
The Fantasy Fest Vibe
This magical little island gets even wilder when it celebrates Halloween for 10 days at the end of October in an incredible wonderland known as Fantasy Fest… where almost anything goes.
Bring out any piece of your character (or a different one every night)!
During Fantasy Fest, different venues host their own special events. These celebrations create an entire world within themselves, worlds that you are encouraged to join in! They pull together a combination of local cuisine, talented artists, and fundraising for various local charities.
This collaboration makes each event take on a life of its own, feeding everyone’s creative inner-child that you’ll leave the festival feeling closer to.
There are costume competitions, AIDS fundraisers, family-friendly parades, drag-queen contests, live bands, and much more.
Fantasy Fest Annual Theme
Every year there is a different theme to Fantasy Fest, for example the year I went it was: All Hallows InterGalactic Freak Show. In 2023, the theme is: “Uniforms & Unicorns.”
Many people spend months planning out their costumes (or lack thereof) for the multitude of themed parties that happen throughout the week.
I got into the spirit of things by packing 3 different costumes myself — Greek God, Dirty Pirate, and Intergalactic Alien complete with full-body paint job.
One night my friend Steph and I found ourselves at Irish Kevin’s annual Fantasy Fest 80’s party when who should crash the stage but Mr. Margaritaville himself!
Jimmy Buffett (ok, maybe not the real one) picked up a guitar and played along with the band for a few songs as the rest of us danced like no one was watching. Rest in peace Jimmy!
Just a typical evening at Fantasy Fest in Key West.
Fantasy Fest Events & Parties
Some highlights of Fantasy Fest include The Coronation Ball where the Conch King and Conch Queen make an appearance. They win this royal title by having raised the greatest amount of funds for AIDS Help.
Since 1989 almost $2.6 million dollars has been donated to the cause.
Goombay is a two day street party held in Key West’s Bahama Village neighborhood. It’s named after the goatskin drums that generate the party’s rhythms and celebrates the heritage of Key West’s large Bahamian population with food, art and a lot of dancing.
Other popular Fantasy Fest events include the Zombie Bike Ride, Pet Masquerade, Anything But Clothes Party, Rum Barrel Pirate Bash, Airbrush Expo, Sloppy Joe’s Toga Party, and much more.
You can find a full listing of events on the Fantasy Fest Website.
On the last day, the festival culminates with the Fantasy Fest Parade down the town’s main Duval Street spanning the 1 mile cross-stretch from the Atlantic to the Gulf shore.
Tips & Advice For Surviving Fantasy Fest
While basically an extended adult costume party at the end of October, Fantasy Fest doesn’t always fall on Halloween itself.
There’s some nudity at Fantasy Fest, but that’s not all it’s about. You’ll find people of every race, age, body type, sexual-preference, and career here too. A celebration for judgement-free and open-minded people.
With only 75 taxi cabs and 60,000 people during the event, finding a taxi isn’t always easy. Renting a bike might be a good option for getting around, provided you don’t drink too much.
No Fantasy Fest experience is complete without some body paint. Airbrush artists from around the country set up shop to make your dreams reality. Prices range from $100 to $800+ depending on how intricate the work is.
Getting To Key West For Fantasy Fest
So how do you get to this crazy party called Fantasy Fest in Key West? Fall down a rabbit hole? Hope a tornado picks up your farmhouse in Kansas? Fortunately you can just drive 160 miles South from Miami on Highway US1.
The road trip to Key West from Miami is a beautiful drive over endless bridges across the Florida Keys islands, flanked by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other.
A quick 45 minute puddle jumper flight from Miami or Ft Lauderdale airport directly to the island is also possible.
Where To Stay In Key West
So if you’re looking for a good party, and wild photos of crazy and scandalous costumes, you have to check out Fantasy Fest sometime. I hope I’ll see you there next year! ★
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|Official Website: FantasyFest.com|
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I hope you enjoyed my guide to Fantasy Fest in Key West! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:
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