Create a costume, smear on body paint, and let your inhibitions float away on a tropical breeze at this non-stop, adult-themed mega-party.
By Lauren Tjaden
Epic, wild, and huge, Fantasy Fest dominates Key West for ten days each October. This legendary adult extravaganza attracts fun-loving partiers from around the globe, showcasing creativity, imagination, and sheer madness.
A cross between Mardi Gras and Burning Man, the event began in 1979, created by a tiny group of Key West locals in an attempt to draw visitors to the island in the normally quiet, but gorgeous fall season.
To say it was a hit is an understatement. Fantasy Fest has grown every year since it began and is now ranks as one of the biggest, most outrageous festivals on the planet, now drawing as many as 75,000 revelers each year. Check out the event’s history.
Costuming; costume competitions (including one for pets); grand balls; island bands; street fairs; pool parties (and over 60 parties in all); scavenger hunts; and queen contests festoon the event; as well as blockbuster parades. The only thing serious is the food, served up at decadent restaurants like PRIME, the premier steakhouse in the Florida Keys; and Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen & Bar, delivering American Coastal Comfort Food.
Sound like your cocktail of crazy? Read on to find out everything you need to know about joining in the fun.
Fantasy Fest instructs participants to ‘creatively costume yourself at all Fantasy Fest events,’ a widely respected declaration. Costumes are inspired by an annual theme, and some outfits are stunningly beautiful, while others flaunt sex appeal or humor. Many are intricate and imaginative.
And the themes? For instance, in 2022, the theme is ‘Cult Classics and Cartoon Chaos.’ Attending to this theme, you might fashion your outfit after any TV show or movie that has a cult following, like Pulp Fiction, Napolean Dynamite, or Mad Max. Cartoon aficionados might model their getups after Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, or the Road Runner.
But every year is different, though all offer a broad berth for creativity and individual preferences. Check out themes from past years:
Past Fantasy Fest Themes
- 1979 Old Key West
- 1980 House of Horrors
- 1981 Va Va Voom
- 1982 Carnival
- 1983 Plays of Tennessee Williams
- 1984 50 Years of Film Fantasy™
- 1985 Broadway Fantasies™
- 1986 Fantasy in Space™
- 1987 Halloween with a Key West Flair™
- 1988 Fantasy Fest B.C.™ - 10th Anniversary
- 1989 Future Fantasies 2089™
- 1990 Caribbean Fantasies™
- 1991 Junglemania™
- 1992 Halloween in the Devil's Triangle™
- 1993 Lost in the '60's™
- 1994 Mystical Myths and Twisted Tales™
- 1995 Tinseltown Dreams™
- 1996 Call of the Wild™
- 1997 TV Jeebies™
- 1998 Fright Night on Bone Island™
- 1999 www.warptime.net™
- 2000 Circuses and Sideshows™
- 2001 Secrets of the Zodiac Revealed™
- 2002 Mystical Mornings/Monsterious Nights™
- 2003 Daze of Futures Past— 25 Years of Fantasy™
- 2004 Delirious Dreams and Hilarious Screams™
- 2005 Freaks, Geeks and Goddesses™
- 2006 Key Weird on the Dis-Oriented Express™
- 2007 Gnomes, Toads and White Rabbit Tea Parties™
- 2008 Pirates, Pundits and Political Party Animals™
- 2009 Villains, Vixens, and Vampires™
- 2010 Habitat for Insanity™
- 2011 Aquatic Afrolic™
- 2012 A-Conch-Alypse™
- 2013 Super Heroes, Villains & Beyond™
- 2014 Animéted Dreams and Adventures™
- 2015 All Hallows Intergalactic Freak Show™
- 2016 Political Voodoo & Ballot Box Barbarians™
- 2017 Time Travel Unravels™
- 2018 Oh...The Games We Play™
- 2019 In Tune But Off Key: Celebrating 40 Years of Fantasy™
- 2020 Roaring 2020’s and Future Fictions™
- 2021 All A Daze For A Holiday™
EVENTS AND THINGS TO DO
Body painting; musicals; shows; Zombie bike rides; 5K run/walks; parties that include slumber, pool, bikini, pet, and men-only bashes; parades of all sorts; and musical and art events mean that boredom is not an option. While the schedule and specific events vary each year, for 24/7 throughout the festival, you’ll have an abundance of excitement to choose from.
Mega-popular, annual events include the local’s parade, officially the Captain Morgan Masquerade March, a grown-up, moving cocktail and dance party that stops at participating guest houses doling out complimentary beverages -- at least, until the libations run dry.
The action begins at Truman Avenue and Frances Street, with partiers dressed in their finery strutting their way north to Fleming Street.
Another must-do is the Bud Light Fantasy Fest Parade, a moving party navigating Duval Street from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, showcasing festive floats, groups of all varieties, bicycle brigades, and even human-powered kinetic machines.
The Fantasy Façade Competition invites locals to decorate their homes, offices or businesses for a chance to win prizes based on creativity, representation of theme and ‘wow’ factor.
The Fantasy Market at Truman Waterfront Park welcomes you with epic shopping, original local art, costumes and accessories, lively entertainment and satisfying food and drink.
And there’s more!
Here’s where to stay, where to play, where to eat and drink, where to shop, and information on how to do Fantasy Fest on a Bike from Fantasy Fest.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
The Law of the Land
Partial nudity is allowed in designated areas, like the FANTASY ZONE, which encompasses Duval Street from Front Street to Truman Avenue. Also, various private parties are clothing-optional. However, Fantasy Fest’s code of conduct plainly declares you can’t be exposed on public property. Please wear a cover-up to avoid illegal exposure on public property and on all city streets outside of the FANTASY ZONE. Lewd acts are likewise taboo.
No glass containers are allowed inside the designated FANTASY ZONE. Drink from paper or plastic cups provided by bars and vendors, or the Souvenir Fantasy Fest To-Go Cup.
Body painting is allowed but must be done in enclosed or screened in areas, entirely out of public view. Painted female breasts are permitted, but only allowed within the designated FANTASY ZONE.
Open containers of alcohol are not allowed outside the FANTASY ZONE. Please stay inside the party area while you are carrying open alcoholic beverages.
Fantasy Fest is committed to keeping the city green. Help preserve the island’s environment by using the recycling containers conveniently placed along the boundary of the FANTASY ZONE. Recycling bins are located on every cross street within the FANTASY ZONE.
No backpacks, coolers, packages, water guns, weapons or replica weapons are allowed.
Should you bring the young ‘uns?
The short answer is ‘no.’ Fantasy Fest is unquestionably for adults, flavored by a strong LGBTQ contingent.
The exception? The Goombay Street Party in the historic Bahama Village neighborhood is a family friendly, vibrant street party featuring island arts and crafts, music and food. Its primary entertainment stage is sited at the corner of Petronia and Front Street, delivering nonstop musical entertainment ranging from gospel to reggae from noon to midnight.
Get a Room
Places to stay book up weeks in advance of the event, so don’t expect to cruise into town and find a vacancy. Here are some options from Fantasy Fest.
Be prepared to remove your body paint. Unless you want blue paint all over your hotel sheets, have a game plan to get rid of the dye when you're stumbling in at 1 a.m. (or 4 or whatever) a.m.
Ditch the Car Keys
Key West urges you to forget your car once you arrive.
We Cycle, the official Green Transportation of Fantasy Fest and producers of the Zombie Bike, offers free delivery and pick up in Key West. Call (305) 292-3336 to reserve your ride today.
If pedaling isn’t your preference, climb aboard the free Duval Loop and get dropped off at your favorite party. To see the sights, hook a ride on the Conch Train or the Old Town Trolley and see what this tropical paradise has to offer. Call (305) 296-6688 to book your trip. If you’re staying on a sister island, then, Up The Keys, Keys Shuttle and Ahoy Taxi provide shared rides during the Fantasy Fest.
Regular Bus Routes during Fantasy Fest week:
- Maps showing bus stops and times, and real time service are available at kwtransit.com. Real time bus information is also available by calling (305) 600-1455.
- The Lower Keys Shuttle is a great way to get to Key West from anywhere up to Mile Marker 52.5. One way cost is $4.00 and you get dropped downtown where the action is. (Exact Change Required)
- Any delays and detours to regular bus service, scheduled pick-up points and times will be posted at kwtransit.com.
- The new Duval Loop will be running all week during Fantasy Fest. It’s free, frequent and air conditioned.
Check out the locations and rates for Public Parking:
- Old Town Garage: 300 Grinnell Street, $4 per hour or $32 per day.
- Key West Bight: 815 Caroline Street, $4 per hour or $32 per day.
- Mallory Square: 460 Wall Street, $5 per hour or $40 per day.
- Truman Waterfront: $4 per hour, 10 hour maximum.
RV/Motorhome Parking: Oversized vehicles such as RV’s, Tour Buses, Motor Homes, etc. are not permitted to travel within the Old Town / Downtown area. City Ordinance prohibits parking oversized vehicles on city streets.
Tour Bus Parking: Tour Buses can drop off and pick up only at 908 Caroline St. Limited tour bus parking is available there at $100 per day.
Parking Etiquette: If you are able to find in-town parking, please remember:
- Be courteous and do not block private driveways, entrances, etc.
- Watch carefully for “No Parking,” including “Resident only,” street markings.
- Parking restrictions are strictly enforced. Towing may occur. If your vehicle is towed, please call the Police non-emergency number 305-809-1000. Parking tickets may be paid in person, online or mailed in – the details are on the ticket.
Get a Ride
Consider splitting cabs if you don’t stay on Duval Street. Only 75 cabs exist at Fantasy Fest -- and with 75,000 people, that means you’ll be lucky to snag one. Don't be ashamed to share a cab with a fellow bogeyman babe.
Drink lots of water and eat well. You'll be doing plenty of walking and dancing in warm weather -- and potentially drinking in the festival spirit because the drinks are cheap. So, remember to hydrate often, and drink the stronger stuff responsibly.
WHILE YOU’RE IN THE CONCH REPUBLIC
Explore the Florida Keys, the perfect place to recover and de-stress. If you've missed sailing, scuba diving, and exploring the hammocks because of the fantasy festivities, stick around to reap the rejuvenation of The Florida Keys.
Here are things to do from the Florida Keys Visitors Services.