Saturday, November 8, 2014

Fantasy Fest Key West

This is my guide to Key West Fantasy Fest and I'll answer questions like is it for me, how adult is it, what are the best events and what's the weather like this time of year. If you're new to Fantasy Fest you can get a good idea if Key West Fantasy Fest is for you. Fantasy Fest is a 10-day series of events, parades and parties which runs the last two weeks of October. 

The 2015 dates are 23 October to 1 November 2015. Fantasy Fest always has an annual theme which most people ignore: for 2014 was Anim├ęted Dreams and Adventures, 2015's is All Hallows Intergalactic Freak Show (who thinks these themes up?!).

Fantasy Fest 2014 Key West
Fantasy Fest 2014 Key West
2014 was the 36th annual Fantasy Fest in Key West and the very best events (in my view) come at the end: the Masquerade march on Friday 24 October and the big showpiece event, the parade on Saturday 25 October 2014.

Link on my blog: 2014 Fantasy Fest live blog + 200 pictures

Continue reading for my guide to Key West Fantasy Fest for new visitors and first timers. Please leave a comment in the comments section below, I'd love to hear from you.

Fantasy Fest Key West - beads, baubles and fancy dress

How different is Key West during Fantasy Fest time in October than if I visited another time?
Very. During the final weekend of FF, Key West will have 75,000 additional visitors (which for the small island of Key West is a lot) and so will be as busy as it ever gets in Key West. Let me say this again, it is REALLY busy. Laid back life in Key West gets suspended as invasions of visitors come into town. It's a massive party. If you like that, then this is a good time to visit.

Is it as busy as that for both weeks?
No. The first week, it's reasonably busy but not crazy like the second. Lots of people will come into town just for the main event, the Parade on the final Saturday.

How many events are there over the 10 days?
The official website lists 53 events and parties during the 2013 FF. Here's a selection of them:
  • Headdress Ball
  • Pet Masquerade and Parade
  • ABC (Anything But Clothes) party
  • Sloppy Joe's Toga party
  • FF Street Fair
  • Masquerade March (on the last Friday - see below).
  • Captain Morgan's Parade (the showpiece finale - the big event, on the last Saturday - see below)
How raunchy does it get?
Fairly. The whole thing is adult themed. People let their hair down a lot. Not every woman bears her naked breasts, obviously, but you can't avoid it. Maybe 1 woman in 300 exposes her breasts and paints them in body paint at the main Parade (in the crowds viewing the parade).

There are strict rules on how much naked flesh / body painted naked flesh you can show, and the strict zones where you can do this, but you cannot avoid nakedness at Fantasy Fest. It's loud, drunken and great fun.

Anything for kids in FF?
No. No. No.  It's ADULT themed parties and events. Kids would be bored.

There is a children's day on the very last day (Sunday, aimed more to the local kids) but for the rest of the time it's 100% oriented towards adult fun, drinking a lot, fancy dress and being a little (or a lot) crazy. If I had children with me, I would seriously avoid Key West and visit another time.

In fact, the parade gets criticism every year from the locals (and some innocent visitors) because the are a lot of exceptionally (even for Key West) drunk people and semi-nudity.

What's your favorite of all the events?
I only been to a small number of the events so it's a bit unfair to answer, but my favorite would be the Masquerade March and my second favorite the main Parade. The zombie bike ride, not an official event as part of FF, but at the same time, also sounds great.

Tell me about the Masquerade March
In 2015 it will happen on Friday 30 October 2015.
Anyone can take part in the March.
It's not really a March, it's a very slow walk. Lots of music.
Anyone can take part.
You don't have to dress up in fancy dress but about 70% do, many take a massive amount of effort planning and executing their very impressive or creative costumes.
The route for the march begins around the Cemetery (there are actually 2 start points and they converge).
The walk distance is maybe 2 miles, all through Old Town streets ending up on Duval Street.
Lots of people throw garlands of beads at you from their balconies.
It takes the marchers past several of the good guesthouses in Old Town. About 10 guesthouses put up tables outside their properties and provide free drinks for the marchers.
It's busy but no where near as busy as the Parade the next day. Maybe 5,000 people on the March.

Pre-march drinks, getting ready for Masquerade March - most people in great fancy dress
Why do you like the Masquerade March so much?
  • You get drunk for free. In the afternoon!
  • In the parade, you watch others. In the march, you ARE it, you are the event!
  • You get dressed up in silly fancy dress. 
  • You decide, design, create and in many cases make your fancy dress. It's creative. Ignore the official theme - without doubt. Be different. There are 5,000 people on this march - and hardly any with the same costume. Go crazy!
  • The atmosphere is fantastic and friendly. 
  • It's during the light (late afternoon, setting  sun) and not the dark like the parade.
Fantasy Fest Masquerade March in 2014
What's the parade like on the final Saturday evening?
Busy. Very busy. Up to 75,000 people lining Duval Street. Pick your spot carefully. 40 floats pass by. Fairly impressive designs. The parade lasts an hour. The people continue drinking through to 4am. Lots of fancy dress from those watching. Many semi-naked women wearing body paint. Think Spring break for adults.

If you can afford it research the better viewing options - like the second floor balconies of restaurants on Duval Street, like Hard Rock Cafe for example. But they charge a lot for having this room - it's the equivalent of viewing the parade in Business Class.

Important note about driving to Key West for FF
As I mention, many people do come down just for the final weekend. Even during a "normal" weekend the traffic up and down Highway 1 (the only way in or out of the Keys and Key West) is bad with much congestion but during this last weekend of Fantasy Fest the traffic is 100 times WORSE!

It is well worth:
  • getting into Key West a few days earlier; AND ALSO
  • travelling at crazy time in morning to avoid the traffic - i.e. 4am.
Or fly from Miami and avoid the roads all together.

Don't say I didn't warn you!

What's the weather like for FF?
You need a bit of luck here. Can still be variable. FF was originally conceived to bring tourists to Key West during what is still the off season (which runs from June through end November). The reason that it's off season until December is that the humidity of summer is only just breaking, and also it can be stormy/rain.

If you're primary objective is excellent weather, then delay your trip to January to March peak season.

Do I need to plan FF much in advance?
I think you know the answer to this one: yes!

All hotels and guesthouses will be full. Many impose 3, 4 or 5 day minimum stays just for FF last weekend. They charge 30% more for this weekend or more. And the better ones book up many months before.

Is there an official website for Fantasy Fest?
Yes, it's here.


Things to do in Key West (there're more to do than Fantasy Fest!)