Key West’s 10-day October blowout celebrates and encourages people of all races and orientations to put on a costume, apply some body paint, and go wild.
Key West’s annual Fantasy Fest is a bit like Burning Man meets Mardi Gras during Halloween on a tropical island. But be warned: If you’re easily offended by nudity, this may not be your party. However, if you’re all about body paint and like to party for a good cause, this Key West tradition since 1979 may be your type of celebration. Here are seven things we love about the fest, scheduled for October 10th through 18th in 2018.
1. It’s a Judgement-Free Zone
“Uninhibited” may be the right word here. Fantasy Fest attendees come from all over the country for the unique opportunity it provides to be entirely yourself – or rather, whoever you want to be, regardless of race, age, or sexual orientation. This celebration isn’t confined to one area, either. All over the island, you can have on your best costume, show off some skin, and even wear body paint, and nobody will look twice.
Many of Fantasy Fest events and activities serve as important fundraisers for local non-profit organizations, including the Bahama Village Music Program, Key West High School track and cross-country team, the Florida Keys SPCA, Reef Relief, and more. However, the biggest fundraiser is what kicks off the event: the Royal Coronation Ball, which recognizes individuals who, in the weeks leading up to the festival, raise funds for AIDS Help of Monroe County. The woman and man who bring in the most funds are crowned the King and Queen of Fantasy Fest, with runners-up serving as their court. Since the campaign’s inception in 1989, candidates have raised more than four million dollars for the non-profit Key West community-based organization.
3. The Best Costume Party You’ve Ever Been To
This isn’t your average office Halloween party, where you can throw together an outfit in a few minutes after a quick trip to Walmart. At Fantasy Fest, attendees go all-out with intricate getups, with special attention paid to all the details. The theme gives you some parameters to work with, and you may have a couple ideas already – but don’t wait until the last minute to pull it all together.
4. The Theme Changes Each Year
Speaking of costumes, Fantasy Fest regulars aren’t able to lean on their getups from past years because the theme changes annually. In 2005, it was Freaks, Geeks, and Goddesses. In 2009, it was Villains, Vixens, and Vampires. In 2013, it was Super Heroes, Villains & Beyond. This year? The Games We Play, which encourages, as Fantasy Fest’s website details, participants to “become your favorite game show host, bring to life your childhood board games, or transport yourself into your most loved netherworld.”
5. It Goes On and On
What started as a small event in 1979 to boost tourism on the island grows a little every year, and now spans 10 full days, packed with balls, drag queen contests, a parade, and costume parties and competitions. So if you can’t make it until a couple days after it begins, or have to duck out early, there’s still plenty of opportunities to have fun.
6. A Jam-Packed Schedule
You can look at the Fantasy Fest schedule like a pu pu platter, as you arrange your week and pick the must-do events. Some highlights: the Royal Coronation, the Zombie Bike Ride, Tutu Tuesday, the annual Headdress Ball, Sloppy Joe’s Annual Toga Party, the Living Art Expo, and of course, the Grand Parade – just to name a few.
There’s no need to censor yourself because there are no kids in sight (the tiny exception being the family-friendly Goombay street party in Bahama Village that is technically a part of the fest, but intentionally not as raucous). Otherwise, Fantasy Fest, generally speaking, is an adults-only celebration. Revealing outfits, drinking, dancing, and expressiveness rule the week. Grownups being grownups…Fantasy Fest–style.