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By Javier Garrido- Guest Contributor
No visit to Florida is complete with out traveling to the Southernmost Point, Key West. As a local, I have been able to appreciate Key West’s unique, and at times, weird history. From Pirates, to Ernest Hemingway, Cuban invasions, drug smugglers, succession from the Union, the island city is a must do, at least once! Since my inception, Key West has had many changes through out the years, but one constant is its annual Fantasy Fest Celebration! Possibly adding to the credibility of the mantra: “Sin” City of the South; Fantasy Fest is like nothing you have seen before. I’ll try and give you an idea of what you might expect during this time of year along with where, what, and how to do Fantasy Fest.
Fantasy Fest is a Festival similar to a combination to Mardi Gras, Carnival and Chinese New Year along with a Key West Spice of “One Human Family”; a self-given tag-line promoted by Key West to encourage equality with all races, sexes, sexual preferences, religion etc. This year, Fantasy Fest celebrates its 32nd year! The Celebration is a weeklong event, which unofficially kicks off with Goombay.
Goombay, a Bahamian style street party with live bands, Junkanoos and street fair along with numerous street vendors is situated along “Bahama Village’s” central street, Patronia Street and primarily orchestrated by the African American residents of the area with its Old Island energy, colors, and smells. Locals, called Conchs, enjoy the kid-friendly atmosphere and manageable crowds. Most Conchs attend this event as the crowds are manageable and since most attending are locals, the event promotes the small town neighborly chit chatting and gossiping.
This is personally one of my favorites of the week! Did I mention the food? Combination of local items like conch fritters and Bahama style conch salad stands are mixed in with typical street foods like steak-on-a-stick, gyros and arepas! Come hungry, and thirsty, as plenty of beer booths are available among the bars and restaurants lining Petronia Street.
After Goombay, Key West transforms into what is Fantasy Fest with its numerous parties and extraordinary events. The transformation includes the reduction of clothes and progresses rapidly to little or no clothes by the following week! As they say, less is best! Contrary to popular belief, Fantasy Fest is more than just drunk people, partying, walking around half naked, many events are actually fund raisers for different charities both locally and nationally; like American Cancer Society and Aids Help
Start with the Blue Party on Sunday and make sure to dress in all BLUE! It’s a pool party like no other. Proceeds from this event go towards Aids Help, the main philanthropy of Fantasy Fest, which helps in the prevention and research of the HIV virus.
One signature event of Fantasy Fest is the world famous Headdress Ball at the Southernmost Resort. This is a MUST see as some of the headpieces adorning the participants are truly unrealistic as well as artistic and the antics which follow are enticingly comical!
Imagine the extravagant Kentucky Derby hats, mixed with Geisha hair coupled with random items like a Jimmy Buffet yard sale and you’ll have an idea of what the Headdress Ball is like. The event is staged at the Southernmost Hotel Collection at the end of Duval and provides a perfect launching pad from which to proceed to the local establishments along the world famous Duval St. Keep in mind, ALL the entertainment establishments will be either themed, decorated, or in the swing of things for Fantasy Fest. Make sure to dawn some kind of costume. You will feel left out otherwise. No one likes a “party pooper”.
One of the most popular AND trendiest parties to hit is the Red Party at Fogarty’s on Duval Street. The Red Party is when the official kick-off of the madness that Fantasy Fest brings starts! The time where there will not be any shortages of clad young coeds strutting their stuff in their “red” best! This is where locals start taking time off from work, planning ahead for late nights and closing up business early, in order to partake in Fantasy Fest!
Another ultimate event to partake in to hit, besides the parade, is the infamous Pretenders in Paradise. This is the costume competition of all competitions with $10,000 in cash and prizes! Imagine “America’s Got Talent” mixed with a little bit of Key West flare and you have what is set directly on the Gulf of Mexico with the stage actually jetting from the Pier House Resort beach. Get your tickets early; this event sells out each year.
After the first couple of nights, you are feeling partied out, but wait—there is more! The best is yet to com. Friday, join the mostly local crowd as they parade through Old Town with music, noisemakers and wheeling coolers! Thirst quenchers provided at selected guesthouses and different establishments. Beginning at the Key West Cemetery Frances Street entrance and winding through old town, revelers can join the mad march anywhere along two different routes! Start marching at 5:00 p.m. All are welcomed, FREE!
Wake up Saturday with that ever-lasting hangover and get yourself some good street fair on Duval Street, which will be in the transformation stage to the largest party you’ve ever seen! There will be a central stage with numerous live bands through out the day along with early strollers touting frosty beverages in hand! This is a great way to start the climax of what is Fantasy Fest! With a somewhat subdued crowd of hung over festers, the daytime atmosphere could be considered the “calm before the storm”! Pace yourself for a long day and night of pandemonium.
The best is yet to come and finally, what you’ve been waiting for, the world famous Capt. Morgan Fantasy Fest Parade is Saturday night. This is what everyone ultimately comes down to Key West for!
This is Mardi Gras mixed with fewer clothes and much more body paint! Feel like getting your body painted, find one of the many side streets for a paint booth and let your imagination run as they can paint just about anything! Be prepared to stop for pictures!
Try to get a good location from which to see the many different and unique floats. Be prepared to stand for a while, as movement is limited. I suggest setting up camp near a beer booth or bar so that beverages are easily accessible. Start stretching, as inevitably, you will contort yourself after flying beads being hurled from the floats! These are the free beads, which can later be bartered. Some Restaurants and bars rent seating on their balconies or porches, but they need to be reserved early. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to try and book your spot on Friday at one of the establishments. To give you an idea as to how limited seating is, I watched the parade form the Episcopal Churches’ Gumbo Limbo tree and I wasn’t the only one who had that idea!
Once the parade comes to an end, the crowds assemble in the street or head to the bars! Be sure to have at least one cold drink in hand as lines are inevitable, especially on the 200 block of Duval. Rick’s and Dirty Harry’s entertainment complex is probably your best bet to get in and served since they have 16 different alcohol outlets scattered throughout the complex.
This is just a tid-bit of Fantasy Fest and words cannot describe the atmosphere or the excitement. This is a must-see-for-yourself event! I can assure you that your eyes will see things they have not seen before in public. Even the Internet can’t provide you a glimpse as to what to expect. I hope you come and enjoy your time. Please partake in the festivities and have fun, we’re waiting!