Key West Fantasy Fest space creatures
  • Revelers costumed as space creatures proceed down Duval Street during a past Fantasy Fest Parade. The nighttime extravaganza is the highlight event of the 10-day Fantasy Fest costuming and masking celebration. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)


  • By: Carol Shaughnessy
  • October 17, 2018

Imagine yourself impersonating an out-of-this-world denizen of a StarCraft galaxy. Or wearing the robe and crown of the King of Clubs, the stylized garb of a living chess piece or the ruffled feathers of an “Angry Bird.”

Fantasy Fest parade Key West

The 2018 Bud Light Fantasy Fest Parade is is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 27, featuring huge elaborate floats and lavishly costumed marching groups. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Now imagine thousands of other revelers gleefully parading alongside you, costumed like super-sized Monopoly tokens, Donkey Kong and his cohorts or sinister suspects from the board game Clue. As you strut down the street, huge crowds of spectators erupt in wild applause.

An unlikely scenario? Not if you’re participating in Key West’s Fantasy Fest celebration, held each October on the tiny island where virtually any occasion can spark a party.

The exotic 10-day festival is internationally recognized for its elaborate costume competitions, street fairs, masquerade balls and lavish grand parade. Fantasy Fest 2018 takes place Oct. 19-28 — and trust me, it’s shaping up to be an unprecedented display of Key West’s creativity, individuality and flamboyant spirit.

Each year, a different theme provides inspiration for the festival’s fabulous costumes and floats. This year’s theme is “Oh … The Games We Play!” — with participants set to satirize everything from PacMan to online role-playing challenges.

The festival highlight is the Bud Light Fantasy Fest Parade, scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 27, in Key West’s historic downtown. Glitzy, glamorous and unabashedly excessive, the parade features brilliant floats whose riders toss beads to the near-hysterical crowds.

Floats are interspersed with island-style bands, dancing groups in vivid robes and headdresses, and assorted characters whose dress (or undress, since some wear primarily body paint) can elicit gasps of awe from people lining the streets.

With that much revelry taking place, however, unprepared participants are likely to fall by the wayside. To maximize your merriment, follow the five insider tips here.

Fantasy Fest parade female impersonators

These Fantasy Fest revelers impersonating blonde women may have big hair, but hopefully they’re wearing comfortable shoes as they march in the festival’s annual parade. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Pace your partying. Fantasy Fest features several dozen escapades — and no matter how determined you are, it’s physically impossible to indulge in all of them. So study the festival schedule, figure out which events look most appealing, map out your strategy and stick to it. (And since many events continue till the wee hours, take naps. Lots of naps.)

Focus on footwear. Let’s say you’re planning on dressing as the Queen of Hearts, in a lavish multicolored costume with a gaudy headdress. But you’ll be doing a lot of walking and dancing, so leave the queenly high heels at home. Instead, get some comfortable flats and decorate them with sequins and glitter. An hour into your first party, you’ll be thanking heaven you did.

Don’t neglect nature. Let’s face it: eventually, everybody has to answer a call of nature. And that’s not easy if you’re wearing, say, a StarCraft armored suit that weighs half as much as you do. Sure, it might attract plenty of admiration … but you’ll be a lot happier in something more practical for a long night of carousing.

Maximize the memories. Fantasy Fest should be a fabulous, unforgettable experience that you savor while it’s happening and remember for years afterward. But that can’t happen if you overindulge — so make some of your libations non-alcoholic. You’ll get a buzz from the festival anyway, and you won’t have to rely on blurry cell-phone photos and your friends’ tales to recall the highlights.

Above all, ENJOY. As the most vivid expression of Key West’s flair and exuberance, Fantasy Fest is world-renowned for its style, sights and spontaneity. Whatever “game” you plan to play, the 10-day gala offers the quintessential chance to leave the real world behind and immerse yourself in fantasy.

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