Picture yourself dressed as an intrepid knight in armor, heading out to defend your kingdom and vanquish fire-breathing dragons. Or perhaps you’re a 22nd-century planetary explorer, guiding your ship into uncharted realms of deepest space. You might even be Cleopatra or a Renaissance queen, whose beauty inspires deeds both dastardly and daring.

Unlikely? Not if you’re participating in Key West’s renowned Fantasy Fest, coming up Oct. 20-29.

Fantasy Fest Masquerade March Key West

An exotically garbed trio strolls through Key West’s historic Old Town in Fantasy Fest’s annual Masquerade March. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

What is Fantasy Fest? Simply the most outrageous festival you’ve ever experienced, combining exotic costuming, unmatched pageantry and a freewheeling creativity found only in the Florida Keys.

Begun more than 30 years ago as an expression of typical Key West exuberance, Fantasy Fest is more meaningful than ever this year — because it demonstrates Keys residents’ spirit, resilience and determination to celebrate life … even after Hurricane Irma’s unwelcome visit in early September.

This year as in the past, thousands of people are expected to descend upon the island to don masks and costumes and escape their real-world cares in 10 days of revelry — revelry that includes lavish costume competitions, street fairs, dress-up galas and the dazzling Bud Light Fantasy Fest parade.

The biggest and best known of Key West’s many festivals, Fantasy Fest adopts a different theme each year, providing continual inspiration for costumes both funky and fabulous — and floats as flamboyant as anything you can imagine. This year’s extravaganza is themed “Time Travel Unravels,” with participants encouraged to portray denizens of any past or future era.

The excitement begins Oct. 20 and 21 with the Goombay street party in historic Bahama Village. Honoring Key West’s Caribbean roots, Goombay combines the tangy smells of jerk chicken and conch fritters, the pulsing beat of Caribbean-American bands, and a vivid collage of wares ranging from African-inspired clothing to copper and brass jewelry.

The festival’s subsequent days and nights contain events such as the Pet Masquerade, where the fur flies as pets and their owners vie for costume prizes. You’ll find people dressed as animals and animals dressed as people during this family-style competition.

Purple-garbed skeletons prowl Duval Street during last year’s Fantasy Fest Parade. The event attracted more than 50,000 spectators. (Photo by Rob O’Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Past standouts include a circus troupe with a performing pooch painted as a white tiger, and a teacup Yorkie “bandita” whose costume included tiny toy pistols, a serape and a sombrero.

And don’t miss the glitzy 2017 Headdress Ball, the first-ever event held at the new Key West Ampthitheater. The glamorous gathering draws entrants wearing elaborate masks and headgear, from the beautiful to the bizarre, plus unparalleled entertainment from top local performers.

The fun takes to the streets during the madcap Masquerade March, a lively promenade beginning at the Key West Cemetery. It typically draws high-spirited bands and revelers wearing feathered masks, costumes and finery inspired by the festival theme.

Memorable marchers in past years range from an elaborate orange creature with huge outspread wings to a tutu-wearing group carrying giant balloon letters that spelled “PEACE” and “LOVE.”

The festival spirit will be most spectacular, however, during the Bud Light Fantasy Fest Parade, when brilliantly-conceived floats travel down Key West’s main thoroughfare to the cheers of some 60,000 spectators. Walking groups dressed in bright robes and feathers add fire and color to the procession — as do the exotically-dressed revelers gleefully following the floats.

The 2016 parade starred, among many other entries, two gigantic skeletons that rose high above the crowd while eerie purple-suited marchers cavorted around them, and a band of chanting barbarians that swarmed up the street wearing horned helmets.

Want to be part of Key West’s “time-traveling” adventures at Fantasy Fest this year? Then make plans — and reservations — ASAP, because accommodations fill up FAST.