Parades & Festivals, Key West
Hello and get ready to the world of Fantasy Fest which has sometimes been referred to as Mardi Gras on Steroids....without the side effects.
I think if you check the tips & links below you will be more informed before you go as either a FF veteran or 1st timer to FF. It is based on my experiences and those of others and has been called quite useful in past years. While I've only been 11 times, I have learned a few things:
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: Key West is a walking town especially on and around Duval Street so comfortable, soled shoes or sandals are a must. Don't walk downtown in barefeet as the streets are likely to have either debris or glass, etc. that could cut up your feet. Also, in the heat, both streets and sidewalks heat up tremendously and you don't want to either burn your feet or have to do an emergency purchase of shoes/sandals from a downtown vendor.
Toiletries & Medical Supplies: Essentials if you plan do to the "Duval Crawl" include: aspirin, Tylenol, antacids, Pepto-Bismol, and Chaser Plus. You should also have available at your hotel or B&B at least some insect repellent, sunscreen & aloe vera gel.
Camping/Beach/Outdoor Gear: If you plan to do the beaches, bring a blanket and or chair and some sort of sun protection. The sun is brutal on skin not normally exposed to this heat and at this latitude.
Transportation: During high season or any major event, parking can be almost non-existent near Duval Street even if you have a reservation at the Bed & Breakfast or small motel or hotel. Don't even think about parking in a resident's zone unless you have specific permission--the fine and/or tow bill will be huge.
There are parking garages, meters and some free side-street parking but again, if there is something going on in Key West (which seems to be most every weekend), then parking may be both expensive and extremely limited.
Be cautious driving on the one-way streets, the narrow streets and the streets where the conch train operates. Watch out for bicycles, pedalcabs, small electric vehicles and of course, pedestrians. Open drinking and walking occurs 24/7. Be careful in both regards.
Key West is small and compact in size and some streets are both narrow and have obscured sidewalks or side paths so watch your step--especially at night. Some walkways are not all level or unobstructed.
Be extremely careful driving as pedestrians (sometimes intoxicated, sometimes jaywalking) will walk right out in front of you driving from a previously hidden area.
Be careful on the streets of bicylists and people riding scooters or Vespa's that may not be used to operating them. It is easy to be distracted while looking and at the sites of Key West.
Key West also has a "conch train" that operates on both main and side streets-be sure to give it leeway as it is long in length.
Don't be in a hurry. Remember, you are on "Island Time" now and the 25,000 full time residents will appreciate patience as will your additional fellow 50,000+ Fantasy Fest revelers.
2013's theme is " Super Heroes, Villains and Beyond!™" & 34rd Anniversary of Fantasy Fest and this year runs from Friday, Oct. 18 to Sunday, Oct. 27 with the parade on Saturday, Oct. 26 basically culminating the week of fun.
Key West during Fantasy Fest is definitely not for the timid or shy and small children should not be downtown after dark (or at all if possible). Bodypaint, nudity and skimpy, sexy clothing (or lack thereof) rules!
Nightly themes include: (and you should really consider costumes for every night)
1st SATURDAY NIGHT-- Anything goes but keep it PG on the streets as there are still many tourists and residents prepping for FF. Save the risque fun for the bars and clubs and use common sense to cover up on the street.
SUNDAY NIGHT--Pirate, Wench and Booty Night with the earlybirds of Fantasy Fest getting warmed up with fun at various venues around town and Capt. Tony's has been the place to be the past few years to the point that police have shut down Greene Street south of Duval Street to accomodate the overflow.
MONDAY NIGHT-- features all those in leather, vinyl, rubber and all types of Fetish and Fantasy wear up to and including bodypaint (which is acceptable any night). It's not uncommon to see dozens if not hundreds of people dressed in leather or latex or some variation for this party or the many others featured in non-sanctioned venues. Again, Capt. Tony's has a special celebration in their side rooms called Capt. Tony's Rubber Fetish Ball.
Also, MONDAY is Leather & Fetish @ Kelly's Kinky Karnival at Kelly's Caribbean. (Personally, I've attended the leather-fetish party @ Kelly's Caribbean Bar & Grill for several years and this is definitely not the place for anyone shy or timid).
TUESDAY features Plaid Nite & bodypaint @ Capt. Tony's Saloon and there are several other parties throughout Key West. This is also good as it keeps crowds down & separated so you don't feel so crowded & congregated.
Remember, depending on the statistics used, Key West grows from a small town of 25,000 to almost 100,000 for Fantasy Fest as crowds are estimated to be from 50,000-75,000 and most are primarily situated in an area on a one-mile section of town called Duval Street (famous for the infamous Duval Crawl).
There are also parties at Fat Tuesday's, the Headdress Ball, there is a free poster signing party and Capt. Tony's Saloon highlights the evening with its "Party in Plaid" event.
WEDNESDAY features Red Night @ Fogerty's & elsewhere on Duval Street and the crowds really start to arrive. Usually Duval Street is blocked off to allow only pedestrian traffic late at night and a two-four block long section of Duval which is labeled the "Fantasy Zone" where open containers of beer, wine or alcohol are permitted and are served from bars and vendors. I often try to use vendors that use a portion of their proceeds for local charities.
The theme for the night is "Red" and Fogerty's & Flying Monkey's Bar is the place to plus the
Pet Masquerade & Parade , Celebrity Look-a-Like contest @ La Concha
Beach party @ Hog's Breath Saloon with world famous Homemade Bikini Contest
THURSDAY Toga Night @ Sloppy Joes & everywhere else and there are thousands of togas and variations of them everywhere for the 28th annual Toga Party with a $1,000 cash prize.
Fantasy Fest features several events throughout old town including: Pretenders in Paradise costume contest (where the prize money is $10,000), Monsters Ball at the Green Parrot Bar and of course, the famous (Hemingway used to hang out here)
Again, Duval Street becomes an event in itself with thousands of people costumed and as many taking photos or just watching.
Cruiseship passengers that happen to be in port for the week sure get an eyeful.
The remainder of the festival has many events both FRIDAY and SATURDAY NIGHTS with Friday's highlight being the Duval Street Fair, Masquerade March and Pimp N Ho party while Saturday night features a Bourbon Street Tea Dance, Bodypaint Contest @ the Green Parrot and Captain Morgan Fantasy Fest parade where 70,000 onlookers and 50+ or more floats are all part of the celebration's pending conclusion down Duval Street on Saturday Night.
SUNDAY-the town almost returns to "normal" and has a children's day at a local park and a conclusion somewhere that focuses on "it's not over until the fat lady sings".
Now, for some important DO's AND DON'T's of Fantasy Fest:
Don't wear a mask you can't drink in.
Don't choose a costume you can't use the bathroom in.
Don't wear shoes you can't walk in.
Do dress sexier than you thought you might.
Do make sure you have a place to stay before you get too drunk.
Do realize that the shape and size of your breasts/*** will not change with spray paint.
Don't wear your thong with your leg in the wrong hole.
Do trim your pubic hair within the limits of your costume ...please.
Do donate your leftover items to locals who want to enjoy Fantasy Fest as much as the rest of us but often just make room for us.
Don't flash the cops.
Don't ask the cops to flash you.
Do understand that just because you are naked doesn't mean that others find you attractive.
Don't go out carrying valuable items that you are likely to lose when you get drunk such as a purse wallet, expensive jewelry or your spouse.
Do wrap your money in plastic or a ziplock first if you have nothing to carry it in but your bikini bottoms or sweaty shorts.
Do consider getting a personal catheter for parade night as unoccupied bathrooms will be scarce (just joking)
Don't verbally abuse anyone before stepping inside a porta-potty as the result could be disastrous and gross.
Don't step in front of moving parade floats to pick up candy or beads.
Do be aware that if you take Henrietta home with you may wake up with Henry.
Do take lots of pictures but use a disposable camera if you are prone to losing them. And asking 1st if it is OK to take a photo will usually mean yes and you will get a nicer, posed shot or two.
Do exercise a little tact and courtesy with the folks working in the bars through the festivities. They are there working days off for your enjoyment.
Don't tip in beads - they don't want or need beads--- tip with cash please.
Don't ask the female servers to show you their boobs--there are thousands of women on Duval Street dying to show you all that they've got.
Don't try to stick your tongue down the bartender's throat unless of course he wants you to (just joking, again)
Do carry some info or business card of your motel/hotel/B&B address so someone can help get you home if you need help late at night
Don't be afraid to dress up. Have an outrageous time and tip big.
Fantasy Fest is celebrated each year during the last week of October and is usually tied into Halloween.
Each year a new theme is announced and a 10 day festival with almost 40 sanctioned events and dozens of others that are not sanctioned by the Fantasy Fest committee are enjoyed by 50,000 to 70,000 visitors to the island of Key West.
NOTE: THIS IS AN ADULT EVENT--NOT FOR CHILDREN. There will be some nudity, much drinking and adult-situations (more info is located in my Yahoo! Groups on this aspect of Fantasy Fest).
It isn't the most spectacular one you will find in the US, but it is one completly done by the locals of Key West.. You will see the local police, firemen, red hat society, schools, scotsmen and expensive sportcars turned into a christmas float..... It usually is here early december so you really get a good start to your christmas spirit if you joining the fun.
We have been here two times now and it's just fun to see....
For the people who love or fear nudity....it is one of the few parades in Key West that has no nudity so it is really a nice family outing....
Pictures taken december 6, 2003
Rent mopeds best way to get around the Island and way to much fun!!! We had about 7 in our group. ( That was everyone that went with) and we tore up the town. It was great fun cruisen around like a gang of spazmatic bikers. One tip though APPLY sunscreen BEFORE you start. we all ended up red. And once we all got back home to cold freezing Pennsylvania all our skin peeled off.... Well made for a great souviner.
the week before Holloween (October 31st) is known to us South Floridian natives as the greatest party all year. It is the Mardi Gras of the Carribean, all the flair... a little more laid back. Key West, although much 'straighter' then it used to be, is still a haven for those of alternative lifestyles and same sex partners. mention this only because, as an open minded individual, I think Fantasy Fest embraces this a little more than Mardi Gras, at least with it's patrons. That is not to say that it is a 'gay' festival, but it is certainly a little less swamped with testosterone. You can still throw beads in exchange for a flash, and there is nakedness and beer everywhere, but there is a great respect for all those who flaunt their sexuality, whatever that may be.