Fans of the Florida Keys’ quirky creativity and whimsical spirit can celebrate both, as well as the island chain’s 2023 bicentennial, during Key West’s annual Fantasy Fest.
This internationally renowned festival is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 20, through Sunday, Oct. 29. The revelry includes masquerade balls, costume competitions, glamorous galas, and an over-the-top grand parade. Imaginative costuming is paramount, with the best efforts drawing acclaim and applause. The 2023 festival is themed “Uniforms and Unicorns…200 Years of Sailing into Fantasy” to salute the Keys’ bicentennial and that of the U.S. Navy in Key West, in addition to the islands’ “unicorn-like” individuality and mystical appeal.
Fantasy Fest organizers encourage people to embrace the theme while designing costumes and parade floats, getting inspired by mythical creatures or uniformed groups ranging from 17th-century Navy officers to superheroes, sports teams, or intergalactic forces from future worlds.
The official kickoff is the two-day Goombay Festival in Key West’s Bahama Village. Held Oct. 20 and 21, Goombay pulses to a Caribbean beat with nonstop music, arts and crafts, island-style food and even a traditional Junkanoo parade. Also Oct. 20, the Fantasy Fest king and queen are to be crowned at the Royal Coronation soiree and stage show, capping a six-week fundraising effort by candidates to benefit the Florida Keys SPCA.
Among dozens of events awaiting attendees is the wacky Pet Masquerade, a Fantasy Fest favorite for costumed pets and their people that takes place Wednesday, Oct. 25. The following night brings the Key West Business Guild’s 40th anniversary Headdress Ball, where entrants compete for “head-turning” prizes in huge and elaborate masks and cowls.
Plans call for unicorns and uniformed partiers to strut through the streets Friday, Oct. 27, during the Captain Morgan Masquerade March. A longtime favorite, the lighthearted march attracts thousands of locals and visitors to show off their costumes as they promenade through a section of Key West’s Old Town.
Revelers can also enjoy events including the family-friendly Zombie Bike Ride, rocking Beatles tribute show and look-alike bash, “Tutu Tuesday” and pool parties, waterfront Woodstock takeoff, music and art showcases, lively Fantasy Market and many others.
Saturday night, Oct. 28, tens of thousands of spectators are expected to line Whitehead and Duval streets in Key West’s historic downtown for the Bud Light Fantasy Fest Parade. A dazzling procession of large-scale floats, costumed marching groups and bands, the parade illustrates the creativity and spirit that have helped define the Florida Keys for the past 200 years.