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Carnival in Key West

The heavenly town of Key West is only a few hours by car from Miami. During Fantasy Fest, which is celebrated during the last week of October, the white beaches and picturesque streets are transformed into a sea of partying people. The festival is known for its lavish costumes, masked balls and colourful parades. Fantasy Fest is the equivalent to the carnival celebrations in the Caribbean and is also called the Mardi Gras of Florida.

In summer, tourists pour into this region, but when autumn rolls around things get pretty quiet in Key West. In 1979, 2 local businessmen had an idea to shake things up a little: they decided to organise a festival to attract more people. With support from the city, the first Fantasy Fest was held 36 years ago.

Party at Fantasy Fest!
Party at Fantasy Fest!

Key West

A celebration for all ages

For 10 days straight, Key West becomes party central, and not just for adults. Every year, there are more than 50 events for both young and old. Even pets are welcome! On 28 October, pet owners have enormous fun dressing up their dogs, cats and other pets – and of course themselves. On 1 November, Bayview Park is transformed into a children’s play paradise full of fun rides, stands selling sweets and a costume competition. The evenings are more adult-oriented with parades of illuminated floats and body paint parties. The bars and clubs stay open until the early hours and the streets are packed with dancing crowds. Fantasy Fest is a party for all ages!

Street party underneath the stars on Key West

Lavish floats and feathered costumes

The highlight of Fantasy Fest is the

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Parade, which this year will be held on 31 October. The parade moves down the famous Duval Street from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. Ornate floats and revellers in lavish costumes entertain thousands of spectators. This year’s theme is ‘All Hallows Intergalactic Freak Show’, with Science Fiction monsters from films such as Star Wars playing a key role. The flamboyant parade consists of more than 50 decorated floats, many up to 2 storeys high, with music and light shows. This is a spectacular show with Caribbean bands, exotic dancers and revellers dressed in colourful, feathered costumes.

Parade during Fantasy Fest

Coronation for charity

The festival isn’t complete without its king and queen. Every year, the ‘Conch King and Queen’ are chosen. ‘Conch’ is the original term for the native population of the Bahamas. At the end of the 19th century, many residents from the Bahamas came to Florida looking for work. A few months before the festival, people can nominate themselves to be king or queen. Nominees compete with each other to see who can collect the most funds for the AIDS fund. Those who raise the most money are crowned king and queen of the festival during a ceremony. Since 1989, almost 3 million euros have been raised for charity.

Partygoers in costumes at Fantasy Fest

Photo credits

  • Street party underneath the stars on Key West: Fantasy Fest
  • Parade during Fantasy Fest: Fantasy Fest
  • Partygoers in costumes at Fantasy Fest: Fantasy Fest