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The first Fantasy Fest was held in 1979 when two local businessmen, Tony Falcone and the late Bill Conkle, organized a party to stimulate business. Fantasy Fest has boosted the economy on Key West by filling up hotels, local bars and restaurants during this time period. The number of people that join this festival every year ranges from 25,000 to 75,000. The event has escalated to a ten-day celebration that includes balls, a parade, costume competitions, AIDS fundraisers, body painting, drag queen contests, costume parties, alcohol, and pet and neighborhood parades for the whole family. Fantasy Fest has grown to rival New Orleans' Mardi Gras as an event drawing out-of-towners.
The highlight of Fantasy Fest is its parade featuring humorous floats, including one carrying the annually elected Conch King and Queen. In recent years, attendance at Fantasy Fest has surpassed 100,000 people, or more than three times the population of the island itself.
In October 2005, the event was postponed because of devastation wrought on the island by Hurricane Wilma; instead of being held at its usual time close to Halloween, it was moved to December and celebrated just before Christmas.The Theme that year was " Freaks Geeks and Goddesses "
Typical Fantasy Fest Experiences
As with New Orleans Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Fantasy Fest tend to attract many people to the concentration of bars along Duval Street. While public nudity is technically not allowed, body paint is usually very popular. (Legally, the body painting must be done in enclosed or screened in areas entirely out of public view. Painted female breasts are permitted but ONLY allowed within the designated "Fantasy Zone"). Security also prohibits backpacks, coolers, packages, and anything that looks like a weapon. Because of the crowds, there is usually difficulty finding free parking, with the only other options being Key West High School for paid parking, shuttle or even local taxis (as well as walking).
The King and Queen of Fantasy Fest
The King and Queen of Fantasy Fest are annual titles bestowed upon two residents of Key West, Florida, selected via an 8-week fundraising campaign which culminates in a Coronation Ball that officially kicks off Fantasy Fest.
Their Royal Court is subsequently composed of fellow Candidates who didn't raise as much, but are still honored with the titles of Duke and Duchess (and, one rare instance, Prince and Princess).
For 8 weeks, these Candidates serve as ambassadors for AIDS Help, the non-profit Agency that has assisted those living with HIV/AIDS in the Keys since 1986.
A wildly-varied array of events are individually staged by Candidates, as well as All-Candidate events that unite the campaigns, including a spin on the 'America Idol' singing competition, a randy and raucous Sunday BINGO, a Saturday Red Shirt Run in September and mixers at familiar island venues.
The Royal Court, their support staff and other key Agency supporters all appear prominently in the evening Duval Street parade on a float designed specifically to highlight their financial achievement.
Since its inception, The Royal Competition of Fantasy Fest has generated a total of over $4,593,645.00. In 2016, Candidates raised over $368, 330.00 - the largest amount ever for a 4-Candidate competition.
- Goombay - a two-day street party held in Key West's Bahama Village neighborhood. It is named after the goatskin drums that generate the party's rhythms and celebrates the heritage of Key West's large Bahamian population with food, art and a lot of dancing.
- The Royal Coronation Ball - where the Conch King and Queen are crowned.
- The annual Headdress Ball.
- The Pet Masquerade - a costume contest for pets.
- Pretenders in Paradise - an annual costume contest. (until 2012)
- The Masquerade March - a daytime procession through the streets of Key West.
- The Street Fair.
- The Fantasy Fest parade - the culmination of the festival.
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