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Fantasy Fest was initiated in 1978 by the Key West Business Guild to attract tourists during the slow season. Fantasy Fest has boosted the economy on Key West by filling up hotels, local bars and restaurants during this time period. In 1995 over 60,000 people attended and there were 70 floats, bands, costumed groups and 'imprecision drill teams' in the parade. In 2001 Fantasy Fest was estimated to bring $35 million to the region each year. 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. The floats can be quite elaborate, costs can be $10,000 to $15,000. The expense for the floats is born fully by the participant groups (called krewes) and their sponsors, who are forbidden from using them as an advertisement for their business. 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
Fantasy Fest has been compared to New Orleans Mardi Gras and Carnival in Rio De Janeiro. 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. Most of the event is adult oriented however, there are family friendly events. 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 at the Coronation Ball, a fundraiser for a community AIDS care service, that marks the official beginning of the event. The king and queen are residents of Key West, Florida, selected via an 8-week fundraising campaign.
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.
- Jansonius, Remko (1991). "Island fantasies" (PDF). South Florida History Magazine (1). pp. 12–5, 28 – via HistoryMiami.
- "Key West's annual Fantasy Fest ends". UPI. 29 October 1995 – via Gale: General OneFile.
- Buckley, Cara (25 October 2001). "Occupancy down for Key West's Fantasy Fest". Knight Ridder / Tribune News Service – via Gale: General OneFile.
- Filosa, Gwen (22 October 2016). "Fantasy Fest floats spare no expense or detail". FlKeysNews.com. Keynoter Publishing.
- "Halloween in December". The Advocate. 6 December 2005. p. 26 – via Gale: General OneFile.
- Interview: Andy Newman discusses Wilma putting damper on `Fantasy Fest 2005' (Transcript of radio broadcast). Talk of the Nation. Conan, Neal (host). NPR. 19 October 2005.
- Jeffrey, Kennedy (2011). "Festivals". Miami and the Keys. Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guides. New York: DK Publishing – via Gale: General OneFile.
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