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 amount 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 Conch King and Queen
The Conch King and Conch Queen are symbolic titles bestowed upon two residents of Key West, Florida selected annually during the course of Fantasy Fest. The tradition stems from the longstanding practice of locals to refer to themselves as Conchs, and ironically to the island as though it were a separate country called the Conch Republic. The title is also a play on the name of the Queen Conch, once very common in the waters around Key West. Candidates become the Fantasy Fest King and Queen in a fundraising competition to benefit AIDS Help, an organization devoted to assisting individuals afflicted with HIV. The King and Queen candidates who raise the most money during the competition period, which can last for several months, are crowned the King and Queen of Fantasy Fest in a gala ceremony.
In 2007, candidates for Fantasy Fest King and Queen raised over $200,000 USD for AIDS Help, and since 1989, coronation contests have collected almost $2.6 million.
- 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.
- 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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