Fantasy Fest

Mark Hedden / Special for WLRN

It's the one night of the year when zombies take over the streets of Key West. Thousands of zombies. On bikes.

The Zombie Bike Ride has been around less than a decade but has quickly grown into one of the locals' favorite Fantasy Fest events, a remarkably family-friendly cap to the first weekend of the 10-day festival of parties, parades, costume contests and general decadence.

Andy Newman / Florida Keys News Service

The Florida Keys' wacky and often-decadent costuming and masking festival is kicking off with a coronation ball to crown the 10-day festival's king and queen.

Fantasy Fest begins Friday in Key West. The celebration started in 1979 when a small group of Key Westers dreamt up the event to bolster business between summer and winter.

Flickr

Every year, tens of thousands of people from the mainland come to Key West for Fantasy Fest.

And lots of them are wearing very little – if anything.

Because some of those visitors may be infected with the Zika virus, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District has taken extra steps to wipe out Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the area.

The district brought in inspectors from other parts of the Keys and went to every property on the route of Friday’s masquerade march and in what’s called “fantasy zones.”

Carol Tedesco

  There are a lot of mystery books set in Key West. And now there's a new addition to the list: Killer Takeout, the seventh installment in the Key West Food Critic Mysteries.

The series is by Lucy Burdette, pen name for Key West resident Roberta Isleib. She recently spoke with WLRN's Nancy Klingener about the new book and about the series.

What are the Key West Food Critic Mysteries?

Andy Newman / Florida Keys News Service

  Every year in late October, tens of thousands of people visit Key West for the 10 days of parties and parades known as Fantasy Fest.

It's the island's biggest event of the year, and it fills hotel rooms, bars and restaurants. But it also costs the city more than $280,000 for clean-up and policing.

Nancy Klingener / WLRN

  When you move to Key West, you're going to encounter Fantasy Fest. That's what happened when I moved to the island 24 years ago.

The big finish is the Saturday night parade. That first year, I figured out that you're part of this thing. It's kind of weird if you show up and you're not in some kind of costume.

At my first parade, I remember being so impressed by the Caribbean dancers with their shiny costumes and giant, elaborate wings. They were so graceful and had such incredible stamina — and the junkanoo beat was infectious.

Andy Newman / Florida Keys News Service

Update: 4:05 p.m. Sept. 2

The Key West City Commission deadlocked 3-3 at its Tuesday evening meeting on the question of whether to recommend that local trick-or-treaters wait till Nov. 1. So local parents and kids are free to go ahead with their traditional walks for candy, even as the partying carries on downtown.

 

Trick-or-treating or partying? It's a tough choice for Key West. 

That's especially true this year, when the city's biggest annual party, Fantasy Fest, lands on Halloween. 

After The Party's Over, Fantasy Fest Concerns Continue

Nov 12, 2014
Mark Hedden

Weeks after the "Fat Lady Sings" tea dance that marks the official end of Fantasy Fest, Key Westers are meeting to talk about how to change the annual event to limit raunchy behavior and increase creative costuming.

Is Key West's Fantasy Fest Too Raunchy?

Oct 22, 2014
Nancy Klingener / WLRN

Fantasy Fest started 35 years ago as a way to bring visitors to Key West during what had been the slowest time of the year. But locals have always been a big part of it -- the 10 days of street fairs and costume parties, and the culminating parade, for which 60,000 crowd the island's downtown.

"I was on a float for, like, 19 straight years," says Key Wester Michael Blades. He and his friends built elaborate parade entries and won the grand prize three times. But they're not entering this year.