Fantasy Fest returns to Key West after COVID shutdowns

Costumed bicycle riders roll Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, during the Fantasy Fest Zombie Bike Ride in Key West, Fla. (Rob O'Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau via AP) (Rob O'Neal, Rob O'Neal)

KEY WEST, Fla. – Fantasy Fest is kicking off in Key West on Friday with a full slate of events for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started more than two years ago.

The annual 10-day-long party runs through Oct. 30.

“Due to the COVID pandemic, this will be the first full Fantasy Fest since 2019,” Fantasy Fest board chair Steve Robbins said. “So I know our guests and staff are excited about getting back to the real Fantasy Fest.”

Dozens of themed events are set for the festival, including a nighttime parade featuring floats and elaborately costumed marching groups on Oct. 29. Participants are encouraged to draw costume ideas from the festival theme, “Cult Classics & Cartoon Chaos,” portraying characters inspired by favorite cartoons and television or film productions with a cult following.

Events begin Friday with a Royal Coronation Ball to crown the festival king and queen, following a campaign that awards royalty to the two individuals who raise the most money for AH Monroe, a Keys-based organization providing care, housing and education for HIV patients.

Key West’s Caribbean roots are celebrated this weekend with a Goombay street party in historic Bahama Village. Thousands of locals, costumed as zombies, are to participate in Sunday’s Zombie Bike Ride.

Other highlights are Wednesday’s Pet Masquerade; a Thursday night toga party at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a watering hole frequented by Ernest Hemingway; next Friday’s Masquerade March; and a flamboyant Headdress Ball.

Initiated in 1979 as a way to bolster tourism revenues during a typically slow fall, Fantasy Fest accounts for some $40 million in economic impact, according to Keys tourism officials.

“Having a full-fledged Fantasy Fest also supports many not-for-profit organizations,” Robbins said. “But it’s certainly a boost to our hospitality industry.”