Meteorologically buffeted by gentle tropical breezes, astrologically Jimmy Buffetted by gentle cosmic breezes,
proudly declares a "One Human Family" philosophy, an interconnectedness through equal rights, dignity and respect, and this spirit soars each year during Fantasy Fest. It's 10 party-packed days and nights of merriment at the southern tip of Florida.
Invited last year for the culminating
weekend by friends who live in the Keys, I joined the locals' parade Friday night, the Masquerade March. Thousands of costumed revelers filled the streets.
After a wild two hours of prancing and dancing, we spilled onto Duval Street, a dependable party scene any time of year but truly outdoing itself that night. The theme was Habitat for Insanity. Elaborately and creatively costumed and artfully body-painted partygoers filled Duval and adjoining side streets, officially designated as the Fantasy Zone. Everyone was friendly, jovial and in the spirit to have a crazy amount of fun.
The next night, my friends took me to view the larger sponsored float parade, the official Captain Morgan Fantasy Fest Parade. This is not your grandmother's holiday parade, unless grandma was into body painting, as indeed here, some were.
For two hours, float after fun-filled float rolled by amid the body-painted partyers, elaborately costumed revelers and choreographed costumed dancing groups, all tossing
beads to the admiring crowd.
As for body paint: Key West actually has a municipal code stating that body paint does not constitute clothing. Judging from the bravado of some, it was a wise decision.
Lest you think all this merriment is merely an excuse for unabashed hedonism, it is not. There is a strong charity component to these festivities benefiting nonprofit community organizations, including schools, sports teams and the VFW.
Last year Fantasy Fest raised more than $200,000 for
Help, a nonprofit organization providing services for residents living with
and AIDS. And Pinking of You, a one-of-a-kind bra auction where local artists donate designed pieces of art made from bras, raised money for WomanKind Inc., a local
Fantasy Fest is in its 33rd year, with 70,000 people expected to partake of 40-plus events at bars, restaurants, hotels and other establishments. Planning it is a year-round endeavor.
Parade coordinator Alexis Hansen advised that some major events, such as the Headdress Ball and Pretenders in Paradise, sell out early, so if you're planning this trip, be warned.
Now, the big question: Would this fest fall outside your comfort zone? If you have to ask that question, it probably rules out taking the kids, unless you'd take your school-age children to Mardi Gras.
The organizers and the community seem to value the idea that choices should be left to the individual. Again, that probably rules out the kids. Most events are designed for adults, and some in particular are designed for adults of the consenting kind. I visited fantasyfest.net and picked out the events I don't want to miss and made note of the ones I intend to.
I probably won't show up at the Swing & Skin Fest Freak Party, hosted by one of
's onetime "goddesses," for instance. I am not going to enter the couples' pole-dancing competition, as my pole-dancing days are behind me. And I'll bypass the events offering a clothing check, and there are a few of these. But, as Hansen said, Key West has "an open mind and an open heart," and I'm going with that, knowing there is plenty of comfortable fun to be had.
Here are some of my choices:
Goombay, a family-friendly street party featuring the sights and sounds of Key West's Bahama Village. Caribbean drums, music, dance and food. Billed as the locals favorite street festival.
The Royal Coronation Ball, where the king and queen of Fantasy Fest (titles bestowed on the biggest fundraisers for AIDS Help) are announced.
Friends of Fort Taylor's Vampire Ball, held in the sally port of Fort
, a Civil War-era federal fort. A more perfect Halloween match would be hard to find amid the
, dungeons and dancing.
27th annual Headdress Ball at the Southernmost Hotel on the Beach, with outlandishly creative headgear.
And, of course, I plan to be in the Masquerade March, and on the sidelines watching the Captain Morgan Fantasy Fest Parade. I wouldn't miss it.
At a time of year went Northerners are lamenting the loss of warmth, this certainly is a way to turn up the heat.
Fantasy Fest runs Oct. 21-30. This year's theme is Aquatic Afrolic.
A handful of major airlines fly into Key West International Airport, 180 miles south of Miami: Continental, Delta, U. S. Airways, United,
among them. Most flights require a stop unless departing from Florida or a Southern hub.