Key West Fantasy Fest

Fantasy Fest is an annual event in Key West, held in the last week of October. Overall, the event is a wild, quirky, 10-day adult-themed costume party for grown-ups. The event has been held since 1979.

Fantasy Fest is known for its eclectic spirit of creative expression, suggestive and risque costumes, body painting and adult themes.

It’s also a celebration of human creativity, individuality and our shared experience as humans, in the same vein of Key Wests’ credo, “One Human Family”.

Oh, and it’s also a promotional event, designed to boost tourism during an otherwise slow time in Key Wests’ off-season.

Location of Fantasy Fest

Fantasy Fest is always held in Key West, the southernmost island in the Keys and “Mile Zero” on the Overseas Highway.

Many of the primary locations of Fantasy Fest events occur in the most popular spots of Key West like Duval Street, Mallory Square and public spaces in the “Fantasy Zone”.

View an official map collection with other Fantasy Fest locations and events by date and event type.

Other events occur on private property and in private bars, restaurants and hotels in Key West.

Key West is the perfect place to host Fantasy Fest. The island is known for its eclectic, quirky people and free-spirit island attitude.

The island is famously welcoming of diversity and different lifestyles. Key West has an unusually high concentration of creative residents, including artists, writers, modern-day pirates, many LGBQT people and many people who love to enjoy life.

Key West embraces the idea of being “One Human Family” and welcoming everyone to “Come as you are”. 

This openness and quirkiness is stretched to extreme levels during Fantasy Fest, sometimes to a breaking point. 

Some local residents are unhappy with what modern Fantasy Fest has become.

When is Fantasy Fest in 2022?

Fantasy Fest is always held over a 10-day period in late October. The event begins on a Friday and ends 10 days later on a Sunday.

Fantasy fest 2022 Dates

In 2022 Fantasy Fest will begin on Friday, October 21. The final day of Fantasy Fest 2022 will be Sunday, October 30.

View the official schedule for updates and details.

Fantasy Fest Key West 2022 Theme

The theme of Fantasy Fest 2022 is “Cult Classics and Cartoon Chaos”.

What to Expect at Fantasy Fest

Fantasy Fest is hard to describe. Analogies are helpful.

Many locals describe the event as a mix between Mardi Gras, Carnival, Burning Man and a Full Moon party.

It also has elements of Alice in Wonderland, a cruise ship, a state fair, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Almost everyone wears a costume and participates in the outlandish spectacle.

Attendees should expect large crowds. More than 70,000 visitors flood into Key West for Fantasy Fest. The island usually has a population of about 26,000.

The entire island becomes crowded. Every hotel room is typically booked, often well in advance. 

Crowds of revelers flow through the streets, which are often filled shoulder-to-shoulder in the Fantasy Zone. Live music is everywhere. There is a cacophony of sights and sounds.

Masquerade March, Fantasy Fest, Key West, Florida
The Masquerade March in Fantasy Fest, Key West. Photo by RuggyBearLA, CC2.0

The vibe gets much crazier after sunset. Tutus, painted bodies and colored hair are everywhere.

What Happens at Fantasy Fest?

The main thing that happens at Fantasy Fest is partying, with a quirky celebration of human weirdness. 

Elements of Fantasy Fest include: 

  • Dozens of events and parties, public and private
  • Parades and street parties
  • Wearing creative costumes and seeing other costumes
  • Mingling with other Fantasy Fest attendees
  • Live music and performances
  • Contests, scavenger hunts and activities
  • Body painting and body art

The Vibe

The vibe in Fantasy Fest is one of fun, acceptance and celebration of weirdness. And, quite a bit of adult debauchery.

Key West has a motto of “Come as you are” year-round. During Fantasy Fest the acceptance is ratcheted up to extreme levels.

Visitors wear masks, costumes and masquerades which give a slight feeling of semi-anonymity and allow them to cut loose even more.

People love being able to embrace and celebrate their weirdness with a general lack of embarrassment or feeling of judgment.

How Much does it Cost to Attend Fantasy Fest?

Attending Fantasy Fest is technically free, but actually attending is almost sure to be incredibly expensive! 

Even for the most savvy budget traveler, many of the costs are difficult, or impossible to avoid.

Key West is an expensive place to visit year ‘round. Fantasy Fest is the most popular time of year for visitors, so the island becomes even more expensive.

Everything from hotels to taxis, hotels and other necessities will be at their highest prices. Drinks can be extremely expensive, with inflated prices which are higher than usual. 

There are some ways to keep the costs low, though:

  • Many places will offer low-cost beers as an alternative to $20 cocktails.
  • Many visitors incorporate liquid storage into their costumes to avoid buying drinks. If you do this, be careful to avoid violating open container laws!
  • Sharing hotel rooms and accommodations with other travelers can also help reduce the cost immensely.
  • Camping is an option, although capacity is very limited, and prices are still high. There are several campgrounds near Key West.
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Transportation and Parking

Parking in Key West is always difficult to find. During Fantasy Fest parking can be impossible to find. 

Due to road closures, crowds and other factors, traffic can be extremely frustrating. 

Renting a bike, walking, scooter or golf cart rentals can all be good options for getting around Key West during Fantasy Fest. 

Whatever you choose, the best advice is to be very careful, relax and embrace the experience. 

The official event page has information to help with parking, transportation and the use of bicycles

If you can avoid driving and leave your car at your hotel or vacation rental, strongly consider it.  There is nothing worse than being stuck in traffic and not being able to find parking.

Where to Stay

Know this: there is a shortage of hotels in Key West during Fantasy Fest. 

There are many hotels in Key West, but there is an inadequate supply to host 75,000+ people, and many more who would like to come, but can’t.

During Fantasy Fest, hotels in Key West charge their highest rates, and are often booked ridiculously far in advance. 

Camping is an option. There are several campgrounds near Key West.

It’s best to stay in Key West itself, if you can find a hotel, campsite or vacation rental. Driving long distances on the Overseas Highway to and from the party is not advised. 

Be prepared to pay high prices and deposit. 

Many hotels and campgrounds have minimum-stay requirements during Fantasy Fest. Large, non-refundable, or partially-refundable deposits are also common.

Weather for Fantasy Fest

Fantasy Fest was created to fill a quiet “gap” in Key West’s busy tourist schedule. 

Why was there a gap? Why would anyone avoid coming to Key West in the last week of October? Partly because of the weather! 

Key West in October can be nice, or still be hot and humid. 

Florida’s beautiful cool, dry winter weather has not yet returned. Plus, there is still more than a month left in Florida’s Hurricane season.

Key West WeatherOctoberNovember
Average High Temperature (F)85.881.0
Average Low Temperature (F)76.872.2
Average Rainfall (Inches)5.672.05

The weather situation is not all bad news. On average, the weather begins to cool down a bit by the end of October. 

Weather in Key West in October, Fantasy Fest
Source: NOAA

Average high temperatures drop in October, down from their peak in August, the hottest month in Key West. November temperatures are even cooler.

Average humidity levels also begin to drop in late October and into November. Cold fronts may begin to push down into Florida, bringing dry air and cooler temperatures.

Afternoon rain and thunderstorms may still occur, but with lower frequency. Average rainfall is reduced compared to September, which has the most rainfall.

Even if there is rain, many of the most popular Fantasy Fest events are indoors, and may not be affected by rain. Obviously parades and outdoor events might be affected, and have been affected in previous years.

Hurricane Season

October and November are still very active months for the hurricane season in Florida, which lasts until November 30th. 

Travel insurance may be a great thing to consider for peace of mind!

Fantasy Fest Rules

Many people assume that Fantasy Fest is a “No-rules”, do-whatever-you-want free for all. 

It’s not. There are rules! And, even more than rules, there are laws in Key West!

Public indecency, open containers and many other behaviors are illegal, and could lead to arrest and even criminal charges.

The Fantasy Fest website has an extensive code of conduct on the event website. The Key West Police Department publishes rules and reminders to prevent problems.

All visitors would be wise to read the rules, especially anyone who plans to push boundaries. General things to know, in addition to the specific rules:

  • Lewd acts and indecent behavior are illegal and are not acceptable.
  • Know and follow the rules for open containers.
  • Body painting only counts as acceptable clothing for certain body parts, and only inside the Fantasy Zone.

Fantasy Zone

The city commissioners set rules to define what is allowed at Fantasy Fest, especially things which would normally be illegal in Key West.

According to the official code of conduct, “The “Designated ‘Fantasy Zone’ is Duval Street from Front Street to Truman Avenue on Friday October 28th & Saturday October 29th from 4:00 PM – 4:00 AM”

In 2022 city officials considered not having a “Fantasy Zone” at all, thereby not allowing exceptions to the city’s normal laws.

In 2023 and future Fantasy Fest events it is likely that the event may be more “family-friendly” and will not tolerate many of the things that Fantasy Fest is currently known for.

Schedule of Events and Parties

Fantasy Fest is one giant party, built upon hundreds of other parties, official and unofficial.  

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Masquerade March, Fansty Fest, Key West, Florida. Image via Flickr Cayobo CC2.0
Photo by Cayobo, CC2.0

Officially, the festival schedule includes many dozens of “Daily Diversions” which are like an a-la-carte menu of individual parties. 

There is a giant, 10-day schedule of events, consisting of:

  • Parades
  • Pool parties
  • Carnivals
  • Live Music
  • Contests and competitions
  • Costume parties
  • And more

Notable examples:

  • Annual Zombie Bike Ride
  • The Pet Masquerade
  • The Headdress Ball
  • Pretenders In Paradise
  • The Masquerade March
  • The Fantasy Fest Parade
  • Wet T-Shirt Contests
  • Provocative Bull Riding Contests
  • Kinky Carnival
  • Anything But Clothes Party
  • Fantasy Yacht Race Victory At Sea Cup
  • Masked Monday

Coronation Ball

The Fantasy Fest Coronation Ball begins on a Friday night with the Royal Celebration Ball. 

The competition to be crowned king and queen of Fantasy Fest. This is taken very seriously. The King and Queen titles are loosely defined – both are often dressed in drag.

Fantasy Fest Coronation Ball. Florida Memory.
Coronation Ball and Crowning of the Queen

Rather than a popularity contest or costume contest, the coronation is based on who can raise the most money to benefit a charity, Aids Help Inc. The campaign begins in August.

The final weekend of Fantasy Fest ends a street festival and parade.

Goombay

Goombay is a two-day party in the streets of the Bahama Village neighborhood. 

The party features drum music and is a celebration of Key West’s Bahamian culture. There is also food, music, dancing, art and more, all to celebrate the Bahamian culture.

Goombay is a traditional form of Bahamian music, focused around drums made from goat skin.

Goombay is designed to be one of only a few family-friendly events in Fantasy Fest.

View the Goombay schedule

Insider Tips and Advice

“Almost anything goes, all in good fun”.

Many people think that Fantasy Fest is awesome because it provides the freedom to do whatever you want. Sort of. 

The freedom to “do whatever you want” really comes from the social acceptance aspect of the event. It does not excuse you from human decency, rules, or laws!

“What happens at Fantasy Fest” doesn’t necessarily stay at Fantasy Fest! Poor decisions can and will follow you back to your normal life!

For the most part, as long as you are respectful of laws and other people, people will respect your weirdness and won’t judge you for expressing your weirdness. 

But, you must be careful not to take things too far. You must follow Key West’s laws, and the rules. You must still be in control of your own behavior and act decently and responsibly. 

You cannot do things which encroach on other people’s personal rights, boundaries or break any sort of law. 

And, remember to protect yourself. It’s likely that people will probably be acting outside the bounds of normal behavior, at least in some ways. 

It’s important to keep your wits about you, and keep your “street smarts”. Don’t put yourself in a bad situation, or allow yourself to unwittingly fall into a bad situation.

Fantasy Fest is all about fun and good vibes. Don’t ruin it for other people, or yourself!

Other Fantasy Fest tips:

  • Stay well hydrated!
  • Remain aware of yourself and your surroundings
  • Be a good human
  • Wear good, sensible shoes!
  • A good Fantasy Fest costume idea is like a good joke; it shouldn’t require an explanation to “get it”.
  • Make hotel reservations early!
  • Try not to rely on a car
  • If you don’t already know how to ride a bike or scooter, don’t try it for the first time
  • Be careful!

Fantasy Fest Costumes 

When it comes to Fantasy Fest, costumes are incredibly important! 

Costumes, masks and outfits are fun and help people get into the “Fantasy” mindset, loosen inhibitions and cut loose.

Many visitors spend huge amounts of time thinking of costume ideas, and creating custom outfits.

Everyone has their own taste, but many Fantasy Fest veterans say that the best costumes may have one or more of these elements:

  • Home-made
  • Colorful
  • Impressive
  • Bold
  • Unique
  • Creative
  • Wacky and zany
  • Funny
  • Group costumes

Fantasy Fest Costume Ideas

Many people wonder about the most popular Fantasy Fest Costume Ideas. 

From extensive research, we’ve found that Fantasy Fests’ most popular costume ideas include common themes:

  • Animals and nature
  • Butterflies, birds and wings
  • Zombies
  • Circus
  • Mermaids
  • Sea creatures
  • Island culture
  • Skeletons
  • Flower and hippy themes
  • Abstract and Bizarre
  • Well-known book and movie characters
  • Art, music and culture
  • Incorporation of another talent

This list can be used for inspiration, or maybe a list of boring, overused tropes to avoid.

Many of the best costumes, the sort that will win costume parties, are intricate and have impressive attention to detail. Others are “minimalist” to the extreme.

When it comes to a successful Fantasy Fest costume idea, remember one thing. A good costume is like a good joke; if you have to explain it, it won’t “work”. 

Most people at Fantasy Fest will be drunk, or on their way to being drunk. Folks won’t be in the mood, or mental state, to consider a nuanced literary reference, for example.

Shoes

Advice: wear good, sensible shoes.

Fantasy Fest involves a lot of walking. The streets often become disgusting with so many drunk people in them, for various reasons you can imagine. 

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You might not want to find yourself walking in bare feet, or even sandals.

Body painting

Body paint in Fantasy Fest is serious business!

Body painting in Fantasy Fest

Body paint is often waterproof and can last for a surprisingly long time. Some people commission beautiful murals and creative art works on their bodies.

Note: You don’t have to be nude for body painting. Many people wear swimsuits or other clothing!

Body Painting Cost

How much does Fantasy Fest body painting cost? 

The price of body painting in Key West varies by artist and by the desired service, level of intricacy and the time required for the session.

From doing online research, we think that these prices give a general idea of what to expect. 

Body painting artist costs will vary greatly depending on the artist, timing, and many other factors!

  • Face: $25-100
  • Full-body paint, basic: $150-500
  • Full-body paint, intricate: $600+
  • Half-body, torso, or partial torso: $150-450
  • Upper-body, low-end: $60-200
  • Upper-body, high-end: $300-600

Most sessions for body painting in Fantasy Fest require at least one hour. 

Intricate designs for full-body painting can take up to 3-4 hours or more, depending on the design, body location and level of intricacy. 

Many people get multiple body painting “outfits” on different days of Fantasy Fest. The costs can add up to crazy high prices!

It’s usually customary to give a tip to the artist, as well, so that also increases the cost. 

Prices are often higher to secure an appointment on busy days during Fantasy Fest. Visitors are advised to make an appointment early. 

Key West Body Painting Artists

There are many body painting artists in Key West. Many work year-round for wedding, tourist and other make-up services. 

Here are some notable artists we came across, who list their body painting prices online:

History of Fantasy Fest

Fantasy Fest was started in 1979 by a group of locals who live in Key West. 

The group noticed that very few tourists visited Key West in late October, which was the slowest time in the island’s off-season.

The idea was to create an event which would attract seasonal residents and visitors back to Key West and extend the high season. 

Snowbirds and winter vacationers typically began returning to Key West later, in Florida’s winter months.

Fantasy Fest became a massive success, and grew into the largest festival in Key West. 

The event has continued to grow every year since its inception, and attracts tens of thousands of visitors from around the world.

Thanks to Fantasy Fest, Halloween is now the most popular time to visit Key West, and attracts larger crowds than any other time of the year.

Fantasy Fest Changes

There is a controversy in Key West over the current state of Fantasy Fest, and the direction the event should take in future years.

Many residents dislike the low-brow debauchery of Fantasy Fest.

Some Key West residents want to rebrand and change the event to be “Family Friendly” and reduce the adult-themed elements. 

City officials, especially the mayor, want to transform the event into a “clean festival” with a more “positive”, family-friendly feel.

This is not a new crusade; people have wanted to tame and change the wild event for many years.

The City Manager has been charged with negotiating with the festival producers and organizers to change the event in future years.

Specific changes would eliminate “Fantasy zones”, place additional restrictions on inappropriate behavior, and other changes.

There would be “Family hours” when everyone would need to behave in a “family-friendly” way.

The idea of change stirs anger for many people who like the event’s adult-themed debauchery.

Advocates and fans of the event in its present form say that there are already enough family-friendly events. Not everything needs to be family-friendly, they say.

Fantasy Fest is well-known to be an adult-themed celebration. Advocates say that there is no way to change its character without killing the magic.

Should Fantasy Fest Be Changed?

It’s easy to dismiss reformers as prudes and pearl clutchers. But, there are good points on both sides.

Many long-time residents of Key West agree that event changes could be a good thing.

Reformers say that they want to get back to the roots of the original Fantasy Fest. They say that the early events celebrated higher-value ideals, especially a spirit of genuine art and creativity.

Aside from juvenile shock value, they wonder, is there any real value in walking around wearing only a sock?

Needless to say, there are strong opinions and emotions on both sides of the issue.

Cover photo by Jonathan Borba