The Carribean 6 – Fantasy Fest

Fantasy Fest (2)

The build-up

The proceedings kick off at the Goombay Celebration (noon to midnight throughout the festival) in Bahama Village on Petronia Street, with Caribbean sights, tastes, sounds and entertainment. However, the Fest only really gets going after the coronation of the Fantasy Fest King and Queen on the Friday night, and things hot up as the week goes on. On Tuesday, there’s the Headdress Ball, featuring toppers of every imaginable description, some up to ten feet high. Wednesday sees the outrageous Beach Party at the Hog’s Breath Saloon, with its infamous home- made-bikini contest, as well as the Pet Masquerade and Parade, featuring cross-dressing animals and their look- alike owners. Head for the fancy-dress party at the Green Parrot Bar on Thursday evening, where you can get your arse painted (amongst other things) at the body-painting competition. Also on Thursday, check out – or enter – the Fest’s most flamboyant costume competition, Pretenders in Paradise, boasting designers from across the nation, and thousands of dollars in cash prizes. There’s also the notorious Toga Party at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, where you’ll see some of the skimpiest togas ever worn and witness the presiding Roman Emperor order his amply proportioned female entourage to strip anyone not sporting traditional dress. On Friday, the Caribbean Street Fair bursts onto the scene, transmogrifying Duval Street into a tropical marketplace, with feathered masks and tons of frivolous exotica on offer, along with spicy edibles and cooling libations. Just before sunset on Friday, the Fairvilla Megastore Masquerade March winds its way through the Fair, with the emphasis on – what else? – fantasy.

The Captain Morgan Fantasy Fest Parade

The climax of Fantasy Fest, the Captain Morgan Fantasy Fest Parade begins at around 7pm on Saturday, at the junction of Southard and Whitehead streets, and heads north towards the Gulf of Mexico, along Front Street, before trailing all the way down the town’s main drag, Duval Street, to the Atlantic side of the island, A crowd of up to seventy thousand revellers of all ages show up to watch this procession of brilliant bands, outlandish dancing groups and, of course, dazzling floats – some blaring music or breathing “fire”, some sporting elaborately realized pink elephants and other creatures of fantasy. Caribbean marching bands and dance groups, decked out in feathers and eye-popping colours, along with costumed walkers, complete the parade line-up. The main activity of parade participants is the tossing of beads – the Fantasy Fest “currency” – to the spirited, eager crowds lining the parade route. The fever to acquire these beads grips everyone; some will do whatever it takes to get their share, flashing the necessary parts of their anatomy to get a string of shiny glass. You can just buy the beads, but somehow it’s not quite the same. As with all great festivals, you can’t help yourself from joining in with the madness, and soon you’ll be jiving along with the bands, swapping drinks with your new best friends, and generally having the time of your life. The partying stays on the streets virtually throughout the night, and the bars are packed to the rafters with some of the most bizarrely dressed, or undressed, individuals you will ever come across.

The morning after

There’s plenty to do once the final parade’s passed by. Snorkelling and diving trips are on offer from a number of dive shops – try Captain Corner’s, 125 Ann St (®305/296-8865), Seabreeze Reef Raiders, 617 Front St (®305/292-7745), or Southpoint Divers, 714 Duval St (®800-891-DIVE). If the sybaritic overload of Fantasy Fest has left you feeling the need for some culture, pay a visit to Key West’s biggest tourist draw, the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, at 907 Whitehead St (daily 9am-5pm; ©305/294-1136; $10).

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