Florida's 'Fantasy Fest' ends with increased emphasis on costumes and less on decadence

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) — The 10-day Fantasy Fest costuming and masking celebration ends late Sunday in Key West, after some 100 events with an increased emphasis on imaginative costuming and decreases in past years’ decadence.

Tens of thousands of spectators thronged the subtropical island’s historic downtown Saturday night for Fantasy Fest’s highlight event, a parade featuring over 40 motorized floats and costumed marching groups.

Illustrating the festival’s move toward a more PG-rated focus, its 2023 theme was “Uniforms and Unicorns … 200 Years of Sailing into Fantasy,” in salute to the Florida Keys’ bicentennial and that of the U.S. Navy’s presence in Key West.

“The parade really demonstrated the festival’s direction away from decadent aspects and into good fun and off-the-charts creativity,” said Fantasy Fest director Nadene Grossman Orr. “It feels like Fantasy Fest has entered a new era of creative expression.”

Parade standouts included a uniformed group with huge blue wings depicting the Navy’s elite Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron, dancers in unicorn headdresses performing intrepid acrobatic feats, and an elaborate float and marching ensemble portraying a Kentucky Derby for unicorns.

Among other notable entries were a “litter” of elaborately costumed cats and a troupe dressed as characters from the blockbuster film “Barbie.”

Florida Keys tourism officials said Fantasy Fest brings approximately $30 million in annual revenues to the island chain and provides important fundraising opportunities for local nonprofit organizations. The 2023 campaign for festival king and queen raised more than $587,000 for the Florida Keys SPCA.

Fantasy Fest 2024, themed “It’s a 90’s Neon Cosmic Carnivale!,” is scheduled Oct. 18-27.