Craziness of Key West’s Fantasy Fest makes at least one visit worthwhile

Posted November 28, 2014


KEY WEST, Fla. — Upon transferring to the University of Miami, what we call the U, there were a few new words I learned: Froyo, Canes, irregardless, and my personal favorite, ratchet.

As a journalism student I really hate to admit that this word has become engrained in my vocabulary but I really can’t avoid it. With numerous meanings, the term has been likened to words like ghetto, dirty, trashy. Crazy parties with questionable acts are also referred to as ratchet.

Making appearances in music videos filmed in LIV in the Fontainebleau, Miami has certainly given “ratchet” a new meaning to many but after spending the weekend in Key West for Fantasy Fest, I believe the term has found a second home.

Hearing about Fantasy Fest for the last three years, how much fun it is, how crazy it gets, how everyone needs to go at least once, I decided my senior year that I really had no excuse not to go.

Talking with my sorority sisters who have gone every year of college, I finalized plans to stay with them, packed a bag full of tutus and glitter, a giant cooler of water bottles and snacks and took off on the supposed 3.5 hour drive to the end of the Keys with seven other girls.

Driving down the constantly congested, hellish roadway of U.S. 1, the single lane road, which must be taken to get down to the Keys, was pretty much a parking lot. True to South Florida weather, the brief yet intense rainstorm while we drove on the Overseas Highway caused even more of a backup for increasingly disgruntled drivers among us, as well as my friend Bianca who drove the car while I had the pleasure of sitting in the passenger seat.

With periods of not moving at all to going around a speed of 10 miles per hour, the trip which was originally supposed to be 3.5 hours took almost 5.5 hours but after countless sing-alongs and a few games of pretending my friends and I were ninjas, hanging outside the windows “shooting” at each other from our different cars, we finally reached our destination.

No time to rest, we all ran into our hotel room at the Ibis, dropped our bags and starting rummaging through to establish our costumes, plugging in hair straighteners and curling irons, tossing makeup across the counter tops, exchanging tops and seeing who looked best wearing what and if we should change or wear something different even though, lets be honest, we’ve been planning our outfits for a month.

After an hour of fussing with our own outfits as well as each other’s, our guy friends had arrived, “dressed up” and ready. When I say dressed up I mean that they had on a funny hat and a pair of shorts and sneakers, maybe a pair of suspenders. I have to admit after spending an hour getting ready, fixing my hair and being covered in glitter, I once again found myself envying the male gender for being able to spend two minutes “getting ready” to go out.

We all hopped on the complimentary shuttle, which proceeded to drop us on Duval Street. It took about 10 seconds to see countless pairs of body parts, some painted some bare, that we all would rather not have seen. An eclectic group of locals and tourists, women were topless at all ages.

As my friends and I walked into the first bar, I asked one of the older women if she was having a good night.

Patricia Morley, who told me she was 67, said she loved it.

“Honey, this is my favorite time of the year,” she said without hesitating.

Morley has lived in Key West for 10 years and told me that she refuses to miss the festival. Not TOTALLY bare, Morley donned bright purple pasties over her nipples and a long bedazzled maxi skirt saying she dresses like a mermaid every year.

The night was crawling with UM students as well as hundreds of other tourists and locals who were all out looking for a good time, and we all found it. The drinks were averagely priced and the music in the bars diverse.

Dancing until around 3 a.m. and taking in the intriguing scenes, my friends and I took an Uber back to the Ibis and went for a late night, early morning swim before crashing for a few hours and waking up for a new day.

Getting up around 9 a.m. because I am an early riser regardless of how little sleep I get, I pulled Bianca out of bed and dragged her down to Duval Street to go exploring. Slightly less crowded yet equally as interesting, Duval was still crawling with party-goers in costume, both sexy and hilarious. Bianca and I saw people dressed, as everything from a hot dog to an Egyptian/ fairy/zombie/there certainly was no lack of creativity.

Deciding to play up the tourist role, Bianca and I took our picture with the giant Southernmost Point marker and made our way along some of the bars, which at 11 a.m. had already opened and begun serving alcohol. After a couple of drinks, Bianca and I decided to check out some of the body painting shops where you could be painted like pretty much any animal or super hero your heart desired.

Deciding she needed to be a peacock, Bianca decided to fork over the $200 for some big blue feathers all over her torso as well as a few around her eyes. With her costume set for the night we drove over to eat dinner and meet up with the rest of the group.

Upon returning to the Ibis we all performed the same routine as the night before, except Bianca, who became fond of the Mean Girls pun, “I’m a peacock, duh.” A couple hours and many piles of glitter later we were all ready and went out to the shuttle for Duval Street once again.

Continuing with the ratchet theme, the parade had begun donning floats with strippers on polls, men and women throwing out beads to girls for flashing them like it was Madi Gras and A LOT of drag queens prancing around advocating for gay pride.

As the parade finished and everyone counted their beads, we all went off to the bars once again. The outfits never ceased to amaze me, the things people wore, or better yet didn’t wear, were astounding. All I could think was that my mother would kill me. Finishing up the night a little earlier than the previous night, some of the girls and I headed back to the Ibis to get some rest before the early morning trek back to Miami.

Driving back the next day we all looked like sparkling zombies, for no matter how hard you scrub, the glitter never really goes away. Recapping stories and laughing at ourselves as well as many other people we had the pleasure of meeting that weekend, we all agreed we had a blast.

I can honestly say I have never seen so many insane and questionable acts committed in a single weekend and have had my fill of Fantasy Fest for the rest of my life, though Bianca says she will be going back every year, specifically to find our new friend Patricia Morley.

If You Go

At Fantesy Fest, you will need:

  • Drinking water
  • A camera
  • Snacks
  • Sunglasses
  • Cash money
  • Glitter … lots of glitter

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