The highlight of the 10-day costuming and masking festival that ends Sunday, the parade featured some 50 motorized floats, colorful marching groups and Caribbean-style dance troupes.
Several entries recognized the island chain’s ongoing recovery from Irma, whose most serious impacts were felt in the Lower Keys.
Members of one Lower Keys group showed their resilient spirit by decorating their float entirely with hurricane debris, while another blended Irma and "The Wizard of Oz," portraying Dorothy and her dog Toto surrounded by a "storm" of menacing elements.
"We’re from the Sanibel-Fort Myers area and we were recovering too, and we know that we’re all in this together," said parade spectator Daniel Schuyler. "In order to for all of us to recover, we have to make sure we come down and support the local economy — we wouldn’t miss this for the world."
Other entries illustrated the festival theme, “Time Travel Unravels,” or reflected the color and creativity characteristic of Fantasy Fest. They included a prehistoric "Flintstones" ensemble featuring a huge dance troupe of “cave people” waving lighted “bones,” and a group blending a prancing 50-foot-long dragon and a green-and-purple depiction of Poseidon the sea god.
Florida Keys tourism officials said Fantasy Fest brings approximately $30 million in revenues to the island chain each year. As the first major special event since Irma, it means a critical boost to the Keys’ tourism-based economy, whose businesses employ 54 percent of the local workforce.
"We are here to support the many people that work in Fantasy Fest who have rent to pay, bills due, things like that," said Scott Purvis of Umatilla, Florida, who wore a pirate costume to view the parade. "We did not bow out from coming here because of Hurricane Irma. We’re down here to support them."
Fantasy Fest 2018, themed "Oh … The Games We Play!," is scheduled Oct. 19-28.