The 2023 festival is themed “Uniforms and Unicorns … 200 Years of Sailing into Fantasy” to salute the Florida Keys’ bicentennial and the U.S. Navy’s two-century history in Key West combined with the “unicorn” uniqueness that characterizes the island.
Renowned as “the locals’ parade,” the annual march features high-spirited revelers wearing everything from elaborate costumes and masks to ensembles inspired by the festival theme. During 2023’s extravaganza, they might adopt the uniforms of long-ago sailors or futuristic soldiers, medieval knights or sci-fi space crews, sports teams or superheroes — or draw costuming ideas from the mythical beauty of unicorns.
The masquerade march is free to enter and watch. Starting at 5:30 p.m. at Truman Avenue and Frances Street, participants are to promenade down Frances and along Fleming Street, stopping for libations at bed-and-breakfast inns along the way.
Spectators typically line the streets of the island’s historic district, applauding and sometimes joining in, before the procession reaches its end and after-parties at the Key West EmPOURium, 618 Duval St., and Aquaplex, 711 Duval St.
Standouts in last year’s march included a herd of Santa’s renegade reindeer, a group garbed in shimmering robes and huge gauzy wings, and characters from the “How to Train Your Dragon” animated films.
The colorful promenade is a prelude to the annual festival highlight, the Bud Light Fantasy Fest Parade featuring dozens of glittering motorized floats, costumed walking groups and exuberant island dancers. Scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 28, the parade is to proceed down Key West’s Whitehead and Duval streets in front of as many as 60,000 fans.
Event information: fantasyfest.com; festival app at App Store or Google Play
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY
Social: Facebook • Twitter • Instagram • YouTube • Pinterest • TikTok • Keys Voices Blog