Fantasy Fest’s Outrageous Parade Highlights Key West Festival

A group of people wearing costumes - Fantasy Fest
Revelers costumed as jellyfish escort the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West float carrying "King Neptune" down Duval Street Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011, in Key West, Fla., during the Captain Morgan Fantasy Fest Parade. The nighttime event, that attracted more than 50,000 spectators, was a highlight of Key West's Fantasy Fest costuming and masking festival themed "Aquatic Afrolic." The 10-day extravaganza ended on Sunday.

KEY WEST, Florida Keys — The Fantasy Fest costuming and masking festival ends today (Sunday, Oct. 30) in Key West with an open-air carnival for kids and a poolside dance party.

Saturday night’s lavish grand parade, letting Key West residents and visitors get an early start on Halloween, was the undisputed highlight of the annual 10-day festival. Featuring more than 50 floats, bands and marching groups in elaborate costumes, it drew some 50,000 spectators to Key West’s historic downtown.

Many parade entries illustrated the festival theme, “Aquatic-A-Frolic.” Standouts included a “splash park” float whose riders frolicked on functioning water slides, a replica ship carrying King Neptune surrounded by mermaids and jellyfish, a “Crustaceans on Vacation” float peopled by “crabs” with huge claws, and more than 100 marchers who danced down the street costumed as red-and-white striped lionfish.

Spectator Loren Polans of New York City donned horns and a brief sea devil costume with luminous accents.

Polans, who celebrated his birthday at the parade, said he often attended Halloween costume events at home.

“It’s snowing in New York,” he said of an unseasonably early storm that dumped snow over the northeast during the weekend. “I’m so glad we’re down here, instead of up there.”

Celebrity visitor Hulk Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, was a surprise parade participant. He and his wife Jennifer led the “pirate crew” of a Spanish galleon float, eliciting chants of “Hulk! Hulk!” from the crowds.

Terry Bollea, right, also known as Hulk Hogan, and his wife Jennifer, left, ride a float at the Captain Morgan Fantasy Fest Parade in Key West, Fla., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011. The nighttime extravaganza was a highlight of the island city’s annual 10-day Fantasy Fest.

Fantasy Fest debuted in 1979 to bolster tourism during a slow period. Florida Keys tourism officials said the festival brings approximately $30 million in revenues to the island chain each year.

Its other popular events included a costume contest for pets and their owners, a flamboyant headdress ball, a beachside costume competition and a masquerade march that began at the Key West Cemetery.

Fantasy Fest 2012, themed “A-Conch-Alypse!,” is scheduled Oct. 19-28.

Jason Koler, born in Florida and raised in Ohio, is the “better looking and way smarter” Keys Weekly publisher. When not chasing his children or rubbing his wife’s feet, he enjoys folding laundry and performing experimental live publishing.