KEY WEST, Florida Keys -- Visitors to America's subtropical island city can don elaborate masks and costumes to act out adventures and daydreams during the annual Fantasy Fest celebration, set for Oct. 17-26 in easygoing, uninhibited Key West. The 2014 festival is themed "Animeted Dreams & Adventures," inspired by traditional Japanese anime and virtually all forms of creative animation.
More than 40 masquerade parties, costume contests and themed events are scheduled during the 10-day festival, culminating in a decadent grand parade designed to excel in excess and exuberance.
Participants are encouraged to draw costume and float concepts from the festival theme, whether portraying characters from classic anime, comic books like the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" series or animated film blockbusters such as "Frozen." Stylistic influences might include the drawings in manga publications and the costumed role-playing phenomenon known as "cosplay."
Events begin Friday, Oct. 17, with the "Tropical Escapades and Trances" Royal Coronation Ball to crown the festival king and queen, held overlooking the ocean at the Southernmost Beach Café, 1405 Duval St. Also that weekend, Key West's Caribbean roots are celebrated with Friday and Saturday's lively Goombay street party in historic Bahama Village.
Subsequent festival highlights include Tuesday's "Animelistic Head Trip" Headdress Ball, featuring prizes for the best masks and headdresses at Southernmost on the Beach, 508 South St. Typically sporting feathers, glitter and offbeat accessories, many entries tower high above their wearers' heads in a lavish display of design artistry.
Wednesday brings the quirky Pet Masquerade and Parade where costumed dogs, cats, birds and more prance across an oceanfront stage at the Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, 1500 Reynolds St. Contestants might dress as bumbling Kung Fu Pandas, undaunted Underdogs or cosplay Catwomen during the engaging animal antics.
The animated action takes to the streets Friday, Oct. 24, during the Fantasy Fest Street Fair, where vendors offer masks and costumes, crafts, food and libations. Just before sunset, the Masquerade March of exotically garbed characters parades from the Key West Cemetery through historic Old Town.
Friday night, contestants inspired by anime artistry, cartoon classics or other influences compete in the Living Art Airbrush Expo, a challenge where the human form becomes the canvas, held at Ocean Key Resort's Sunset Pier at 0 Duval St.
Other festival standouts include a "Southernmost Dreams and Adventures" poolside costume party, Broadway-style burlesque showcase, toga party, sensual soirees and themed costume galas.
The "animeted" extravaganza is to reach a dazzling climax Saturday, Oct. 25, as tens of thousands of spectators gather for the 3Wishes.com Fantasy Fest Parade. The spectacle typically includes feather-bedecked marching groups, Caribbean bands and elaborate motorized floats, all promenading through Key West's historic downtown.
United States residents eager to experience Fantasy Fest can enter a contest to win a 5-night trip for two to Key West and the Middle Keys' Marathon to take part in the Masquerade March, parade and other "wild" adventures. To enter, text the word WILDKEYS to 65047 by11:59 p.m. Sept. 19. Text-capable mobile users also can enter by visiting www.FloridaKeysWin.com.
Information and schedule: www.fantasyfest.com, facebook.com/FantasyFest or 305-296-1817
Key West visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY
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