FLORIDA KEYS — A free-spirited holiday season comes alive in the Florida Keys & Key West, with subtropical warmth and festive cheer throughout the 125-mile-long island chain. From Key Largo to Key West, visitors can find plenty of only-in-the-Keys activities designed to celebrate the seasonal spirit.
Dec. 8: Key West City Hometown Holiday Parade. Key West. Local holiday spirit abounds in this annual 7 p.m. parade that features marching bands, school groups, creatively styled floats and community participation from all ages. The parade kicks off at Bayview Park’s Truman Avenue and White Street location. Catching tossed candy and seeing Santa are highlights for kids. Call 305-809-3881.
Dec. 9: Christmas on the Sheriff’s Animal Farm. Key West. Children and adults can visit furry, fluffy and feathered residents of the animal farm and petting zoo from 1-3 p.m. and even get a photo taken with Santa. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Animal Farm is located at the county’s detention center just northeast of Key West at 5501 College Road. It’s open on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Call 305-293-7300.
STOCK ISLAND, FloridaKeys — Vibrant arts emporiums, a fast-growing culinary scene and a colorful working waterfront characterize Stock Island, the Florida Keys community that lies just outside Key West. Visitors can explore the eclectic island, headquarters of the Florida Keys’ commercial shrimping industry, during the I Love Stock Island Festival set for Friday through Sunday, Dec. 7-9.
Festival attendees can celebrate Stock Island’s culture and heritage, lively marinas and waterfront eateries while enjoying fresh-off-the-boat seafood and other island cuisine, history and art studio tours, live music, a bicycle trek, a day of family fun and even a lighted holiday boat parade.
Friday’s highlights include the Taste of Stock Island, a “moveable feast” scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. Foodies travel by trolley between local restaurants, sampling small plates and beverages at each flavorful stop.
Friday also features a preholiday happening: the annual Stock Island Lighted Boat Parade beginning at 7 p.m. Participating vessels range from dinghies and schooners to local shrimpboats, decked out with holiday lights and decorations, staging a festive journey through community marinas. A preparade happy hour and post-parade parties at local hotspots round out the festivities.
Saturday’s centerpiece is “Discover Stock Island,” a daylong family-friendly event headquartered at the new Bernstein Park at 6751 5th St. Attractions are to include live music, food trucks, vendors’ wares, activities for kids, a Little Mr. & Miss Stock Island Contest and the seafaring-themed Stock Island Olympics. Attendees can even taste samples of roast pork and vote for their favorite in the Cuban Pig Roast Chinabox Challenge.
Saturday’s schedule also features a 5k walk/run and free trolley tours of local businesses, restaurants and galleries with “treasure” prizes.
Among Sunday’s highlights are a guided history tour by bicycle or van, a Stock Island art studio “open house” stroll and a traditional Florida Keys shrimp boil.
The festival schedule also includes food truck finds, brunches at Stock Island restaurants, values on watersports excursions and a Sunday “animal farm” experience for families.
Event information: ILoveStockIsland.org
Lower Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com/lowerkeys or 1-800-872-3722
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FLORIDA KEYS — There’s always something happening in the Florida Keys & Key West, from eclectic festivals focusing on the area’s colorful history, artistic culture and notable cuisine to events that celebrate the Keys’ unique environment, underwater adventures and quirky ambiance.
FLORIDA KEYS — Colorful history, artistic culture, quirky ambiance and celebrations of the Florida Keys island chain’s underwater paradise, outdoor adventures and tasty cuisine provide visitors with year-round entertainment, festivals and special events.
While this calendar lists top events and festivities for summer 2018 through the year’s end, a more detailed schedule of only-in-the-Keys events can be found at fla-keys.com/calendar.
Battle in the Bay Dragon Boat Festival (June 2; battleinthebaydragonboat.com) transforms the waters off Marathon’s Sombrero Beach into a course for dragon boat racing. Attractions include the pristine setting and direct-from-the-beach launches of sleek 40-foot-long race boats.
Key West Pride (June 6-10; keywestpride.org) includes five days of fun for Key West’s LGBT visitors and allies. Events typically include pool parties, late-night soirees, the finale of a North American cocktail competition, a street fair, a lively parade and pageants to select Mr., Miss and Ms. Key West Pride.
Stock Island Film Festival (June 7-9; stockislandfilmfestival.com) on Stock Island at The Perry Hotel and Coast, a space for makers, features Billy Corben, director of “Cocaine Cowboys” and “The U,” and local filmmaker Quincy Perkins. Short award-winning films about smuggling, fishing, drugs, falling in love and other topics are scheduled.
Coralpalooza: Plant a Coral, Restore a Reef (June 8-9; coralrestoration.org/
The Florida Keys Guitar Festival’s Guitar Summit (June 15-17; floridakeysguitarfestival.com) features virtuoso Florida Keys guitarists Mateo Jampol, David Feder and Rolando Rojas entertaining audiences in classical, contemporary and Latin genres. Performances are scheduled in Islamorada, Marathon and Key West.
The FKCC Swim Around Key West (June 30; swimaroundkeywest.org) is an epic 12.5-mile open-water swim around the island of Key West for solo participants and relay teams. It’s the only sanctioned, insured and U.S. Coast Guard permitted race around Key West. Swimmers also can participate in shorter challenges, and a USA Swimming–sanctioned swim meet is planned July 1.
Key West’s Key Lime Festival (June 30–July 4; keylimefestival.com) draws fans of Key lime pie to salute the tiny tart fruit that inspired the Florida Keys’ signature dessert. Tasty events include a Key lime pie–eating contest, lime lovers’ cocktail stroll, Key Lime Pie Drop and Key Lime Pie Hop.
The Underwater Music Festival (July 7; lowerkeyschamber.com/festival.
Key West’s Hemingway Days (July 17-22; hemingwaydays.net) celebrates legendary author Ernest Hemingway, who lived and wrote on the island during the 1930s. Highlights include the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest for stocky bearded men, prose and poetry readings, the wacky “Running of the Bulls,” presentations on the writer’s influence and a three-day marlin tournament recalling his passion for deep-sea angling.
Tropical Heat (Aug. 15-19; tropicalheatkw.com) is an all-male celebration presented by the Key West Business Guild that typically includes pool and dance parties and themed gatherings.
The annual Key West BrewFest (Aug. 30-Sept. 3; keywestbrewfest.com) marks Labor Day weekend, highlighted by a Sept. 1 signature tasting festival with close to 200 beers and microbrews on tap. Proceeds benefit the Key West Sunrise Rotary Club of the Conch Republic.
Heroes Salute Weekend (Aug. 31-Sept. 2; floridakeysheroes.com) features three days of patriotic Middle Keys fun with moving tributes, all-American fireworks, a 5k run and walk, and a barbecue at Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key. The annual event honors military, fire and rescue, law enforcement and medical personnel.
Womenfest (Sept. 5-9; womenfest.com) lures singles, couples and groups of women to Key West for one of North America’s largest gathering of lesbians and their friends. Attractions typically include festivities, flag football, pool parties and musical and comedy performances.
REEF Lionfish Derby for Divers (Sept. 14-16; reef.org) at Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a weekend of derby events to collect lionfish, an invasive species becoming popular as a food fish for its light, mild flavor. Educational seminars teach safe collecting and handling techniques.
During the Swim for Alligator Lighthouse (Sept. 15; swimalligatorlight.com), distance swimmers can test their endurance in an 8-mile roundtrip race from the shores of Islamorada to the Alligator Lighthouse and back. Solo and relay swimmers can participate. Proceeds help provide scholarship opportunities and preserve treasured historic lighthouses on Florida’s coastal waterways.
Key Largo’s REEF Fest (Sept. 20-23; reef.org) celebrates marine conservation with educational seminars, social gatherings, diving and eco-adventures with prestigious leaders in diving and marine conservation.
The Southernmost Marathon, Half Marathon & 5K (Oct. 6; multirace.com) includes 26.2-, 13.1- and 3.1-mile challenges featuring Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico views and iconic Key West landmarks. Athletes can test their speed and stamina on flat, fast courses that start and end at Lagerheads, 0 Simonton St.
Bahama Village Goombay Festival (Oct. 19-20; fantasyfest.com), a lively family-friendly event in Key West’s historic Bahama Village neighborhood, celebrates island-style food, arts and crafts, live entertainment and dancing in the streets. It’s held noon to midnight both days on the first weekend of Fantasy Fest.
Ladies Let’s Go Fishing! Keys Saltwater Weekend Seminar (Oct. 19-21; ladiesletsgofishing.com) enables female anglers to learn or polish their skills during a fun, lively weekend seminar. Held in the Upper Keys, the popular weekend event spotlights techniques for offshore, bottom, inshore and fly-fishing.
Key West’s annual Fantasy Fest (Oct. 19-28; fantasyfest.com) gives masquerade madness the center stage. This year themed “Oh…The Games We Play!,” the outrageous 10-day costuming and masking festival is recognized around the world. Highlights include a costume competition for pets, headdress ball, street fairs, madcap march and lavish parade with dazzling motorized floats, elaborately garbed walking groups and dancers in bright feathered costumes.
The Key West Super Boat World Championship (Nov. 4-11; superboat.com) features high-speed offshore powerboats in an adrenaline-fueled event known internationally as the Indianapolis 500 of powerboat racing. A portion of the 6.5-mile course runs through Key West Harbor, meaning smooth water where racers can achieve speeds above 140 mph.
The Key West Film Festival (Nov. 14-18; kwfilmfest.com), themed “Passion Meets Paradise,” showcases films highlighting creativity, diversity, sustainability and beauty. The program typically includes films from multiple genres and categories as well as social events with filmmakers, actors and special guests.
The International Sand Art Competition (Nov. 21-25; justsandandwater.com/isac) is held in Key West at the Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. World-renowned sand sculptors compete to create the best large-scale masterpiece, using only sand and water, as Thanksgiving visitors watch the creations take shape.
The annual Big Pine & The Lower Keys Island Art Festival (Nov. 24;lowerkeyschamber.com/art_fair.
The Key West Holiday Fest (Dec. 1-31; keywestholidayfest.com) spotlights seasonal celebrations including the illumination of the Harbor Walk of Lights, a hometown holiday parade, tours of decorated historic inns, a lighted boat parade and lively New Year’s Eve celebrations.
The Florida Keys Holiday Festival (Dec. 7; islamoradachamber.com) is a magical seasonal gathering in Islamorada — complete with a 30-ton snow mountain, holiday parade, community tree lighting and visit from Santa.
The I Love Stock Island Festival (Dec. 7-9; ilovestockisland.org) has music, food, history and art studio tours, watersports and straight-off-the-boat seafood. The family-friendly festival salutes Stock Island’s seafaring traditions and culinary riches in an eclectic working waterfront. The signature Taste of Stock Island is Dec. 7.
Nutcracker Key West (Dec. 8-16; nutcrackerkeywest.com) at Tennessee Williams Theatre is a uniquely crafted semiannual holiday production flavored with characters and sets depicting Key West’s colorful history, vibrant coral reef environment and even free-roaming local roosters. Renowned professional dancers perform alongside local children and adults in a stunning subtropical version of the classic ballet.
New Year’s Eve Fireworks on Blackwater Sound (Dec. 31; keylargofireworks.com) features a back bay setting for a fireworks extravaganza hosted by top Key Largo restaurants and resorts at mile markers 103 and 104.
New Year’s Eve “Drops” in Key West (Dec. 31; sloppyjoes.com, bourbonstpub.com, schoonerwharf.com, oceankey.com) ring in 2019 with a “conch shell drop” at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, 201 Duval St.; the descent of a super-sized red high-heel shoe carrying drag queen Sushi at the Bourbon St. Pub/New Orleans House complex, 724 Duval St.; and the lowering of a pirate wench from atop a tall ship’s mast at the Schooner Wharf Bar, 202 William St. At the Ocean Key Resort & Spa, a huge replica of a Key lime wedge splashes down into a larger-than-life margarita glass.
Florida Keys calendar of events: fla-keys.com/calendar
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
KEY WEST, Florida Keys — Revelers can expect a “monopoly” on high-energy fun Friday, Oct. 19, through Sunday, Oct. 28, as Key West’s annual Fantasy Fest puts a playful spin on masking and costuming festivities. The 2018 festival is themed “Oh … The Games We Play!” and features 10 days of masquerade balls, elaborate costume contests, parties and fanciful frolics, all climaxing in a grand parade set for Saturday, Oct. 27.
Event organizers encourage participants to design costumes and parade floats around the festival theme — embracing everything from old-style board games to online role-playing challenges. They might draw inspiration from suspects in Clue, riverboat gamblers, Bingo bimbos or quest-focused avatars from the “World of Warcraft” universe.
The glamorous gaming action is to begin with a Royal Coronation Ball Friday, Oct. 19, where a king and queen are crowned to rule over the festivities. Also that weekend, the family-friendly Goombay street party takes place in historic Bahama Village, saluting Key West’s Caribbean roots.
In addition, Key West Burlesque is to present “Madame DuJour’s Magical Game Show and Burlesque Experience” from Friday, Oct. 19, through Friday, Oct. 26. The tantalizing parody blends performance, pageantry and prizes for audience members.
Subsequent festival highlights include Wednesday’s wacky Pet Masquerade, where creatures ranging from dogs and cats to “angry birds” compete for costume prizes along with their human companions.
Thursday night, contestants at the 36th annual Headdress Ball engage in a not-so-trivial pursuit: displaying huge and elaborate masks and headgear while vying for “over the top” prizes.
Throughout the festival, attendees can immerse themselves in fantasy roles at themed parties, costume competitions and other gatherings. Antics on the overflowing schedule include the Ringmaster’s Pool Party, glow galas, toga and tutu affairs, the Venetian Masquerade Ball, a retro beach bash and a Zombie Bike Ride reminiscent of the “Resident Evil” video game.
Key West’s renowned Duval Street becomes an amusement arcade Friday as vendors of costumes, arts and crafts, food and libations sell their wares in the mile-long Fantasy Fest Street Fair. In addition, the Masquerade March draws masked and costumed merrymakers for an exuberant walking parade.
The role-playing revelry is to reach its climax Saturday, Oct. 27, during the Bud Light Fantasy Fest Parade through Key West’s historic downtown. Tens of thousands of spectators typically converge to cheer the parade’s exotic marching groups, island-style bands, costumed characters and lavishly decorated motorized floats.
Event information: fantasyfest.com
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY
Social: Facebook • Twitter • Instagram • Youtube • Keys Voices blog
How does it feel to a have an up-close and personal encounter with two exotic pink flamingoes? Nature lovers can find out during a once-a-day “Flamingle” experience at the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory.
KEY WEST, Fla. — How does it feel to a have an up-close and personal encounter with two exotic pink flamingoes?
Nature lovers can find out during a once-a-day “Flamingle” experience at the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory.
“Flamingle” is the latest offering at the popular conservatory, a 5,000-square-foot glass-domed rainforest-like habitat where visitors can walk among some 1,000 butterflies from 50 to 60 species. Guests also can observe about 20 species of birds and learn about butterflies’ stages of development, life cycle and role in the natural world.
The flamingos, a 6-year-old male and female breeding pair dubbed Rhett and Scarlett, were bred in Toronto and arrived at the conservatory in July 2013. As they grew, their colorful pink plumage, social nature and foot-patting “dancing” in their wading pond made them visitor favorites and resident celebrities.
During the hour-long encounter, human participants sit in a white gazebo overlooking the pond and lushly planted conservatory. Rhett and Scarlett walk free and interact as they choose.
“We have had people here literally in tears at the response that they get in mingling with the flamingos,” said conservatory CEO George Fernandez. “The experience will hopefully teach them to not only respect nature, but to love nature and to understand what an incredible world we have.”
The flamingos often play with guests’ hair, respond to human chatter with loud cries and spread their graceful coral-pink wings. Though participants are not allowed to touch the birds, they are encouraged to communicate and enjoy the inter-species interaction.
“This is special, special privilege for them to sit there and bond with an animal they obviously love and admire,” said Fernandez.
“Flamingle” is offered at 4:45 p.m. daily and is limited to six guests.
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KEY WEST, Florida Keys — Combining entertainment and creative rivalry, Key West’s Headdress Ball typically dazzles audiences with contestants’ flamboyant masks and outrageous headdress regalia. The 36th annual ball is set for 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, at the Key West Amphitheater at Truman Waterfront Park.
The gala is the premier LGBTQ event of the subtropical island’s 10-day Fantasy Fest celebration.
More than 25 entrants wearing masks and headgear constructions — many decorated with feathers, sequins, unique accessories or even moving parts — are expected to vie for cash prizes including a first-place award of $3,000. While some competitors wear full costumes, the panel of VIP judges evaluates ensembles only from the shoulders up.
The ball is produced each year by the Key West Business Guild, one of the United States’ oldest LGBTQ business organizations, and serves as a major fundraiser for it.
“The Headdress Ball will be an evening of creativity, fun and surprise guest entertainment taking place during the competition — something you won’t want to miss,” said Dan Skahen, the guild’s executive director.
The celebrity lineup includes master of ceremonies Tom Luna, DJ Rude Girl and renowned female impersonator Christopher Peterson opening the show. Talents including Broadway veteran Terri White and female impersonator Randy Roberts are to offer top-class entertainment between headdress performances.
Gates open at 6:30 p.m., providing opportunities for attendees to enjoy food and beverages offered for purchase by local vendors before the show. Spectators also will have ample time for mingling and photo ops with the headdress entrants.
General admission tickets are $30 per person, with reserved tables for four people starting at $250. Reserved table holders may prepurchase food and refreshments to be delivered to their table during the evening.
KEY WEST, Florida Keys — Several thousand eerily costumed zombies, best known as “the walking dead,” are to abandon pedestrian power for bicycles Sunday, Oct. 21, during Key West’s offbeat annual Zombie Bike Ride.
A pre-Halloween tradition for visiting and local families and groups, the ride typically draws men, women, children and even a few animal companions. They pedal along the beaches and streets of the island city wearing dead-white face paint, gory tattered garments typical of zombie lore and offbeat accessories that range from top hats to tutus.
The afternoon’s attractions include food and beverage vendors, music, prizes, giveaways and on-site face and body painters to help transform attendees into sinister zombies. A kids’ zone is to be set up at the fort with age-appropriate activities.
At 6 p.m., the spooky cyclists are to depart on their ride. The 4-mile route takes them down South Roosevelt Boulevard beside the Atlantic Ocean, past Higgs Beach and into parts of Key West’s hauntingly picturesque Old Town.
Among the standouts in the 2017 trek were a strange flock of zombie-flamingo hybrids, a swashbuckling pirate whose bike platform held his “skeleton crew,” passengers in a ferocious fanged cart and enough eerie clowns to populate a sinister circus.
As in past years, the unearthly antics are to culminate in the ZombieFest Street Party in the 100, 200 and 300 blocks of Key West’s famed Duval Street.
The Zombie Bike Ride takes place on the first weekend of Key West’s annual Fantasy Fest costuming and masking festival, a 10-day extravaganza scheduled Friday, Oct. 19, through Sunday, Oct. 28.
Registration to ride in the zany zombie ramble is $5 per person. The fee includes admission to “Zombieland” at Fort East Martello.
KEY WEST, Florida Keys — According to fictional sleuth Sherlock Holmes, “The game’s afoot.” Thousands of costumed revelers are to prove that the game-playing is indeed “afoot” in Key West Friday, Oct. 26, during the Masquerade March that begins at the local cemetery.
The pedestrian procession is a highlight of the island’s 10-day annual Fantasy Fest, a lavish pre-Halloween masking and costuming festival scheduled Oct. 19-28. The 2018 festival is themed “Oh … The Games We Play!” and celebrates games ranging from Scrabble to immersive role-playing adventures.
Famed as “the locals’ parade,” the march typically draws high-spirited revelers wearing everything from elaborate masks and costumes to offbeat creations inspired by the festival theme. During 2018’s extravaganza, marchers might be costumed as “Dating Game” dropouts, Super Mario brothers, characters from Clue or even sinister Sims.
Starting at 5:30 p.m. at the picturesque Key West Cemetery’s Frances Street entrance, participants are to promenade along Fleming Street, stopping for libations at bed-and-breakfast inns along the way. Spectators line the streets of the island’s historic district, applauding and sometimes joining in, before the procession reaches its end near the Fantasy Fest Street Fair on mile-long Duval Street.
Standouts in last year’s event included a troupe costumed as dancing orange dinosaurs, two white-wigged men portraying wedges of wedding cake, a quartet of fiercely battling bumper cars and a flock of oversized pink flamingos.
The colorful march is a prelude to the annual festival highlight, the Bud Light Fantasy Fest Parade featuring dozens of glittering motorized floats, costumed marching groups and lively island bands. Scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 27, the parade is to proceed down Key West’s Whitehead and Duval streets in front of as many as 60,000 fantasy fans.
The masquerade march is free to enter and watch.