As the clock ticks down to Friday’s traditional start of Fantasy Fest, no one is quite sure what is going to happen.
The official Fantasy Fest has been canceled due to the coronavirus. However, city officials believe an unknown number of people are still coming. And some official events aimed at raising money for several local non-profit organizations have been scheduled.
City public safety agencies are gearing up for crowd control, with other law enforcement agencies sending officers to help. City spokesperson Alyson Crean said the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and the state highway patrol usually assist with Fantasy Fest, even this year.
“We are getting other agencies to help. We have a plan similar to what we usually do except there’s no Fantasy Zone so no nudity,” she said. “But we won’t be bringing in [police mounted] horses because there’s no parade.”
City Manager Greg Veliz said the extra officers will be staying in rooms at the Fly Navy building and the city is prepared to handle whatever size crowds may show up. Assistant City Manager Patti McLauchlin said the extra officers will be concentrated around the traditional end of Fantasy Fest before it was canceled; Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Oct. 22-24.
“We believe there will be people who will come. And we will be prepared for that,” McLaughlin said.
“We’re monitoring social media. We’re trying to forecast and project out what this looks like,” Veliz told city commissioners recently. “We’ll be prepared to close the streets. We will be prepared to employ Public Works should the need be. And we will keep the city under control.”
A few groups organized on social media, including the “Tampa Fantasy Team for Key West,” say some of their members had non-refundable lodging deposits they would have lost and others simply want to come to Key West for their annual visit. The Tampa group is sponsoring nightly events at different bars and restaurants and is publicizing a Friday, Oct. 23, costume parade that appears to be taking the same route as the annual “locals parade.” Veliz said the revelers have every right to “have fun” and walk the parade route. But Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover asked if the city could control Old Town guesthouses that traditionally hand out free Jell-O shots and other alcoholic beverages to parade marchers.
“I hadn’t thought about it, to be honest,” Veliz responded. “It’s something we need to look at.”
Commissioner Jimmy Weekley asked if there was any way to force revelers to social distance while in public.
“There needs to be something in place to ensure social distancing,” he said, adding, “These challenges, we’ve never seen before.”
However, Veliz said there is no way he can guarantee that. The city can no longer require individuals to social distance or wear a face covering because Gov. Ron DeSantis recently removed mask restrictions as well as bar and restaurant capacity limits.
“No nudity and no body painting,” Veliz said about what police officers will be focusing on. “There is no Fantasy Zone. There is no relaxation of our rules and regulations like there have been in previous years.”
Despite the cancellation of all official, in-person annual events, Fantasy Fest organizers are continuing to sponsor virtual events in the hopes some of the annual fundraising that takes place during the event can be recouped. The “Community Wins” campaign organized by the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys has replaced the annual King and Queen contest and is accepting donations that will go to four local non-profit agencies to help local workers impacted by the coronavirus. And the annual pet masquerade has been replaced by a “Pet Antics” virtual event, where people making a $25 donation to Lower Keys Friends of Animals can have two photos of their pet posted online.
Fantasy Fest organizers have promised virtual events in the Oct. 22-31 time period, including a live stream of elaborate costumes and masks and a self-guided tour of Fest-decorated homes and businesses. Information on all the official events and how to donate can be found at http://www.cffa.org and http://www.facebook.com/fantasyfest.