KEY WEST, Florida Keys — Fearsome fanged vampires, wicket vixens and villains of all sorts are expected to prowl the streets of Key West Friday, Oct. 23, through Sunday, Nov. 1, during the island city’s annual Fantasy Fest celebration.

This year themed “Villains, Vixens and Vampires,” Fantasy Fest offers 10 days of masquerade balls, quirky costume contests and other delights climaxing in a glittering grand parade set for Halloween night.

The grand marshal leading the parade’s elaborate floats, exuberant marching bands and costumed dancers is to be vivacious vixen Bridget Marquardt, star of the Entertainment Channel’s hit show “The Girls Next Door.”

Conceived 30 years ago, Fantasy Fest has grown to be internationally recognized for its uninhibited flair and lighthearted spirit. Revelers flock to Key West to shed their real-world personalities and live out their fantasies on the island city’s quaint downtown streets.

Event organizers encourage 2009 participants to take their cue from the festival theme, designing floats and costumes to salute bloodthirsty creatures of the night such as Dracula and Lestat, villains ranging from melodrama’s bad boys to money-hungry Madoffs, and vixens both evil and enchanting.
The 2009 masked madness is to begin with a Royal Coronation Ball to crown the festival King and Queen. Scheduled for Friday, Oct. 23, the coronation is to cap a multimonth fundraising effort by candidates to benefit the Key West–based AIDS Help Inc.

Highlights of the packed schedule include the outrageous WKEY Pet Masquerade & Parade, set for Wednesday, Oct. 28. Pets dress as people and people as pets during the wacky costume competition, which traditionally offers prizes in categories including the best pet/owner look-alikes. Animal antics abound as entrants ranging from dogs and cats to exotic birds and pot-bellied pigs strut their stuff before an audience of several thousand enthused (and sometimes bemused) animal-lovers.

Fantasy Fest’s most elaborate costume competition is to be staged Thursday, Oct. 29, under the stars on the Pier House Resort beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Pretenders in Paradise traditionally features huge and dazzling entries incorporating everything from ostrich feathers to thousands of sequins. Each entrant puts on a full-scale performance, complete with lights and music, to showcase his or her costume creation.

“Villains, Vixens and Vampires” are to run wild in the streets Friday, Oct. 30, during an open-air bizarre bazaar known as the Fantasy Fest Street Fair. Key West’s Duval Street will be transformed into a mile-long marketplace where attendees can find tempting delights such as feathered masks, exotic costumes, arts and crafts, island edibles and frosty libations.

That evening, the Fairvilla Megastore Masquerade March of costumed characters is to parade through Key West’s historic Old Town, starting at the picturesque cemetery. Roistering revelers and denizens of the dark are encouraged to bring noisemakers to add to the procession’s pandemonium.

Fantasy Fest’s frivolity is to reach fever pitch Saturday, Oct. 31 — Halloween night — as vampires prowl for prey and villains and vixens join forces during the spectacular Captain Morgan Fantasy Fest Parade. Some 70,000 spectators typically throng Whitehead and Duval streets to watch the parade’s brilliantly conceived floats, some breathing “flames” or incorporating mysterious animatronics, proceed along Key West’s main thoroughfares accompanied by Caribbean marching bands and lavishly costumed dancing groups.

For more information about Fantasy Fest and a schedule of events, visit the festival’s Web site at or call (305) 296-1817. For information about lodging in Key West, contact the Key West Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-LAST-KEY (800-527-8539) or visit the Keys Web site at