It’s Halloween weekend. You’ve outgrown frat parties, you got high last year and watched SAW I-IV, and you can only hear Calvin Harris at Liv dressed as a bunny so many times. So what’s a UMiami student to do? Where can you go to experience a truly unique Halloweekend, one that makes you full of regret, eager to repent, and counting down the days to your return?
Let’s take a drive…about 150 miles south to the gem that is:
24.5592° N, 81.7840° W
KEY WEST, Florida.
Entering the Florida Keys is like traveling to a different country. From the turquoise water teeming with jellyfish and conch, to the 68-year-old man who took a drive to Key Largo in ’87 and lost his license somewhere on Duval…it’s a trip. At night, the sky is completely lit up with so many vibrant stars it’s as if you’re 8 years old again and cloud-watching, with your nose pressed against the car window. And the people are always on vacation. There’s a small town vibe with a “mañana” mentality for work and a love-the-one-you’re-with feel for play.
But around the time of Halloween in Key West, Florida, something happens. Thousands of people pile into Hemingway’s beloved island city with masks in their bags and molly in their wallets. They carry body paint in their cars and make-up tutorials on their phones. They come from out of town or from down the street. They come as students. They come as retired police captains. They get high, and they get drunk. They come for the 10-day rowdy festival that is Fantasy Fest: a totally uncensored, free-spirited week and a half, where your childhood trick-or-treating becomes an adult-inspired, body-painted semi-nudist colony.
So this, my friends, family, and people I avoid when I see on campus, is a gift to you. To all you first-time Fantasy Fest goers, or you senior “experts” looking to take advantage of it all: stuff your nipple tassels in your purse, grab your whip and an extra change of underwear and get ready to experience Halloween in the Keys.
Guide to staying safe and getting fucked up:
Picking out a costume: There have been 36 themes since 1979, when Fantasy Fest began to attract tourists and consequently stimulate the economy. And these themes have led me to see it all: from a demented bumblebee to a slutty American Horror Story (circa Season 5) clown. This year’s theme: “All Hallows Intergalactic Freak Show”. How. Fucking. Cool. Dressing up could be intense but hey, maybe take at least one night to try and embrace the Fest. I know all you sorority girls have blacked out at enough Thursday-night mixers and need a chance to reuse those costumes.
Nudity Disclaimer: Technically “illegal” but legal to paint your body. Just stay in the “Fantasy Boundaries” of Duval Street.
Check out Garden of Eden: The clothing optional rooftop bar where you can free both of the nipples and even some balls.
For your first strip club: Step into Rick’s (http://ricksbarkeywest.com/) with singles in your pockets and a smile on your face. But here’s a tip from yours truly: strippers don’t like when you try to ask about their childhood or where they grew up. Just stick your face in some tatas and move on.
To avoid that kid who sits across from you in math class: Most UM students can be found around the Rick’s complex. So if you don’t want to see your Physiology T.A. or Alex from BIL 150, I’d suggest taking yourself and your ass chaps elsewhere.
For the best drunchies:
Food vendors line the streets of Duval until 1a.m. during Fantasy Fest (!) You can also stumble upon these other options:
Bottomless mimosas to get your day started right: Blue Heaven, Sarah Beth’s
A meal with a view: Louise’s Backyard
At sunset: Conch Stand on Mallory Square
On Duval: Caroline’s Café
Old Town: Mangia Mangia Pizza
If (for some reason?) you’re trying to be romantic: Michael’s Steak House
Now for safety tips and getting around: I spoke with retired operations Captain of the Key West police department, Scott Smith, to get the real dirt on what shit goes down, and where.
“Key West’s Duval Street goes from block 100 to block 1200,” Smith said. “And the same blocks that are bad news year-round become super sketchy during fantasy fest.”
He went on to break it down for me:
Blocks 100, 200, 300: Sketchy. Near Sloppy Joe’s and Rick’s. This is where the fights break out; this is where the assholes are. The biggest group of problems. Redneck bars.
Around the corner from Sloppy Joe’s, Captain Tony’s Area: Tends to be where the “Swingers” hang out.
Block 400: Starts to be ok.
Block 700: Gets gay.
Block 800: Totally gay
Getting places: “Renting bicycles is the best way to get around. It is nearly impossible to get a cab during Fantasy Fest weekend”.
Scott ended with a warning to young women: “Stay with somebody!! And if you must end up on block 100-300, make friends and head to a private party with the locals.”
So even if you weren’t planning on going…Go. Get in your car. Sleep in a trunk. Sleep on the beach. Just get to the Keys, and experience the best weekend of your life. For more general info on all events taking place, head to http://www.fantasyfest.com. Hope to not remember seeing you there!