In Key West, this Thanksgiving week is not all about the turkey. Starting Thanksgiving Day, Key West is hosting the twelfth annual Pirates in Paradise event, featuring eleven jam-packed days of “pure piratical escapades” that honor and celebrate Key West’s vibrant maritime history.
Key West and its surrounding islands were important both to pirates like Blackbeard and Calico Jack and the people trying to catch them. From the Keys, pirates could take cover while ambushing merchant shipping along the Straits of Florida, which was an extremely significant trade route at the time. And following the War of 1812 when Congress cracked down on piracy, one of the primary anti-piracy squadrons established its headquarters on Key West. So what better way to celebrate the pirate lifestyle and Key West’s history than with a pirate-themed festival?
Sponsored by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, Pirate Radio 101.7 FM, 4 Orange Premium Vodka, and Pusser’s Rum, the Pirates in Paradise Maritime Heritage and Music Festival began at ten in the morning on Thanksgiving day, kicking off with a “Thankstaken” Pirate Party and Feast. But if you missed it, don’t fear: that’s only the beginning. Over the course of the festival, there will be plenty of events and activities for kids and adults alike, for those who simply have a passing interest in pirates, and those who have a serious investment in history.
Over the course of the eleven days there will be a Pirate Village and art fair, featuring period crafts, art, clothing, jewelry, vittles, and plenty of rum, beer, and grog because let’s face it – what’s a pirate without his alcohol? For pirate-obsessed adults, there will be a sailor’s shipwreck holiday ball, craft beer tastings, a rock and roll dance party, an end-of-hurricane season party, a Miss Pirate Key West Pageant, talent, and swim suit competition, and plenty of costume contests, including one for the most buxom wench and bad-ass pirate.
As an all ages event, Pirates in Paradise offers tons of activities for aspiring young buccaneers. There will be a carnival, a kid’s costume contest, and Pirate Art 101 “Color Along” with pirate artist Don Maitz (whose work has been featured in National Geographic). Additionally, in the pirate village, parents can go to a pub and peruse pirate wares while the kids participate in treasure hunts and coloring contests.
For those seeking unusual entertainment, Pirates in Paradise has it all. Some of the most anticipated events of the festival are the authentic reenactments of the famous Pyrate Trials of Anne Bonny and Mary Read and the tall tales storytelling competition, which allows contestants to tell their biggest fabricated story before a panel of nationally renowned authors.
Interested in history and literature? You’re in luck. There are opportunities to sail aboard a real pirate ship, and on Wednesday, November 30, there will be a special excursion on the schooner Wolf where one can join authors Roz Brackenbury, Robb Zerr, and Christine and Michael Lampe on a one and a half hour ride. Prior to the excursion will be an Authors and Artists Luncheon at the Pirate Village VIP tent. Author Robert N. Macomber will, throughout the week, be giving presentations, historical walking tours through Old Town, and partaking in the Literature & the Sea Sunset Happy Hour along with other pirate guests.
Although the festival isn’t free, admission to the Pirate Village is only $5 per day for adults and free for kids under the age of twelve. If you and your family are interested in spending a lot of time at the festival and really getting your pirate on, take advantage of the insanely cheap eleven day festival pass: it’s only $20, and will get you free daily admission to the Pirate Village and Festival VIP Hospitality Area!
For tourists in the Key West area this Thanksgiving weekend and beyond, this could be a wonderful opportunity to discover the great historical roots of the Florida Keys that doesn’t sacrifice fun for education. And don’t worry – if you can’t make it this year, there’s always next November!