This Mermaid Festival in Key West Is the Most Magical Way to Celebrate Summer

Melanie Haiken

The Key West Mermaid Festival

Key West is full of unexpected delights every weekend. Regular listeners of the Dollars to Donuts podcast know all about quirky dolls to six-toed cats island paradise is an ever-flowing stream of the eccentric.

But bizarre sightings will have company on a weekend in the summer: dozens of mermaids from all over the continent will gather for their favorite activities: swimming, socializing, and spreading the word about ocean conservation.

July 5 through 7 will see the first-ever Key West Mermaid Festival, a unique event in the island chain’s life that will bring together mermaids from all over North America – yes, there will be a few from the Midwest, Canada too! – and tourists who love these mythological oceanic beings: all of us. Spread across the southernmost island, the three-day festival will include events such as breakfast with mermaids, an ocean-themed flea market, various parades, blue nighttime parties, and, of course, a chance to don a tail and swim like a sea-dwelling creature.

children on ocean conservation and swim safety

The idea to start the festival was the brainchild of a Key West native and Head Mermaid Kristi Mills. Apart from being a career mermaid, she also owns a local boutique entirely dedicated to mermaids. At the age of 5, Mills moved to the Keys, where she spent her childhood on the water. “My sister and I were born and raised in Key West and the grandkids of a commercial fisherman, so we learned to swim before we could walk or talk and spent our entire childhood in the ocean” Mills laughs. “We’d put a shoelace or a scarf around our ankles and pretend that we were mermaids”. Nowadays, apart from selling mermaid tails, Mills is one of the handful of mermaids living on the island. The group hosts events and parties and facilitates schools, where they teach kids all about swimming and ocean saving.

The festival—designed for both young and adult mermaid enthusiasts—was a natural progression and a way to share that message more broadly. “On the surface, it is a festival of fun, bringing together a school of mermaid fans from all over,” says Mills on the festival website. “But if you look deeper, you’ll find that the real value of this event lies in raising awareness for two crucial issues that resonate with the mermaid community everywhere—ocean conservation and safe swimming with mermaid tails.”

Alongside promoting ocean awareness, the Mermaid Festival will donate a portion of the profits from event tickets to Reef Relief, a non-profit focused on preserving and enhancing our reef ecosystems.

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