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Exclusives | WomenFest Key West: Daily blog update

Exclusives | WomenFest Key West: Daily blog update

With its official town philosophy of "One Human Family," the enthusiastic and accepting island of Key West is the perfect location for the 21st annual WomenFest.

Our very own Kyra Thomson joins thousands of exuberant women as they descend upon this southernmost city for its celebration of all things female.

Follow her daily adventures as she updates us throughout the weeklong festival and puts the WomenFest motto "It's All Possible" to the test.

Day 1: "A striking first impression"
Thursday, September 6, Duval Street, Key West, Florida

"Just make sure you're the smallest and lowest object around, and you won't be struck by lightning," advised my partner after I voiced concern over the forecast of thunderstorms in the Florida Keys. Reflecting on these wise words brought little comfort as my petite propeller plane navigated through a spectacular thunderstorm toward the two-by-four-mile island of Key West. When I finally touched down onto this southernmost city in the continental United States, deeply inhaled its thick sea air, watched the lightning illuminate the swaying palm trees, and spotted a pink taxi, I knew I had finally arrived safely, and could let myself relax Conch Republic style.

My first destination was the mile-long main street Duval, which begins at the Gulf of Mexico, where residents and tourists meet at Mallory Square to celebrate sunsets. Duval Street stretches across the island to the Atlantic Ocean as well, where tourists can find a giant buoy (or 'butt plug' as the locals call it) marking the southernmost point in the continental USA. From this marker, Cuba is 90 miles south, but is not visible since the earth is round. However, this does not stop people from squinting at the open water, searching for land.

After unintentionally becoming the official photographer for a tour group at the marker, I was excited to head back up Duval to explore the shops, art galleries, bars and restaurants that lined the street. This anticipation was heightened by the fact that the first three businesses I encountered exclaimed "We're Cool!" on a sign in their shop windows. I was initially disappointed when I realized they were referring to their air-conditioning, but at least the cool air was a welcome relief from the humid weather.

Even cooler was the fact that Womenfest participants were filling the streets as the day progressed. The endless stream of lesbians on mopeds made it feel like Dykes on Bikes were rolling along and a Pride parade was about to start, and I suppose in a way it had. Although Womenfest officially started on September 4th, thousands are expected to arrive for the weekend, and organizers are predicting the largest turnout ever for this event, estimating at least 3000 participants.

Following a delightful dinner at Mangoes Restaurant, where their self-described "Flor-ribbean" food was fantabulous, it was time to peak into a selection of Duval's thumping nightclubs. The most popular club tonight appeared to be Aqua, where women spilled into the street while a trio of drag queens entertained a crowd that included upcoming Womenfest performers Lori Michaels and comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer.

I'm eager to catch their performances later on this week, but first I'll have to wake up early tomorrow morning and participate in the all-day all-women ultimate water adventure!

Day 2: Ahoy
Friday, September 7, Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, Key West, Florida

"This is to be a visual experience only, with absolutely no touching," Captain Mindy shouted to the 52 women onboard Fury's All-Women Ultimate Water Adventure catamaran (Front St. and Greene St.; 305-294-8899; Though surprisingly similar to my personal WomenFest mantra, the captain's warning was actually referring to the fact that we were about to snorkel through the only living coral reef in the continental U.S.

The Fury's gorgeous and seamlessly tanned all-female crew were the first to leap into the Atlantic, as well as the first to remove their tops for this clothing-optional trip. Fury's women-only trip is exclusively for WomenFest, but they do offer mixed gay and lesbian adventures throughout the year. The five mermaidesque crew members were thrilled to be working together on this rare occasion, and appeared to be having almost as much fun as the enthusiastic passengers.

I had never snorkelled before and was looking forward to the experience, but the unaccommodating weather, the choppy waves, and the flailing arms of three swimmers in distress made me decide to snorkel during my upcoming trip to the Dry Tortugas instead. I was, however, still able to observe the fish as they swam along the edge of the ship and feasted on the complimentary breakfast and lunch leftovers that were tossed overboard.

After a 45-minute sail into the Gulf of Mexico we docked at a floating platform and almost immediately took off again, on jet skis and on paragliding adventures over the island.
Experiencing these ultimate adventures together created a fantastic community with everyone onboard, as did the cocktail concoction that the crew endlessly dispensed.

Though I have always said I preferred winter sports, and the balance of my snowboarding legs was helpful when I carried Fury's complimentary beer and wine across the deck, I loved every moment of my water adventure. In fact, I was so enamoured with the water that I stepped off the catamaran after our six-hour journey and onto Captain Alex's yacht 'Islescapes'(Schooner Wharf, Pier 1, Slip 3; 305-923-3319;; $95) for an unforgettable gourmet meal. The serene setting of Florida Bay at sunset and the decadent four-course meal created a fantastic dining alternative to the restaurants of Key West.

I floated towards Tropic Cinema(416 Eaton St.; 305-295-7676; to watch Suzanne Westenhoefer ( perform her comedy magic. The theater was packed for her two sold-out shows, but among the sea of women I could easily spot the glowing faces of my water adventure shipmates.

Day 3: Animal Magnetism
Saturday, September 8, Key West, Florida

As a hockey fan from Canada, I find it odd that a football-loving state like Florida is home to two NHL teams. At least the weather on this trip has explained why one team is called the Lightning, but I do not wish to discover any Florida panthers. I have, however, encountered an abundance of felines since I arrived in Key West, and today my cat-dar was especially active.

Waiting outside my door at the Cypress House (601 Caroline St.; 800-525-2488; $129+) was Chris, the orange tabby who loves to lounge around the studio suites. Then, as I was enjoying my poolside breakfast, Freckles the kitten decided to curl up behind me. Later that evening, during the Cypress House open-bar happy hour, I was greeted by the enormous cat Lady Bug, and fought to resist the pleading eyes of the little black Schipperkes, Ben and Gabi.

Following breakfast, my first event of the day was to wander down Duval Street to peruse the vendors as they prepared for a street party, and then board The Gay and Lesbian Trolley Tour of Fabulous Key West which departs every Saturday at 11:00 a.m. (South St. and Simonton St.; 305-294-4603; It is the only gay and lesbian motorized trolley tour in the United States, and the catcalls from the predominantly female passengers were relentless.

No feline-themed day would be complete without a visit to the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum (907 Whitehead St.; 305-294-1575;, home of sixty six- and seven-toed cats.

It was evident that the weekend had arrived based on the incredible attendance at today's main WomenFest events. The Fury's All Women Live Music Sunset cruise was sold out. Key West's only women's bar, Pearl's Patio (525 United St.; 305-292-1450; was packed for the poolside bikini contest. The Duval Street Fair was rocking all afternoon, and the most popular event of the day seemed to be the Gurrlesque performance at the Aqua Nightclub (711 Duval Street; 305-294-0555; by Lori Michaels ( and her sultry backup dancers, who I suspect may be clones.

Call me old-fashioned, call me sentimental, call me the crazy-cat-woman, but despite all of the sexy performances today, the thing I found most sensual was the affection that the couples in the audience were openly displaying. Many women I met this week have stated that they visit Key West so they can be themselves in an accepting and non-threatening environment. Whether they are canoodling at the poolside, caressing in the streets, or kissing in the clubs, their look of joy and relief and love is what I think is hot.

Day 4: "Fish tales"
Sunday, September 9, Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Florida

Although U.S. Route 1 ends on Key West at mile 0, the Keys actually continue another 70 miles west towards the Dry Tortugas islands. We boarded a Sunny Days Catamaran (Greene St. and Elizabeth St.; 800-236-7937; and set out on a two-hour journey to America's largest coastal fort, Fort Jefferson on the Garden Key, which is one of the seven remaining islands in the Dry Tortugas.

What I enjoyed most about this catamaran tour was its flexibility and the fact that once we had docked, we were allowed to wander throughout the island at our own pace. The optional 45-minute tour of Fort Jefferson was informative, and interesting; the boat was left open for guests to help themselves to the complimentary lunch when they felt ready to eat, and the spectacular tropical life surrounding the moat wall was free for endless snorkelling exploration.

As the most remote National Park in the country, the Dry Tortugas have remained a sanctuary for wildlife, and a paradise for visitors. The shallow waters and vibrant marine life allowed for a phenomenal snorkelling experience that I will never forget. However, I did feel a twinge of guilt when a yellowtail swam past and I thought of the incredibly delicious yellowtail I had for dinner yesterday at Alice's Restaurant (1114 Duval St.; 305-292-5733;; $18-35).

After drying off on the white beach and adding to my already shockingly bad sunburn, I reluctantly boarded the boat and we motored home. On the return journey, I recognized a stamp from Aqua Nightclub on a woman's hand. She's a Key West resident and has been attending WomenFest for a number of years, but claims that she has never seen as many women in one Key West club as she saw last night. Organizers of WomenFest had been hoping that this year would be their best-attended week ever, and as the festivities come to an end, I suspect they have succeeded.

Day 5: "The Sun Also Rises"
Monday, September 10, Key West International Airport, Florida

My visit to Key West started with a thunderous bang and flew past at lightning speed. It seemed fitting that on my last night, while enjoying a very generous portion of lasagne at the Italian restaurant Abbondanza (1208 Simonton St.; 302-292-1199; $15-20), another storm passed overhead. The thunder rattled the windows of the quaint restaurant, and the ambient lights flickered and faded, much like the last few hours of my WomenFest experience.

As the propeller plane lifts us across the Overseas Highway, I squint out the window at the sun rising over the Gulf of Mexico and reflect on my time in Key West. It has been an action-packed week of waves and women, cats and catamarans, tourists and friends, acceptance and exuberance, wild chickens and wily geckos, snorkelling sunburns and indigenous aloe vera salve, key lime creations and culinary sensations. I'm looking forward to looking back.


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