The Mystick Krewe of Key West’s fifth annual Mardi Gras Ball a splashy affair


“Heart of the Sea” is the latest theme in the five years of Mardi Gras revelry hosted by The Mystick Krewe of Key West. Krewe Captain and Louisiana native Valsin Marmillion — who has quite the résumé — mapped out his initial vision for a New Orleans styled krewe here in the Keys less than a decade ago. It’s since become one of the fastest-growing, member-based nonprofit initiatives in Key West, raising $300,000 along the way. Beneficiaries of the Krewe’s various fundraising endeavors have included the Sister Season Fund, Wesley House and the Key West High School Band.

This week will see its largest annual fundraising event, the Mardi Gras Ball. In a break from tradition, this is the first year that the event will be accessible to members of the public, which will likely swell the already booming attendance.

The night of Feb. 8 at the Coffee Butler Amphitheater at the Truman Waterfront Park promises culinary nods to the south, musical and theatrical performances and, of course, the pomp and regality of the Tableau (a stunning visual presentation involving the Krewe’s high rank). If meeting interesting people is your shtick, this is the place to be.

Layla Barr plays the muse for the Flora troupe.

Layla Barr plays the muse for the Flora troupe. COURTESY PHOTOS / TODD ANDREW FEIT

Each of the ten internal groups, or troupes, named after various island elements (Reef, Paws, Flora and Fins, to name a few), has cultivated its own identity and subsequently attracted certain personalities. One troupe has a distinct mix of fitness aficionados while another hosts many of the creative powerhouses behind incredibly popular local artistic events. There’s even one troupe that by happenstance or design has become packed with many recognizable faces from the island’s “glitterati.” You never know who you’ll run into.

Take the House of Clubbers as one example. According to its lieutenant and last year’s queen, Diane Eliopolous, “Our troupe consists of people who want to have fun and make new friends that they don’t come across in other Key West circles. The Clubbers have private parties in their homes throughout the year so that everyone can get better acquainted. This past year we had a crazy eyeglasses party and progressive dinner. The Clubbers are all about quality food, beverage and atmosphere.”

Stiltwalkers made an impression at last year’s Ball.

Stiltwalkers made an impression at last year’s Ball. COURTESY PHOTOS / TODD ANDREW FEIT

And so, while you decide which troupe you’ll sit with and whether you’ll be pairing your mask with a tux, gown or splashy costume with aquatic notes, some of the Krewe’s leaders break down why this is one affair you won’t want to miss.

A royal experience

“The Mystick Krewe of Key West produces a grand Mardi Gras Ball that rivals some of the best in New Orleans and the world. This year you will enter an undersea wonderland and dine on famous New Orleans cuisine while dancing to the latest hits from LaTeDa’s resident artists, 3Sum. The Tableau is the evening’s highlight, where the 2020 King, Queen, Muses and Court appear in elaborate costumes under the stars on a throne befitting royalty.”

The Mystick Krewe Mardi Gras Ball is a feast for the senses.

The Mystick Krewe Mardi Gras Ball is a feast for the senses. COURTESY PHOTOS / TODD ANDREW FEIT

— Valsin Marmillion, captain

A splashy theme fit for the Keys

“The event gets more exciting this year with a theme close to home for all who live or vacation in our wonderful Florida Keys. ‘Heart of The Sea’ will boast mermaids, sea life decor and attendees in a vast array of costumes and masks to reflect the awe of our ocean life. Mystick Krewe is a nonprofit organization focused on giving back to our community while having fun.”

—Kris Pabian, lieutenant, House of Critters

Outrageously creative costumes

“There are a few events in Key West that highlight unbelievable creativity. In just four years, the Mystick Krewe Mardi Gras Ball has become one of the premiere moments to see this. Past years’ ball themes — ‘Venetian Carnivale,’ ‘Rockin’ Moroccan,’ ‘Steampunk Carnival’ and ‘Mystique of the Far East’ — have (inspired) members and guests to go over the top with outrageously creative costumes, almost all custom designed. And for those who don’t enjoy costuming, many attend in a gown or tux. This year’s theme, ‘Heart of the Sea,’ will turn the Key West Amphitheater into an undersea fantasy of costumed sea creatures who will dance into the night. For the first time, the Krewe has opened the Ball to the public. There will be many surprises.”


—Kimber Tracy, lieutenant, House of Flora

A bit Moulin Rouge!

“To quote Harold Zidler, the Mardi Grasras Ball is ‘a magnificent, opulent, tremendous, stupendous, gargantuan bedazzlement, a sensual ravishment. It will be: Spectacular Spectacular.’ The Mystick Krewe has turned fundraising on its ear and given birth to true mirth and merriment and community kindness. No better event to exemplify this than the Mardi Gras Ball.”

—Mary- Lynne Price, lieutenant, House of Wings


Rivaling Fantasy Fest

“What a great time of the year. Our crazy little troupe, Paws, just finished up a fabulous holiday season. We are fired up for the Super Bowl and one of our favorite events of the year, the masquerade ball. We love celebrating at the Key West Amphitheater, enjoying awesome New Orleans-inspired food and drink, watching the Tableau and rejoicing that our new king is none other than our own second lieutenant, Mark ‘Sparkles’ Schoonover, along with his superstar Queen ‘D.’ Long may they rule. We are excited that nonmembers will be allowed to join the fun. I predict in several years this will be an event that rivals Fantasy Fest. Maybe even having a great parade that travels down Duval Street and ends at the Amphitheater with a huge Masquerade Ball. The future is bright indeed!”

—Bob Harvey,

lieutenant, House of Paws

A Key West “must do!”

“Our Masquerade Ball has become a Key West ‘must-do’ event in just a few short years. The costuming and pageantry are in line with our fun city atmosphere. Traditional New Orleans food, music to get up and dance to, masks and costumes and more. We love to party with a purpose and this is no exception!”

—Stacy Stahl, lieutenant, House of Treasure

Arrive as guests, leave as friends

“We party with a purpose all year-long with our unique charity events. House of Rudders is comprised mostly of Key West gym friends and sprinkled with other fun-loving party people. One of the best compliments by an attendee was that they had an opportunity to meet new friends that they would never have met in Key West. We introduce people with diverse backgrounds and interests. Attending the Mardi Gras Ball is one of the best ways to meet new people. So many people ‘arrive as guests but leave as friends.’”

—Darla Snyder, lieutenant, House of Rudders ¦

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