Half Moon resort in Montego Bay completed a multimillion dollar renovation in January. // © 2016 Half Moon
Feature image (above): Half Moon Resort's Cedar Bar, which has a terrace overlooking the ocean // © 2016 Half Moon
Visiting Jamaica’s Half Moon resort in Montego Bay is like going home and spending time with distant relatives. But the catch here is that the relatives are, in fact, the long-term staff employed at the resort. Whether clients are coming back for the 10th year in row or for their first experience, the warmth is evident.
It’s easy to see why the 197-room Half Moon — with its stellar accommodations, clear blue waters, sandy beaches, attentive staff and gourmet cuisine — continues to be one of Jamaica’s top properties.
January 2016 saw the completion of a multimillion-dollar resort renovation. This included the historical Sugar Mill Restaurant, reopened with a new farm-to-table menu, cocktail bar and space for large gatherings. (In April 2016, the hotel parted ways with partner RockResorts, and Half Moon now operates as an independent property.)
The lobby now has Lester’s Cafe, where guests can get their afternoon caffeine fix of Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee.
The resort had undertaken a coastal restoration project which had impacted the Cedar Bar, a bar and terrace overlooking the ocean. It’s now back in business, with guests lining up to order cocktails from their favorite bartender, Caswell James.
Half Moon has been a home away from home for British royals and celebrities alike. Guests have included Prince Harry, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Security-conscious guests tend to stay in one of the resort’s 31 private villas, which include the services of a cook/housekeeper and a butler. Prince Harry stayed in an ocean-facing villa in the heart of the enclave. But don’t be surprised if you wander past film director Spike Lee or actor Morgan Freeman in the lobby — not every celebrity chooses a villa hideaway.
There’s a variety of accommodations to choose from at Half Moon. I stayed in an Imperial Suite, a cottage dating back to the 1950s. It was completely upgraded, with a tasteful living room for entertaining guests. The king bed was extremely comfortable, and the room featured a spacious adjoining bathroom complete with whirlpool bathtub and separate shower. Each cottage has a private pool and loungers.
The resort is situated on a private estate spread over 400 acres, and it’s located on two beautifully maintained beaches: Sunset Beach, which is great for diving and motorized watersports, and Sunrise Beach, the perfect spot to swim or while away a lazy afternoon. There are catamarans (available for an extra charge) and kayaks, along with other equipment available for guest use.
When guests get hungry, there are many options to choose from. In addition to dining at Sugar Mill, guests can find breakfast, lunch and dinner at Seagrape Terrace; dinner at Italian venue Il Giardino; and breakfast, lunch and dinner during winter at Pepperpot, which serves Jamaican cuisine. Additionally, a Jamaican barbecue lunch — with dishes such as jerk chicken, fish, pork and sweet potatoes — is served daily on the beach.
Sugar Mill, adjacent to a 17th-century water mill, is headed by Christopher Golding, named best chef in Jamaica. Golding creates exquisite dishes such as crispy fried jerk chicken rolls with chayote slaw and dark rum chutney. There’s an extensive wine and cocktail list for guests to choose from; I suggest trying the Estate Special cocktail.
Fern Tree Spa
Fern Tree Spa is a blissful oasis surrounded by waterfalls and tropical gardens. The beautiful gardens provide the spa with many of the ingredients used in its various treatments — aloe, ginger, rosemary and lavender, to name a few. Other natural ingredients used include coffee, rum, coconut and sugar.
I was served lemongrass tea before my massage, which was followed up with a cooling rum body splash. These luxurious treatments tap into Jamaica’s traditional healing remedies.
Swimming With Horses
The Turf and Surf Experience at Half Moon’s Equestrian Centre is one the most unique horseback-riding experiences guests can indulge in. It includes a ride through the property; guests then arrive at Sunrise Beach, where they’ll undress down to their swimsuits and ride bareback in the ocean.
The resort — which also features a Dolphin Lagoon, 13 tennis courts, 54 swimming pools and an 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed championship golf course — is located just 15 minutes from Sangster International Airport.