Drawing everyone from Queen Elizabeth to 50 Cent, Half Moon strives for timeless, understated luxury (even at the swim-up bar). Stretching over 400 acres (including 2 miles of beach), the 230-room resort offers attentive service, quality cuisine, and seemingly limitless activities like golfing and horseback riding.
Accordingly, guests tended to keep to themselves. By my estimation, almost everyone was in their 40s or older, though I did encounter a number of families with both small children and teenagers, all of whom seemed equally happy with the resort.
I also met a couple in their 20s who were married at the resort last year and planned to return for each anniversary. Apparently a Jamaican Olympic track star was married at Half Moon the same weekend they were. In other words, Half Moon offers something for both families and couples young and old; mellow spring breakers might even like it for its countless activities, great beaches and top-shelf liquor, though the evening scene was definitely more piano bar than disco. (There is nowhere to dance at the resort.)
Most of the guests I met were British. (Jamaica is popular with U.K. tourists because of its Commonwealth status.) But the manager estimated that the breakdown of North American to British guests is about 65-35. Everyone was polite, no one struck me as too drunk, and couples at candle-lit dinner tables seemed to peacefully coexist with jovial families.
Caribbean perfection, with a huge marble bathroom and an ocean-view terrace to die for.
The Hibiscus Suite was a two-story villa with one suite on each floor. It was a short walk down a manicured path from the lobby, between the two main pools and the ocean--the most plum spot on the property.
I liked the simple, tasteful décor and didn't mind that my two Panasonic televisions (32 and 40 inches) weren't flat-screens. (It's Jamaica--who wants to sit inside watching lots of TV?!) However, Panasonic flat-screens are included in the Royal Suites. All TVs receive nearly a hundred channels, including premium movie channels, U.S. cable channels and even New York City network channels. Watching Jamaican TV commercials was a highlight.
The suite featured tiled floors, ceiling fans and air-conditioning, which I didn't need because of the ocean breeze.
There's a sitting area with two armchairs and a love seat, the two Panasonic televisions (one by the sitting area, one by the bed) and a comfortable king-size mahogany bed.
The marble bathroom was huge, with a slate shower and large soaking tub, his-and-her sinks and two large closets. The hot water took a little while to heat up, but the water pressure was great. My only complaint about the bathroom was that all six light switches to its various nooks were located outside the room, meaning I had to guess which switch went where each time I entered. At the very least the toilet room should have its own switch, as the current setup struck me as less than energy-efficient.
The suite offered a remarkable ocean-view terrace. I was in Room 18, on the second floor, and spent every moment I wasn't out taking pictures reclining on the terrace's lounge chairs, or eating breakfast on the table, or watching a storm roll in over the sea. As fabulous as the palatial suite was--and oh, was it fabulous--I would have been happy sleeping, eating and bathing just on that terrace. It made my stay.
What truly sets Half Moon apart is its breadth of activities. Guests can swim with dolphins in the resort's private cove, ride horses through the water (Half Moon has its own stables), take tennis or golf lessons, practice putting on either of the two miniature golf courses, undergo any number of treatments at the spectacular Fern Tree spa or take out non-motorized water vessels like windsurfing boards or kayaks free of charge.
I rented a cruiser bike at the reasonable cost of $5 per day, and found it a great way to get around the huge property (with the added bonus of a nice breeze in your face).
I also worked out at the spacious gym, which featured brand-new LifeCycle equipment (five bikes, four ellipticals and four treadmills) with personal video screens and satellite TV channels. At the gym I ran into a local businessman who said he works out at Half Moon because it's the best gym in Montego Bay.
Half Moon is renowned for having over 50 pools, though most belong to the private rental villas. There is an Olympic-size lap pool, plus two more conventional swimming pools at either end of the property. The Oleander pool is kidney-shaped with a bar nearby, whereas the Hibiscus pool features a fountain and swim-up bar. Each has a companion Jacuzzi. I enjoyed swimming in the Hibiscus pool (and loved the sensation of sitting in the water while sipping a drink at the swim-up bar).
I was also astounded by the multiple pools at the spa, which has a splash pool, a soaking pool and a swimming pool in addition to a number of hot tubs. The spa consisted of multiple one-story buildings and had a nail salon, a library of New Age books and a yoga/yogalates studio. But every yoga and aerobics class costs an extra fee.
For little 'uns aged 3-12, there is Anancy Children's Village, open daily. Although there are separate charges for this model "Caribbean village," kids can do such things as create puppets, and enjoy cold refreshments.
A V.I.L.P.S. (very important little person service) is available for those looking to give their kids extra special attention. Milk & cookies at bedtime, different menus in any of the restaurants, bikes, and a game room all await the unknowingly pampered child.
There's a place for 13-19 year olds too, and it's called the Hype Zone. There's a game room with billiards and foosball, an internet cafe, karaoke nights and other activities.
There are no televisions at any of the bars apart from the Royal Stocks. TV is a low priority at Half Moon, which prefers a more British colonial feel.
In addition, the resort is happy to make arrangements for any tour or service that it doesn't provide on its own.
Perfectly clean, thanks in part the twice-daily visits from housekeeping. But there are bugs, just like anywhere in Jamaica.
Overall the resort was spotless--no small feat when you consider its size. I repeatedly saw hotel staff raking the beach, picking leaves up off the grass, wiping down counters and dusting the artwork.
My room basically sparkled, thanks to twice-daily visits from housekeeping. They tidied my huge bathroom (and gave me a new shampoo when the original was just in the shower).
The tile floors felt a little dirty when I walked barefoot on them. (I was wearing flip-flops, so it was hard to gauge their effect on the soles of my feet). I'm sure the floors were swept, but they could have used a mopping. When a room is that close to both the ocean and the pool, though, a lot of sand is bound to get tracked in.
This is more a function of the location than of housekeeping's fastidiousness, but bugs, flies, and wasps were pervasive throughout the resort, just like anywhere in Jamaica. However, I did walk past a fumigator during my last morning there. At times I noticed tiny ants crawling around our floors, near the windows and on the terrace. I also made the mistake of leaving a half-eaten Clif Bar out on my desk, only to discover the wrapper had been colonized. I never found any bugs in the bed, but a small beetle did land on my bedspread one night before bed. (That was my fault, though, since I left the terrace door open to listen to the ocean.) Jamaica is also full of tiny, harmless lizards. I often saw them scurrying across paths and into bushes, and wondered how first-floor rooms kept them out when their terrace doors were open.
Tables were cleared and cleaned quickly at meals, and the pools had cleaning attendants, though I did encounter unavoidable water bugs on the Hibiscus pool surface.
Plenty of options--few of them are cheap, but nearly all of them are fresh and delicious.
I was on the Full American all-inclusive plan, meaning that all food (but no alcohol) was included in my room rate. For a price of $150 a day, I think it was probably worth it, since the breakfast buffet alone cost $30 and most of the entrées at the Sugar Mill Restaurant cost $30 to $40. Half Moon's food is very good, but the prices are high (as is the case at any five-diamond resort).
I took my breakfasts and lunches at the Seagrape Terrace, which had an incredible view. It offers a buffet and à la carte menu, which I preferred. The Full Jamaican Breakfast included the national dish of ackee and salt fish, fried bread dumplings, grilled bananas, yams, and mixed vegetables. It was insanely delicious, and because I was eating fish and fruit, I actually felt like it was almost healthy (but those dumplings are deadly). The breakfast buffet was fairly standard but comprehensive, with an omelet station, pancakes, fruit, cereal, and pastries in addition to Jamaican dishes like salt fish and sugar cane.
At lunch I tried gazpacho, which seemed reasonably priced at $7 for a large bowl. It tasted succulent and fresh, and its coolness was ideal on a humid afternoon. I also had a jerk curried seafood salad, basically a Jamaican ceviche, and it was equally delicious and refreshing. Two other lunch options are located across the property, in the fairly desolate shopping village--the Royal Stocks (British pub style) and Akbar/Thai Gardens (an Indian and Thai restaurant). I stopped by to peruse their menus, and both restaurants were completely empty. Each restaurant seemed fine but not overly exciting. Although they are included in the meal plan, they are operated by owners independent of the hotel.
Though Seagrape is the only restaurant open for breakfast and lunch, there are two additional dinner options, Il Giardino (Italian) and the Sugar Mill (upscale Caribbean). Located next to the golf course at the far end of the property (you have to take a 10-minute shuttle ride to get there), the Sugar Mill charms from the moment the shuttle pulls up to its twinkling terrace. The restaurant has a centuries-old, dramatically lit sugar mill wheel that gives the restaurant its name. The tuxedo-clad maître d', Solomon, greeted me and then led me through the main hall, a wonderful barnlike room with large wooden beams, and out onto one of the side terraces that looked out over the gardens. He brought me a rum cocktail and went off to greet other guests.
My friendly waiter, Herbert, brought a selection of delicious bammy and festival breads along with a trio of dips (mango curry mayo, sweet chili salsa and lima bean puree). He offered his suggestions (making sure to steer me toward the house specialty, a "brochette" shish kebab of jerked meats rubbed with rum) and then brought a chicken skewer amuse bouche compliments of the chef. My entire meal--locally grown spinach salad and pumpkin soup, jerk brochette and grilled peppered pineapple with Tia Maria caramel sauce--was delicious and extremely filling. A number of other things on the menu also looked good, including steak and vegetarian options.
At 7 p.m. the crowd was fairly sparse, consisting of three couples in their 40s or 50s, a family of four Jamaicans and a British family with a toddler who insisted on making motorboat noises through much of dinner. (At Seagrape children have a separate dinner, at 6 p.m.) Thankfully, the child was drowned out by the singing crickets and the entertainment, two older gentleman singing acoustic reggae songs with a set of maracas.
Jamaica's home to the stars, especially when Reggae Sumfest rolls around.
Every cab driver and bartender I talked to had a bold name to attach to Half Moon. An older driver said he recalled Bob Marley taking his kids there "in his big BMW station wagon." Another pointed out the private villa where Eddie Murphy used to stay. A young bartender recalled Lil Wayne staying at the resort when he performed at Reggae Sumfest in 2007, adding that it is common for American Sumfest performers to stay at the resort. Apparently 50 Cent and L.L. Cool J. liked the resort so much they brought back their mom and kids, respectively. This is not to say that the resort was at all flashy -- it wasn't -- but it does speak to the level of luxury and extreme privacy that guests are afforded.
Half Moon is a gorgeous property with enough options and flexibility to plan an elegant and personalized celebration.
Wedding Size: Up to 200 people; up to five weddings per day
Restrictions: A minimum stay of 14 nights is required for stays beginning December 20th through January 1st; a minimum stay of 7 nights is required for stays beginning February 13th through February 23rd and November 23rd through November 30th.
Extra Fees: Extra fee for each outside vendor; location fee if less than 80-percent of wedding guests stay at the hotel.
Wedding Packages: For parties of 20 people, packages range in price for a bouquet and boutonniere, one-tier vanilla wedding cake, one bottle of champagne, photography and video for one hour with 24 4-by-6 prints for everything listed above, plus makeup application for the bride, one hour of live music at the ceremony, flower arrangements, and breakfast in bed and massage treatments for the bride and groom. (If you have more than 20 guests, you'll have to negotiate a flat fee for each additional guest.) Other packages include a wedding cruise or the Allure all-inclusive wedding package, which includes a full reception, a four-hour open bar, photography and videography, decorations, music, and a three-tier cake (up to 50 people, and fee for each additional guest). If you don't go with a wedding package, flowers, decorations, and a minister is (or a rabbi costs extra).
Ceremony Location: Ceremony may be held at the Lily Pond Gazebo, the Oleander Terrace (max 200 people), the Croquet Lawn, Sunrise beach (max 150 people), Sunset Beach, the Sunset Beach Gazebo, or on the lawn or in front of the waterfall at the Sugar Mill Restaurant (max 140 people). Receptions take place at the Royal Pavilion (max 70 people), the Croquet Lawn, the Sugar Mill restaurant, or at the golf course.
Photographers and Videographers: Photography packages are priced at three hours of coverage to seven hours of coverage. Videography packages range from three hours of coverage and a DVD of edited footage with music and chapters to seven hours of coverage and a DVD.
Music Options: Options range from a single musician such as a flautist or a guitarist to a six-piece reggae band (for three hours).
Food: Hot and cold hors d'oeuvres, buffets, and plated dinners each range per person. Kids, kosher, vegetarian, and gluten free menus available upon request.
Drinks: Open bars vary for the first hour, with a fee for each additional hour.
Cakes: One-tiered cakes start at $150 and are 12 inches, serving around 20 people; additional tiers and more elaborate decorations move the price up in $100 increments.
Spa Treatments: The Fern Tree Spa offers massages, skin treatments, hair and makeup, mani/pedis, and yoga and meditation classes; no specials for newlyweds.
Honeymoon Suite: Newlyweds usually stay in a Hibiscus Suite, which has a private patio and a beautiful, four-poster bed. Also consider the Fern Tree Spa Suite, which includes a massage tub and special "spa areas" for in-room treatments. Wedding parties might also consider booking some of the larger villas.
Freebies: If your wedding party books 10, 15, 25, or 50-plus rooms, you can receive freebies ranging from free champagne and breakfast to a free stay in a suite (ask for the Tying the Knot options).
Airport Transportation: Free transportation provided for hotel guests (if you book certain packages or a certain number of rooms). Otherwise, a taxi from the airport will cost about $33 per person.