Half Moon in Jamaica’s Montego Bay opened in 1954 – just around the time that the first “Tonight Show” aired (with Steve Allen), the packaged TV dinner debuted, and Marilyn Monroe married Joe DeMaggio. Needless to say, the legendary beachfront resort is still going strong especially as it debuts with a new look and feel. The resort that hosted the Royals, President and Mrs. Kennedy and, more recently, the late George H. W. Bush, is relaunching following a $75 million renovation.
The project has included a total reimagining of the property, with a new entry and Great House, 57 new rooms, expanded beachfront areas, an adults-only swimming pool, two restaurants and even a vegan cafe, among other additions.
The debut is timely as tourism to the island is surging. Jamaica saw 4.3 million visitor arrivals last year – more than half of those land-based in numbers that reflect double-digit increases year over year.
Half Moon completed the first phase of its Master Plan renovation in 2015, with redos of its the award-winning Sugar Mill Restaurant as well as the resort’s main lobby.
When the resort is ready for its close-up this November, it will be adding 57 new guest rooms and suites and with them, some new luxury categories, including Estate Ocean Suites and a Great House Ocean Suite. These will complement its current count of 210 guest rooms and suites and 27 five- to seven-bedroom villas.
All suites have patios or balconies and villas come with private pools and a staff with a cook, butler and housekeeper. Designs retain the sparkling hues of whites and beiges amid classic Caribbean plantation house themes.
The resort also features the acclaimed Fern Tree Spa and Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed, 18-hole championship golf course.
Dining and Down Time at the Half Moon
Dining has always been at the front and center of the Half Moon’s lures. Guests and visitors dress up for the Sugar Mill restaurant, set behind a 17th-century water mill in a tropical fairyland of lanterns hanging from the bowers. Find Jamaican dishes of crayfish bisque and ackee flan on the menu along with creative fusions such as Jerk Tofu and Quinoa Cake and Breadfruit Gnocchi. A Jamaican buffet will open in the fall and add to the resort’s dining possibilities. Vegan diners have ample choices as well, through the casual patio dining offered at Mr. Lester’s.
The Fern Tree Spa provides downtimers a place to indulge in quiet luxury. The pavilion includes two overwater bungalows for spa treatments and yoga followed by guided meditation sessions led by Half Moon’s resident yogi.
Guests can detoxify in a seaweed bath and scrubs infused with fragrant Jamaican allspice, oatmeal and essential oils; or perhaps it will be a coffee massage.
New Day, New Do’s
With the expansion, tagged “the rebirth of the Half Moon legacy,” Half Moon hopes to entice a new generation of discerning travelers who are looking for relaxation but also looking for unusual experiences to have as many of those can be fulfilled by a stay at Half Moon.
For starters, the resort is located 10 minutes from Sangster International Airport (MBJ) and also close (24 minutes) to the action and shopping in Montego Bay. The resort is famous for its programs that allow guests to swim with horses and new activities in the works include a music academy and a dance studio, adding to a new yoga pavilion.
But all around the island unusual activities and adventures await.
Rose Hall Great House
The Rose Hall Great House is close to Montego Bay and makes a great take in on a hill overlooking the north coast. The circa 1770s estate was once home to hundreds of slaves and a tour paints a picture of what life was like for them at this place. And then there is the ghost of Annie Palmer, better known as the White Witch of Rose Hall. She murdered three of her husbands in the day and continues to haunt the estate in search of a fourth.
Rafting the Grande River
A classic option is the rafting trip along the Rio Grande River near Port Antonio. Guides pilot wooden rafts down the river, past peaceful rain forests, rock formations, and small rapids. With luck, the African tulip trees will be in bloom displaying riots of orange flowers along the way.
Diving in at Rick’s Café
You can watch or you can jump. The cliff divers at Rick’s Café in Negril are internationally famous, if only for the crowds of the young and the brave who gather there to catapult and fly from the rocks above the crystal blue waters. Come up for air and sit. The sunsets are sensational.
Doing the Jerk
Jerked chicken and other jerk dishes hail from Boston Bay, once a gathering point for escaped slaves who created a way to cook their food without making the telltale smoke. Plenty of stands here where pork and chicken, doused in fabulous hot sauce or local spices, blacken slowly over local wood. Scotchie’s in Montego Bay makes a good substitute for those who can’t go the distance.
Go for the Golf
The golf to be had at Half Moon is legend among serious players. It’s an 18-hole, par-72 7,141-yard championship course designed By Robert Trent Jones, Sr back in 1962. The course features grass practice bays, a bunker practice green, putting and chipping green, a 50-yard pitching green, and a 19th Hole Bar. Half Moon Golf Course has been consistently considered as one of the top courses in the Caribbean.