Your 65th birthday has arrived. In many places and in many careers, you get to call it quits. Or you must. It all depends on how you view retirement, of course, but you’ve certainly earned kudos either way.
But not everyone slows down. And that holds just as true for hotels and resorts as humans. Outside of Montego Bay, the historic Half Moon resort just celebrated its 65th birthday and there’s no sign of the property, nor its long-time human handlers, even thinking of slowing down.
In fact, this fall, Half Moon will wrap up a hugely ambitious project that essentially amounts to a hamlet-sized addition to the iconic Caribbean property which already clocks in at 400 oceanfront acres on Jamaica’s north coast. More on that development shortly.
Named for the crescent beach on which an original seventeen cottages were built, Half Moon opened in 1954 along a stretch of coast where slaves once loaded sugar to be shipped off to Europe (today ten of those remaining houses are called the West Cottages).
As long-time Half Moon guests have lauded the birthday milestone this spring, many have surely reminisced over having witnessed plenty of previous growth spurts through the decades at this Preferred Hotels & Resorts member.
In a big early ’60s addition, Robert Trent Jones, Sr., designed an 18-hole golf course where the most major obstacle that players face is that of attractive royal palm trees.
Three decades ago, the Half Moon Equestrian Centre opened on the property. Of late, surf riding has become a popular guest option. However, trainer Trina DeLisser’s pet project is using her retired racehorses to put guests through the Positive Empowerment program.
A guest doesn’t mount a horse, but rather just enters a corral and under DeLisser’s guidance practices bold arm movements to get their horse to trot to their commands. As the horse gains trust over many trips around the corral, it will relax and allow the guest to approach it and ultimately follow the guest closely behind.
While the program is meant as a confidence building exercise, the bonding experience can be so moving that it brings some guests to tears. And then to round out your communing with animals session, the stable’s pet goat will come around insisting that you rub his ears.
Half Moon’s Fern Tree spa opened in 2007, and it just got a makeover with handsome stone landscaping to match the new overall design aesthetic that is coming to the property. Its enormous grounds are so quiet that the relaxation room even has its own porch with rocking chairs in which to sit back and relax to the rhythm of the pool waterfall. The spa’s herb garden has a stone meditation labyrinth in it as well.
In the oils and infusions, some of the Fern Tree massage treatments (which can be booked in overwater huts as well) include local herbs, such as cerasee and fever grass (that’s lemongrass to you). The spa’s brand new Ital Café serves Rastafarian “sunfired” raw foods, such as jerk eggplant steak and drinks such as ginger-infused shots that can be enjoyed on its patio.
As it has been for decades, the Cedar Bar at the back of the Half Moon’s open-air lobby remains a social hub, most especially at sunset with small bands playing old-school Jamaican tunes. The adjacent Seagrape Terrace restaurant hosts contemporary music bands who play in its gazebo while diners enjoy a mix of Jamaican and international cuisine.
For a laidback dining experience of another sort, guests shouldn’t miss out on the twice-weekly beach bbq, where the classic hearty soups, shrimp and jerk chicken that you’d expect to enjoy are served in the sandy venue. To accompany dinner, a steelpan group plays that classic Trinidadian instrument set to reggae and soul classics.
Consistently ranked as Jamaica’s top restaurant, Sugar Mill is dining of a whole other order. It’s a bit of a field trip getting over here by the golf course to this former plantation space, but the payoff is a centuries-old mill that still turns in the softly-lit garden.
Guests in the lounge can order tapas, while the full restaurant menu includes a shrimp medley starter and crayfish bisque soup, and main courses range from Wagyu striploin and rack of lamb to seafood dishes such as a coconut crusted grouper fillet.
As for Half Moon accommodations, it can be a daunting proposition to keep straight the dozen or so different types that can be booked. Ocean or pool rooms and suites of various sizes not only come with fine views, but also with patios or balconies. To splurge, you’ll enjoy a private pool, butler, cook and housekeeper in a Rose Hall Villa with up to seven rooms.
The Half Moon campus is so large that guests enjoy the luxury of hardly encountering too many others. Somehow, the staff always remembers guests names, no small feat with hundreds of rooms.
To get around the 400 acres, guests can order golf carts as well as bikes. Tennis and water sports of every variety—from snorkeling to kayaking and parasailing—are available. The Hibiscus Pool has an Olympic-length lap pool, as well as a swim-up bar if that’s more your speed.
As for discovering, or reliving, 65 years of Half Moon history, guests can peruse photos in the new lobby library that show visits by Jackie Kennedy and other early dignitaries (staff still speak about Prince Harry’s visit a few years ago). Another wall display recounts how in 1959 Chris Blackwell, who worked here as a sailing instructor in his youth and went on to found Island Records, recorded his very first album onsite.
But the Half Moon’s true celebrity is Mr. Wordsworth Watson who has worked at the property for 61 years, moving up from busboy to restaurant executive to estate manager. Mr. Watson has had his hand in everything, right down to having planted the rows of stately towering palms that grace the property. Generations of guests know and admire this elder statesman among the more than 800 staff members.
So where is Half Moon going at 65 with its East Cove rejuvenation program? Set to open this coming November, the $75 million addition amounts to nothing less than a small village unto itself. Reached from the road via a bridge, a Great House will become Half Moon’s new reception. A handful of the East Cove’s 57 rooms will be in the Great House, while Estate rooms are condo-sized and spread out in a landscape of pathways, adult pools and plenty of food venues.
For some time, Lester’s Café in the Half Moon’s original open-air lobby has served guests Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. Guests lounging there can admire a number of large Jamaica-themed tableaux on display that are the work of Polish-born artist Michael Lester who lived in Montego Bay from the early ’50s to ’70s. And coming soon now to the East Cove, a new Lester’s Bar will display a Lester mural as well.
Artwork that pays tribute to Jamaican culture and history thus serves as a prime link from the original Half Moon to the new Half Moon. What a surprise perhaps that it comes from the hand of a Polish-born artist.
Why not? Jamaica’s motto, after all, is “Out of Many, One People.”
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