Horses in crystal blue water, white sand beaches, rum and sugar served in a coconut: this is the idyllic promise of Jamaica, the 3rd largest island in the Caribbean and one frequented by more than 4 million tourists a year. It’s a promise certainly delivered if you stay at Half Moon, the 400 acre resort that lays claim to nearly two miles of Montego Bay’s shimmering sands and water. I visited Jamaica this spring to take in the entire island, and 70 year old Half Moon is a well known must-stay on the island for a handful of reasons.
The sheer size of Half Moon and its amenities is reason enough many couples and families don’t venture much from the property. With two miles of a private white sand beach, an equestrian center, 11 flood-lit tennis courts, and an 18-hole championship golf course, most guests stay active right on site. I was most impressed by the enormous, modern gym, complete with a spin room and friendly attendants who offered water refills and healthy snacks. A “children’s village,” tucked neatly behind the gym, gives even the little ones (ages 3-12 years old) a place to play.
I was pleased so many activities were within Half Moon as the four restaurants at Half Moon, particularly two, are excellent and worth building up a strong appetite for. The first restaurant, Delmare, blends Jamaican cuisine with classic Italian dishes and won a “restaurant of the year” award last year from a local newspaper. Executive Chef Claudio Facchinetti, an Italian who fell in love with Jamaica years ago, wants to further elevate the restaurant, as well as Jamaican and Italian cuisine, beyond that of jerk chicken and pasta, respectively. Since arriving four years ago to Half Moon, Facchinetti seems well on his way in making Delmare a “top five restaurant in the Caribbean.” A standout feature of the dinner menu is the Jasper oven (a half grill, half oven) that serves up locally caught snapper, monk fish, and other meats all served with Panzanella salad, a classic, light Tuscan chopped salad that Facchinetti has perfected. Another standout on its own is the Spaghetti Neri Alla Scogliera, a visually captivating pasta dish with squid ink “spaghetti” and a cornucopia of seafood with vibrant red tomatoes.
In addition to Delmare, Half Moon boasts another must-do restaurant, Sugar Mill Restaurant. It takes a five minute ride from the main lobby to cross the busy street to arrive at Sugar Mill Restaurant, but once you know the restaurant’s origin, the “off property” location makes absolute sense. The restaurant, now more than 50 years old, hugs an actual sugar mill that still stands from 1676. In the evening, the mill turns water and provides a complementary soundtrack to the crickets and frogs that live in the thick mountainside nearby. Along with countless candles and strings of light, the whole setting at the Sugar Mill Restaurant is utterly enchanting. But unlike “tourist” restaurants that rely on visual spectacles at the cost of serving decent, good food, the cuisine at Sugar Mill Restaurant is notably elevated. The pumpkin and white bean soup as well as the jerk chicken rolls stuffed with Cho Cho and Papaya slaw are excellent as was the breadfish gnocchi and filling “yardman” (slang for Jamaican) stew with golden plantain fritters and stuffed jalapeño peppers. Christopher Golding, Chef de Cuisine of Sugar Mill for more than 13 years, is as much on his game as Chef Facchinetti across the street.
When not dining or playing, Half Moon provides a number of inspired spaces to savor. My room, one of the Hibiscus rooms located directly on the beach, was beautifully appointed with whimsical paintings by West Indian (Jamaican born) artist Shane Aquart and straw hats and goods made by Jamaican women from Beenybud. Outside, I could take in the nearly neon blue, shimmering water or duck back in for an outdoor shower, shaded by massive palms and ferns directly from the bathroom. There’s something indulgent about a tropical outdoor shower. One way to top such a shower at Half Moon is by an overwater massage in one of the two Jatoba wood bungalows, part of the resort’s Fern Spa.
After a massage one afternoon, I joined Half Moon’s General Manager, Shernette Crichton, for an ice tea. Warm and elegant, Crichton radiates the aura of a restorative, luxury vacation. She wants Half Moon to be, “the FINEST Resort in the Caribbean.” With such a lineup of amenities, cuisines by dedicated chefs, and a pristine piece of real estate, Half Moon could very well own such a title.