Half Moon

Caribbean paradise outside Montego Bay
First, let’s start out with a little math problem. If a resort has over 400 acres of property including more than a mile of beachfront and yet offers only 398 rooms, how many horses will it take to fill an equestrian center? You’re right, it’s a trick question. The truth is that for over 50 years the venerable Half Moon in Jamaica has steadfastly refused to overdevelop its delightfully large plot of Caribbean paradise outside Montego Bay.

Does the thrilling prospect of a lively game of croquet on the immaculately manicured croquet lawn excite the majority of groups at Half Moon? Not really, but those who do “peg through” appreciate the symbolic graciousness of it all.

After the 10-minute drive from the airport guests enter a world of elegant tranquility and calm. Some resorts strive to be cool and trendy but trendiness tends to fade quickly whereas refined elegance is timeless. The fanciful British colonial white buildings, the winding pathways marked by royal palms throughout the property, and a pervading old-world Jamaican serenity all contribute to Half Moon’s status as Jamaica’s most storied grand dame resort.

While most resorts use a single large swimming pool as a focal point, the sweeping Seagrape Terrace defines Half Moon’s genteel sense of place. Long the centerpiece of the property, it was here where Clark Gable and Joan Crawford dined along with a slew of British royals. Seagrape is just one of six dining venues which include Italian, an English pub, contemporary Jamaican, an exotic India/Thai restaurant and a casual beachfront grill.

When years ago rich guys like Harvey Firestone and Richard Reynolds (the tire and aluminum guys) decided to build their holiday cottages around a delightful crescent-shaped Jamaican beach they probably didn’t expect that a half century later Half Moon would be one of the most comprehensive resorts in the Caribbean. Eleven of the original cottages remain but now the range of accommodations runs the gamut from tastefully decorated Deluxe rooms to modern beachfront suites to the sumptuous 5-, 6- or 7-bedroom Royal Villas. The villas come with their own pool, butler, housekeeper and cook, and together can host up to 190 attendees.

The list of amenities and activities at Half Moon reads more like a planner’s Christmas wish list. The 68,000-sf Fern Tree Spa includes 9 luxurious treatment rooms; a dolphin lagoon offers a variety of encounters; the tennis center includes 13 lighted courts; and Half Moon Shopping Village has the most upscale boutiques in town.

Now, returning to the question at the beginning, the answer is 28 horses are housed at Rocky Point Stables at Half Moon. The venue is one of the most complete equestrian experiences in the West Indies, boasting its own polo and jumping arenas, which are bookable for private events.

An evening beach stroll is mandatory at Half Moon where on our recent visit a lingering interlude with some wine at the resort’s trademark oceanside gazebo reminded us of the Caribbean as it once was. A delightful afternoon was also spent exploring by bicycle, where meandering bike paths snake through tended gardens, past deserted beaches and through wilderness areas teeming with exotic birds. Along the way every staff member from gardener to busy waiter greeted us with a smile and a pleasant hello.

As a meeting venue Half Moon can accommodate groups in its 26,000-sf flexible space conference center. Also, three oceanview golf courses are mere minutes from the hotel’s grand porte cochere.