Horses in crystal clear 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 visited by more than 4 million tourists a year. That’s a promise certainly kept if you stay at Half Moon, the 400-acre resort that lays claim to nearly two miles of Montego Bay’s shimmering sand and water. I visited Jamaica this spring to take in the whole island, and 70-year-old Half Moon is a well-known island staple for a handful of reasons.
Half Moon’s sheer size and amenities are reason enough that many couples and families don’t venture off the property much. With two miles of a private white-sand beach, an equestrian center, 11 lighted tennis courts, and an 18-hole championship golf course, most guests stay active on-site. I was very impressed with the huge, modern gym, with a spin room and friendly attendants who offered water refills and healthy snacks. A “children’s village”, neatly tucked away behind the sports hall, offers even the little ones (ages 3-12) a place to play.
I was delighted that there was so much activity at Half Moon as the four restaurants at Half Moon, especially two, are excellent and worth creating a strong appetite. The first restaurant, Delmare, mixes Jamaican cuisine with classic Italian dishes and won the “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 elevate the restaurant, and Jamaican and Italian cuisine, even further beyond jerk chicken and pasta, respectively. Since joining Half Moon four years ago, Facchinetti seems set to make Delmare one of the “five best restaurants in the Caribbean”. A standout feature of the dinner menu is the Jasper Oven (half grill, half oven) which serves locally caught snapper, monkfish and other meats, all served with Panzanella Salad, a classic, light Tuscan chopped salad that Facchinetti has perfected. Another must-try is Spaghetti Neri Alla Scogliera, a visually captivating pasta dish with squid ink “spaghetti” and a seafood cornucopia with vibrant red tomatoes.
In addition to Delmare, Half Moon has another must-visit restaurant, Sugar Mill Restaurant. It’s a five-minute ride from the main lobby across the busy street to arrive at the Sugar Mill restaurant, but once you know the origin of the restaurant, the “off-property” location comes into its own. The restaurant, now over 50 years old, marries an actual sugar mill that has been standing since 1676. In the evening, the mill turns the water and provides a complementary soundtrack to the crickets and frogs that live in the thick hillside mountains nearby. With countless candles and string lights, the entire Sugar Mill restaurant is utterly enchanting. But unlike “touristy” restaurants that rely on visual spectacle at the expense of good, decent food, the food at the Sugar Mill restaurant is particularly high. The pumpkin and white bean soup and the jerk chicken rolls stuffed with Cho Cho and papaya salad are excellent, as are the breadfish gnocchi and the “yardman” (Jamaican slang) stew with golden plantain fritters and stuffed jalapeño peppers. Christopher Golding, head chef at the Sugar Mill for over 13 years, is as much in his game as Chef Facchinetti across the street.
When you’re not dining or gaming, Half Moon offers a number of inspired spaces to relish. My room, one of the Hibiscus Rooms right on the beach, was beautifully appointed with whimsical paintings by West Indian (Jamaica-born) artist Shane Aquart and straw hats and products made by Jamaican women from Beenybud. Outside I could enjoy the shimmering, almost neon blue water or come back for an outdoor shower, shaded by massive palms and ferns right from the bathroom. There’s something indulgent about a tropical outdoor shower. One way to top off such a shower at Half Moon is with an over-water massage in one of the two wooden Jatoba bungalows, which are part of the resort’s Fern Spa.
After a massage one afternoon, I joined Half Moon’s general manager, Shernette Crichton, for iced tea. Warm and stylish, Crichton exudes the aura of a restorative and luxurious vacation. She wants Half Moon to be “the BEST resort in the Caribbean”. With such a range of amenities, kitchens from dedicated chefs, and immaculate real estate, Half Moon could very well own such a title.