Discover Half Moon, the luxury resort in Jamaica with R. Couri Hay. R. Couri Hay, a New York City-based publicist and founder of R. Couri Hay Creative Public Relations. He started his career as one of the original contributing editors to Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine and went on to write for a variety of publications including Travel Squire and Social Life. Travels with Couri takes you on an adventure to some of the most premier resorts and locations around the world. Follow along with Couri as he shares some tips, tricks, and recommendations when traveling. From floating bars in Jamaica to art galleries in Berlin, Travels with Couri will inspire you to travel the world and become immersed in new cultures.
Half Moon Jamaica
The Royals’ favorite Jamaican hotel
Prince Harry went on a charm offensive while staying at the Half Moon resort in Jamaica. Although he was on an official visit to the island nation, celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee his stay at Half Moon also provided him with a few days’ breaks from his Royal duties. The approachable Prince delighted his butler, cook, and housekeeper tending his five-bedroom oceanfront villa, shaking hands and posing for photos with the staff members.
“Prince Harry was informal and fun to be around, and he seemed to enjoy his time here,” confided his cook, Denise Graham. She whipped up traditional Jamaican fare including smoked jerk chicken and saltfish with green bananas for the ginger prince. “He was very complimentary to myself and the rest of the villa staff and told me he would love to come back.”
Harry’s grandparents, HRH Queen Elizabeth II, and Prince Phillip have been repeating guests at Half Moon as has his father, Prince Charles, and stepmother Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. The media has dubbed Half Moon “The Royals’ favorite Jamaican hotel.”
Jackie and President John F Kennedy
Though Jamaica is a former English colony, it’s not only the British Royals who have graced this lush tropical paradise near Montego Bay. Monaco’s late Prince Rainier and his daughter, Princess Caroline, have also stayed on the 400-acre property, and American “royals” Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy spent time here before his inauguration as president.
Eerily, Jackie Kennedy wrote out a handwritten will while at the resort; a copy hangs in the lobby.
Hollywood loves Half Moon
It’s not only heads of state that enjoy Half Moon’s lush gardens, 11 tennis courts, 54 swimming pools, myriad water sports, a world-class spa, spectacular 18 holes, par-72 championship Robert Trent Jones-designed golf course, and equestrian center – riding a horse along the beach and into the water is magical! Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Sir Richard Branson, LL Cool J, and 50 Cent have all stayed here. Stevie Wonder had just left and while I was there, country music superstars Faith Hill and Tim McGraw and their three kids were taking a relaxing break from their year-long tour.
Hospitality starts at the airport
It’s only 3½ hours from New York to the soft breezes and warm waters of Montego Bay, and the Half Moon resort has a welcoming lounge inside the small airport, your first sign of the Caribbean hospitality to come.
Our driver, Perry, one of Jamaica’s authentic characters, whisked us to the Half Moon, ten minutes from the airport. I highly recommend booking Perry to take you around in his comfortable, air-conditioned, white Lincoln Town Car – he can tell you where to go and what to see. (876) 899-4308
We enter through the resort’s elegant iron gates; at the end of the drive is a Greek temple-like portico with imposing Corinthian columns, a touch of colonial-era grandeur. Once in the lobby, there are majestic views of the water from the Great House – the vast property boasts two miles of private beachfront. From the terrace, you see the crescent-shaped white sand beach for which the hotel is named.
Founded by 17 Families
Half Moon was founded in 1954 when seventeen families who purchased 35 acres of land on the half-moon-shaped bay. These pillars of the industry including Harvey Firestone Jr. of the tire company, Richard S. Reynolds Sr. of Reynolds Metals and Mrs. Laurance Armour of Armour Packing vacationed on Jamaica’s north coast and decided join forces to create a winter escape of their own. The original resort consisted of 17 cottages and 30 hotel rooms.
The Half Moon has grown over the years, now boasting 400 acres, 210 rooms and suites, 31 private villas, and a staff of over 800. It is still owned by some descendants of the original group.
Ten of the original cottages, known as the West Cottages, are still in use today, and they are the place to stay if you can score one. Some of the cottages have pianos and their own pools.
My favorite, Cottage #1 sits at the end of the main beach, offering ultimate privacy and a shady palm grove, which was perfect when you’ve had enough sun.
These cottages are set far enough away so that they are quiet, yet the resort’s restaurants and bars are an easy walk away. The oceanfront junior suites are another great option, and if you’re bringing children, you can book an adjoining room.
The rooms in the suites are expansive, with generous indoor and outdoor seating areas with panoramic views of the turquoise Caribbean. Bathrooms are enormous, great for the whole family, and my four-poster bed added a touch of old school island charm.
If you’re traveling with a large extended family, Cottage 7 is a great option, with six bedrooms. Just steps from the water, you can hear the waves lapping at the beach at night.
Luxurious, spacious suites and villas
Rooms, suites and villas at Half Moon are very spacious, the smallest room is a 350 square feet, and suites are as large as 1900 square feet. All have outdoor space, patios or terraces, and many feature private pools.
You do not need to leave the Half Moon grounds to satisfy any hunger pangs, with multiple restaurants, and cafes on the property. You don’t even have to leave your room, as private dining is available – and you can create the ultimate romantic, intimate dining experience for two at any of the resort’s many dreamy locations, including an over-water gazebo, secluded beaches, or your own balcony or patio. Pop the question or fall in love all over again as the candlelight flickers in the gentle trade winds.
Sugar Mill restaurant
Sugar Mill is not only Half Moon’s signature restaurant, it is one of the top fine dining spots in all of Jamaica. Yes, the Royals have eaten at this award-winning place. Located on a historic former sugar plantation, chef Christopher Golding uses locally sourced ingredients and island flavors and spices for a modern spin on Jamaican cuisine.
A walk through the lush gardens, past a waterwheel, still operational, that was once used to mill the sugarcane, brings you to the newly renovated space. Specialties include a kebab of jerk sausage, pork, beef, and shrimp flamed with rum at the table, and yam risotto, the yam substituting for rice.
We loved our meal of cornbread with olive spread, fresh grouper that melted in your mouth, and the Wagyu striploin, a signature dish.
Seagrape Terrace is outdoor dining at its finest. Sample a wide selection of international cuisine with breathtaking views of the sea. With the fabulous weather, this spot is ideal at any time of day, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all served. They also offer internationally themed buffets, and there’s entertainment in the evenings.
Authentic Italian cuisine in Jamaica? Yes, thanks to affable chef Cosimo Riccardi, who hails from Naples. Riccardi uses seasonal local ingredients and natural herbs from the Half Moon garden in classic dishes from southern Italy. Pastas are made fresh, in-house, and you can enjoy your meal al fresco, or inside, in air-conditioned comfort.
The Houseboat Grill, Montego Bay
It’s always fun to go out and explore other restaurants, I suggest the Houseboat Grill in Montego Bay. You arrive by raft to this charming boat where Steve McQueen lived while filming the movie Papillion in 1973. During a Jamaican music festival, this boat served as a lounge for the likes of Aretha Franklin, The Beach Boys, Sting, The Grateful Dead, and the B-52s.
Dress casually, and be sure and ask to be seated upstairs with a view of the bay and the twinkling lights of the city. Start with the spicy pepper shrimp and, if it’s in season, try the lobster. End with the decadent molten chocolate cake with a scoop of ice cream. You can work it off at Half Moon’s Gym. Thehouseboatgrill.com
Fern Tree Spa
Half Moon’s Fern Tree Spa, the largest in the Caribbean, is a world unto itself with its own glamorous pool and waterfall where you can have lunch in between your treatments. Try the signature Fern Tree Remedy, a 90-minute treatment package that ends with a refreshing rum body splash and a shot of carrot juice. Fern Tree’s list of treatments extends for 29 pages, so rest assured you can be pampered all day long.
In addition to steam rooms and saunas, you can take private treatments in tranquil tropical gardens, an outdoor yoga pavilion, a meditation labyrinth, and overwater bungalows, which are rare in this part of the world. You can indulge while listening to water lapping gently instead of piped-in music.
Half Moon’s golf course is stellar, named one of the best in the Caribbean, Designed in 1964 by the legendary Robert Trent Jones Sr., and updated by Roger Rulewich in 2005, it is home to many official PGA tournaments, including the European PGA Senior tour and the Jamaica Open.
The challenging course is beloved by golf enthusiasts, and also offers grassed practice greens, putting greens, a clubhouse, pro shop, and a snack bar that serves lunch.
Bring the kids
Half Moon treats kids like VIPs, and the resort has a Children’s Village for ages 3 to 12 to play, learn and make friends.
Professional nannies are on staff, and activities are supervised by trained, certified, coordinators affiliated with a Penn State University child-care program. You can choose from half-day, full-day, and 3 and 4-day packages, snacks and lunch are included. During the summer when school is out, Half Moon runs a day camp to keep the little ones entertained.
Equestrian Center, with ponies for kids
And there are pony rides! Half Moon’s acclaimed equestrian center includes a pony park where children age six and under can safely learn to ride under supervision. Kids also love the rabbits, goats and donkeys in the park.
For grownups, there are horseback riding options for all skill levels. Novices can try the “rookies roundup,” private lessons are on offer, as well as riding, jumping and polo. Most popular ride on the beach, at a slow pace, guided by trainers, so even beginners can do it. And people rave about the “Turf & Surf” ride, which includes swimming in the sea with the horses. It’s suitable for adults and children over 10 years, but some riding experience is necessary.
Mixing tradition with modernity
While classic Anglo-Caribbean architecture, luxurious rooms and impeccable service have been Half Moon signatures since day one, the resort is looking to the future, having just undergone a $75 million renovation and extension in time for the opening of the 2018 season in November and its 65th anniversary in February 2019.
The extensive upgrades include three new restaurants, including a vegan café, new bars, an elegant new entrance to the grounds, an adults-only pool, an expanded beachfront with a natural swimming cove, and 57 new suites, rooms and cottages. The new lobby, designated The Great House, will be the vibrant heart of the resort.
Greenwood Great House
History buffs will want to go to Greenwood, Great house that was owned by the family of the poetess Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Built in 1780, this plantation house was unscathed during slave rebellions, and remains largely intact today, with authentic furnishings and rare objects. You’ll find the original library, artwork, and a collection of rare musical instruments, some of which the tour guide will play for you.
Bob and Anne Betton bought Greenwood in 1975 and restored it over the years. I asked Mrs. Betton why she took on this huge project, and she replied simply, “I liked it.“ Sadly, she assured me, “There are no ghosts here.” This house has a 360-degree view of the horizon, and from the veranda, you can literally see the curve of the earth.
FreeStyle Catamaran trip
A sail on the stunning FreeStyle catamaran was a highlight of our trip. Jamaica Watersports offers cruises for fishing, snorkeling or just dancing and relaxing on deck while you sail the clear blue Caribbean. Arnold Schwarzenegger read a book during his five-hour spin, while Whoopi Goldberg smoked a spliff during her sail. It’s all good, man.
The wind is strongest from 11am to 3 pm, or take a sunset cruise with a good bottle of Taittinger. Half Moon will take care of everything. jamaicawatersports.com +1 876 381 3229