Half Moon was everything we had hoped it would be. I’m giving it a full five stars, because it is worthy of everyone of those stars and for us, it was perfect. With that said, it isn’t for everyone and I’ll cover that in more detail further down. Nevertheless, if you understand what a luxury hotel in the old British colonial style is than Half Moon is absolutely the place for you.
We spent 8 beautiful days there from December 1 – 9 and had a blast. The grounds are gorgeous and well maintained. The staff is attentive and always on point. The food was delicious and the bartenders know how to make a drink. By the end of the trip we felt like we were family and we will absolutely be returning. I should also note that we met many repeat guests while there, many of which had been coming for years with their families. I don’t think there is a better validation than that.
We stayed in a deluxe room in the west cottages that looked right out onto the beach. The room was perfect for us (young couple in our late 20’s/early 30’s). It was clean (our housekeepers were impeccable) and just enough room for us. We had a great patio where we ate many meals overlooking the sea. This was our first time to the resort so we stayed in the more basic rooms, but received the same wonderful treatment as those in suites.
Since we decided we would be returning, we decided to check out the upgrades. Our concierge and the front desk arranged for a tour of the grounds and a peek into different types of rooms. All of them were wonderful, but in my opinion the best deal there are the Hibiscus Suites. The layouts of them are very similar to the Eden Roc suites at Hotel Du Cap in France (my absolute favorite hotel in the world). They are long rooms with the bathrooms in the back, then the bed, a sitting room (but open to the bedroom) and then the balcony overlooking the sea. The room is designed to focus on the breathtaking views of the ocean.
Now, the Imperial Suites and Royal Suites are also fantastic, I just love the flow of the Hibiscus. If you are looking for suites that have more separation between the bedroom and the sitting area you should opt for the Imperial or Royal suites. The Imperial Suites are on the same price point as the Hibiscus and have about the same amount of room. The Royal Suites are a step up, but in my opinion aren’t worth it unless you are a wedding party or large group that wants to stay in the luxury of a cluster of Royal Suites and will take advantage of the private pool.
I also saw my neighbor’s junior suite. It was basically just like our room, but instead of a bed it was a sitting area in the part that was identical to our full room. Then tucked away in the back was the bedroom. Great if you are travelling with a kid on a budget (which they were), but not worth it if you are a couple. The deluxe room is big enough and if you want to spoil yourself with a suite jump up to the Hibiscus if it is at your price point. I should note that the basic rooms and junior suites are all in the west cottages, which are each unique, so the rooms can vary. The Hibiscus Suites and Royal Suites are all much more uniform with little to no variation. The Imperil Suites are spread out between the area that hosts the Royal and Hibiscus, as well as the West Cottages.
We did not tour the Oleander rooms, but we met folks who liked them. Very few of them have ocean views though. The Oleanders are great for people with kids or younger folks traveling as a pair of couples that might want to conserve resources and have two separate rooms within one unit.
We looked at the villas and I can understand why many comments on here either love them or hate them. They are beautiful and are designed in the old British colonial style. Not all of them are fully updated yet. This can either be charming, or a nightmare, depending on your taste. They are far away from the rest of the resort and so you are in your own little world. Again, this can be a great thing or an awful thing based on your preference. Some families we talked with at the bar that were in the villas really loved them, but did say the food situation could be improved. They loved the food the cooks made for them, but were not too keen on the process for signing up at the grocery store. However, the folks we talked to said it was a minor gripe and overall were very happy in their villas.
We loved the beaches. I used to be a beach lifeguard in high school and am a little obsessed with beaches and I loved my experience at half moon. The comments about the rocky beaches were likely not referring to the main swimming beach, sunset beach. Sunset beach has good sand and is not rocky, particularly on the western side. Kids should wear swim shoes as Jamaica tends to have a ton of sea urchins. But the beach is gorgeous, the water is warm and calm, and the beach staff is attentive. Some of our best days were spent snorkeling right there off sunset beach (we saw trumpet fish, rays, puffer fish further out, little squid and all sorts of fun fish). We also took out the kayaks and had a blast.
All of the other beaches are indeed rocky, but they aren’t really meant for swimming. The area in front of the Hibiscus and Royal suites are great for lounging on the beach and taking a quick dip to cool off, but take a short walk to Sunset beach for full recreation. The beach at the villas are really just for the view and most villas aren’t on the beach anyway. Sunrise beach (the other large crescent shaped beach besides sunset beach) is not the best for swimming either, although you can swim there if you want. We didn’t get a chance to snorkel on that beach, but we will next time, because even just walking along it we saw great sea life. We also swam with the horses on sunrise beach which was a lot of fun since the horses followed a sandy path between the rocks out far where the water was deeper.
The food was excellent. It isn’t Daniel Boulud or Per Se, but for a Caribbean resort it was delicious. The best overall meal was the Sugar Mill, but we preferred Ill Giordana since it was on the water. We only ate at the Sea Grape for dinner once and it was fine, but we loved Sugar Mill and Ill Giordana. We did have breakfast every morning at the Sea Grape and it was good. We had our lunches on our patio most days and a few times by the pool bar. The only item of food we did not like was the gnocchi. Granted, it was a slow night and maybe the head chef (who is Italian) was off, but my Sicilian mother would not have been pleased with the mushy gnocchi. I have had bad meals at almost every restaurant I frequent, and the other 3 I had at Ill Giordana were delicious (as was the rest of my meal that evening) so I’m not particularly concerned that one dish wasn’t to my personal liking.
We were on the “Half Moon” all inclusive plan. I highly recommend this for anyone that plans to eat most meals at the resort and also drinks. If you don’t drink, the plan may still be a bargain as the sugar mill can easily hit $200 a person without the booze, but if you are drinking the all inclusive is a huge deal. I kept waiting for the catch, the hidden charge on the bill, but there were none. There was, as stated upfront, a $30 a day resort fee, but that was it and is fairly standard. The all inclusive included 15% gratuity too (but we always added extra since everyone was so great). I should note bottles of wine are not included (which is standard when you have 30 year old bottles on the menu that fetch up to $1,000 each).
The activities were plentiful and most on resort ones were free. You could have a lot of fun there just snorkeling off the beach, going kayaking, playing tennis, etc. For a few more bucks you can go for a sail or go snorkeling of a boat out further. If you really want to have some once in a lifetime fun (and don’t mind spending the dough), then swim with the dolphins and go horseback riding. We did both and we don’t regret the dollars we spent (even the tourist trap $140 we spent for DVD video and digital pics of our dolphin swim… our parents were very glad we had the footage and the staff did a great job filming). I did see parents snapping pics of their kids on other days we walked by the lagoon, so if you have the ability to have a non participant friend or family member come you’ll save the cash. You can also purchase individual pics for much less.
If you want to get off the resort, sit down with the JTL Tour rep at the hotel. I dealt with Patrice, but Christina was very nice too. We went on a catamaran cruise with a snorkel that was a lot of fun (this cruise runs a morning and afternoon shift. The morning shift is family oriented, the afternoon shift is party oriented). We also went ziplining and loved it.
The staff at the hotel are all wonderful. The concierge, Carol, was excellent and other guests raved to us about her coworker Latoya. Carol went out of her way to make sure we got what we wanted even when places were booked. The manager at Ill Girodana was great and we befriended Tasha Gaye who works there and is very friendly. The bartenders were all fantastic and for fear of leaving someone out, Half Moon, if you read this know your bar staff are all excellent! I already talked about housekeeping and I should also note the room service folks that set up our lunch every day on our oceanfront balcony were wonderful as well.
Some of the few negative comments I have seen here suggest that the staff are “fake” or just looking for tips. That is sort of your own issue if you want to look for the deeper meaning of a service industry staff member doing their job with a smile. The Jamaica way is also a very outwardly friendly, almost over the top, style which I can understand might add to that feeling of forced friendliness. But we found every member of the staff to be great and we appreciated the waves and friendly hellos as we walked by. We certainly doled out good tips often for those that gave us direct services, but never felt it was expected. There were also times when I should have tipped but didn’t have the cash on me and those same individuals were still helping me out later on just as much as before (and, yes, I made sure to get them before I left).
OK, so what are the actual negatives of this hotel? In my opinion there are none that are game changers. Personally, I wish they kept the three main pools (Hibiscus, Lap, Oleander) warmer (or at least the Hibiscus pool since that has the swim up bar). We were visiting just before the high season and we noticed that the pool was warmer on the weekends then the slower weekdays. Makes sense from a cost perspective, but I would have loved to have spent some of my weekdays in the water at the swim up bar. There was no point at which the pool was not colder than my preference, but on the weekends they were at least warm enough to use. That is my only actual complaint and admittedly, I meant to write it on a comment card and forgot to so Half Moon, take note.
I’m writing this next part to address perceived negatives from other reviewers. As I said, this hotel is not for everyone. If you are a 24 hour partier looking for the all inclusive rock out vacation, this is not your place. Go to Cancun and have fun. This is a luxury hotel deserving of all 4 diamonds AAA gave it (and in my opinion deserves a 5th since the Ritz Carlton next door got one and my girlfriend stayed there and didn’t like it nearly as much… not to mention a few guests came over to eat at Half Moon and use half moon services). It is perfect for families looking for a vacation together where you can load the kids up with activities or just hang out by the beach and pool. Many families raved to us about the day care where there kids were doing tons of stuff. Some had long standing relationships with the women that ran the daycare. That, to me, will be priceless when that day comes.
If you can’t tell, we (my girlfriend and I) are not a family yet. We had a blast. So, I can say unequivocally this place is perfect for a couple looking for a romantic getaway. We are on the younger side and have been together for 3 years. There were plenty of activities to keep us happy and the bartenders made sure we had our fill of rum. There were other couples our age there, especially when weddings came through on the weekends. Bottom line, this place is great for couples of any age (one night we had dinner next to a couple celebrating 42 years together).
The other pitfall of this hotel is if you are looking for ultra modern luxury. This is not a W hotel where everything is sleek and new. It has been around forever and the British colonial buildings show there age (but are impeccably maintained). If you don’t want shabby chic, you may be looking at the wrong place. Most of the negative reviews seem to be from folks who were disappointed by the “oldness” of the place. However, I will say this, the Ibostar is a much more modern resort not far away and we heard horror stories of musty rooms and ants from people we met during our off the resort activities. And as I mentioned, folks were coming over from the Ritz next door to use Half Moon amenities.
Last bit on the negative comments: most of them seem to be from half a decade ago. I’m told from repeat visitors that it went through some growing pains in the mid 2000’s before RockResorts took control. That makes a lot of sense to me and it appears the vast majority of issues I read of from that time period are non-existent now.
Bottom line here is that we loved our experience at the Half Moon and highly recommend it. We have both travelled around the world and stayed in many luxury hotels. Hotel Du Cap is still my favorite, but Half Moon is now right behind it and for the price, should probably be number one (if they heat the pool next time I’m there, they will be).
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Nestled on a two-mile, crescent-shaped beach on Jamaica's northern coast, Half Moon, A RockResort, is truly paradise found. This spectacular, 400-acre luxury resort features pristine, whitewashed cottages surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens and the sparkling Caribbean Sea beyond.Expertly combining Old World charm and elegant modern touches, Half Moon offers 197 guest rooms and suites, and 31 private four- to seven-bedroom villas. Its world-class amenities include the renowned Fern Tree Spa, an 18-hole signature golf course, a Dolphin Lagoon, fitness centre, equestrian centre and more. With its spectacular seaside location, rich Caribbean heritage, warm and attentive staff and exceptional array of amenities, it's no wonder that this iconic Jamaican destination has set the standard for luxury Caribbean resorts for 60 years. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Half Moon, a Rock Hotel Montego Bay
- Half Moon Jamaica
- Half Moon Resort Jamaica
- Half Moon Bay Jamaica