If you're looking for an non-descript, dime-a-dozen all-inclusive beach resort in Jamaica, look elsewhere. If you're looking for a timeless, classy, Bogart-Bacall-Key Largo ambiance complemented by a first-class staff, then pack your bags for Half Moon. Having just returned from a 5-night stay in one of the optimally located Hibiscus Suites, here's our take:
* The Property - Conveniently located about 15 minutes from the Sanger International Airport, the 400+ acre Half Moon resort exudes old-world charm from the start. The lobby, recently restored after a fire, is a well-appointed throwback to the 30s and 40s...a Moroccan vibe. The suite and villa exteriors also feel classic, but not old. With amenities that include an equestrian club, an 18 hole putting course and old-time Huffy bikes to get around the expansive property, you feel like you stepped back in time to a much more relaxed era.
* The Rooms - I can only speak for the Hibiscus Suites, which are all oceanside, yet are centrally located on the property, so you're near it all. The rooms are very large and well-appointed. We were there on a particularly hot week, so the AC was always on and greatly appreciated. Ask for a second floor room for the best view of the glorious Caribbean Sea.
* The Restaurants - All very good. As advertised, dinner at the Sugar Mill was the highlight. Try the fish or chicken "escovitched" - a spicy vinegar-based marinade. Amazing! The Seagrapes buffet was excellent overall for breakfast and lunch, and we were impressed with the variety on the menu of Il Gardino, the Italian eatery. Take the advice of others and choose the all-inclusive meal plan, otherwise, plan to pay a minimum of $100 for a decent meal for two.
* The Service - saved the best for last. While you may expect Jamaican hospitality all over the island, I can only say the staff of Half Moon greatly exceeded our expectations. I need to give kudos and props to all those who made my family's stay so special:
- Celie, for her extraordinary pre-arrival concierge services
- Wayne, the bell captain who ran in 95 degree heat to quickly replace our non-functioning room keys upon arrival
- Dennis, our Juta driver to Ocho Rios. Easy going and great to spend the day with, and made an extra trip to return the iPod my son had left in his van. Above and beyond!
- Elvin, my wife's beach buddy, for taking care of our fun in the sun
- Kingsley, who made a friend for life in my son who enjoyed his company in the game room for hours on end
- Solomon at the Sugar Mill, a class-act who is welcome to stay with us on his next trip to Massachusetts
- Renate, for her special attention at lunch at Seagrapes and for arranging the special attention at Il Gardino
- Omar, the sous-chef who recommended the Blue Mountain coffee and made the buffets grand
- Richard, for making a great "everything but the kitchen sink" omelet
- Vanessa, for her daily smiles at the fresh fruit station
- Kevin, our caddy whose ability to read the greens easily saved me 5 strokes...and is a scratch golfer to boot
- Milford, the bartender at the 19th hole who made it the best hole on the course!
- The "Doctor" and Mark - our guides for horseback riding on the Beach. Swimming with the horses was definitely a high point.
Thank you all for making it a memorable vacation!
Just to be somewhat balanced, although any flaws are few and far between:
* Shopping Village - Granted that this was the low season, but the Half Moon Shopping Village is essentially an abandoned ghost town after many shops have moved down the road or closed permanently. Unless you want to pick up a quick Cuban cigar at the small cigar store, there's no reason for you to stop here.
* Bathrooms in the Hibsicus Suites are ridiculously oversized. Not that big is bad, but would have preferred the extra room be put into the bedroom itself.
* Duns River Falls - even during the low season, this tourist trap was mobbed with hundreds and hundreds of people climbing the falls. It was so crowded it was hard to appreciate the scenery. And watch out for the hard-sell vendors who line the exit to the park. There's no escape!
- Drinks and sunset at the Cedar Bar
- Riding horses in the ocean
- Ordering room service and eating dinner on the last night on our veranda
- Lounging at Sunset Beach. No worries, mon!
If we return to Jamaica, I can't see us staying anywhere else.