Jamaica, Half Moon check all the vacation destination boxes

'History, location and amenities serve as an alluring triumvirate' for the nearly 70-year-old resort that is enjoying a revitalized renaissance

Since 1954, Half Moon Resort's status elevated the same way Bob Marley and Dennis Brown had unparalleled success placing reggae on the map.

In what started out as 17 whitewashed cottages dotting the tranquil Montego Bay for 17 early investors — primarily as a secretive jaunt — the resort has grown exponentially as a vacation destination that has attracted celebrities, politicians and royalty.  

Nestled on 400 acres amid a sprawling several-mile stretch along the aesthetically pleasing Caribbean Sea's North Coast, the sun-splashed, gorgeous utopia is one of the few things that haven't changed much in 60-plus years. The resort itself is world famous. The Jamaican gem that replaced sugar fields is also currently on a path to become a landmark. 

Infinity Pool Eclipse at Half Moon
The infinity-edge swimming pool at Eclipse at Half Moon is just one of the alluring amenities of the Jamaican resort.

"It's become an emotional legacy in some respects," says Guy Steuart III, chairman of the Half Moon board of directors and grandson of Curtis Steuart, who was one of the initial 17 investors. Today, three of the original families share ownership. 

Out of a $75 million infusion, which launched Eclipse at Half Moon in 2020, came 57 luxurious rooms, two restaurants, three bars, a market cafe, the 68,000-square-foot Fern Tree spa, a sweeping infinity-edge swimming pool and private beachfront with a natural swimming cove.

A year later, another $5 was pumped into 68 Hibiscus suites within the legacy Founders Cove area, according to Half Moon Resort general manager Shernette Crichton.

The spacious one- and two-bedroom beachfront accommodations were remodeled to modernize and reflect evolving tastes while still retaining quintessential Jamaican design elements. Local food, music and art have been immersed throughout the resort so that visitors feel some of the Jamaican roots. In all, Half Moon offers 210 elegantly appointed rooms and suites, including 27 villas, along 2 miles of beachfront.

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It sets up well for ancillary pleasures. Crichton emphasized that Jamaican hospitality serves as a hallmark in every amenity, from equestrian activities to myriad water sports to tennis and golf. Additionally, there's a children's village — named after a popular character in Jamaican folklore, Anancy — that caters to various whims. All of it plays out with an inviting turquoise sea within peripheral vision. 

The championship layout designed by the renowned Robert Trent Jones Sr. has been leveraged as a main attraction. Opened in 1962, it underwent a refurbishment by Jones protege Roger Rulewich.

Besides the multiple sets of tees and an overall length ranging from 5,035 to 7,120 yards, the 18-hole par-72 course tests scratch and novice golfers alike. Half Moon offers packages that allow aficionados the chance to also play nearby Cinnamon Hills and White Witch. 

"They are three different courses that give you so many options," says Kevyn Cunningham, Half Moon's director of golf operations, who once led the David Leadbetter Golf Academies globally. "If you go to Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, they're all pretty similar. Not here."

To raise awareness, Steuart and Cunningham devised a popular Golf Guest Instructor Series that has included the likes of Gary Gilchrist, Mike Manavian, James Ridyard, Nick Starchuck and Leadbetter. The series offers a variety of options for both beginners and seasoned golfers.

As an aside, those visiting the Cinnamon Hills course can catch a glimpse of two historic markers. The Cinnamon Hill Great House, built in 1734 and once owned by Johnny and Rosanne Cash, is a must-see just for its ornate architecture. Urban legend has it that the Cashes and other visitors experienced common ghost sightings. Also nearby, along the second hole of the course, Annie Palmer's former home can be seen. Palmer, better known as the "White Witch of Rose Hall," was a 19th-century iconoclast who — as legend has it — practiced voodoo, abused enslaved people and murdered three husbands. 

Rose Hall Villas at Half Moon
Rose Hall Villas, which sits hard against the tranquil Caribbean sea, is just one of three distinct accommodation offerings at Half Moon.

That said, like so many other resorts and businesses, Half Moon took it on the chin when the pandemic hit. Shortly after throwing a soft launch celebration on Valentine's Day in 2020, the resort closed. It was like a shimmering dolphin, resplendent and radiant, being told to stay underwater.

In hindsight, Steuart says if anything positive came from the shutdown it undoubtedly allowed the new construction to settle and mature. It also positioned the resort to handle a potential crush of business once it reopened. 

"When you effect change, which we've done a lot of the last six years, change comes hard for anybody no matter where you are in the world," Steuart says.

To that end, Crichton and her departments have rigorously been getting the word out.

"For starters, marketing 54 holes is very lucrative for us," she says of the three-course packages. "It's how we get the twinkle in their eyes. We like to say that there's a golf destination in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where you can stay at Half Moon and play at all three courses."

Not exactly a boondoggle, travel specialists are invited to experience every aspect of Half Moon. The history, location and amenities serve as an alluring triumvirate. It helps that Sangster International Airport is less than 20 minutes away. 

"We have a saying that once you go, you know," Crichton says.