Yes, there is golf, but the Jamaican resort's dining and spa experiences create an all-encompassing package that raises the question: 'Why would anyone ever leave?'
Depending on the person, the word paradise conjures up many connotations and meanings.
Over the years, paradise has probably produced more definitions than there is white Jamaican sand at an outdoor bar foot rail. Everyone has their ideal vision of paradise in their head, whether that's tangible or intangible.
For those seeking contentment, bliss and beauty all rolled into one, look no further than Jamaica's Half Moon, elegantly located along two miles of lush beachfront property at Montego Bay.
Managed by the Salamander Collection, founded by Sheila Johnson, who serves as the company's CEO, the acclaimed Half Moon opened 65 years ago before growing into a sprawling wonderland of relaxation on 400 serpentine acres.
In 2020, its $75 million addition, Eclipse at Half Moon, culminated in 57 new rooms and suites, and resort amenities abutting the mesmerizing Caribbean Sea and breathtaking hillsides. Eclipse, which offers butler service, joined the already-existing Founders Cove, first built in 1954 and the Rose Hall Villas.
But what would well-appointed rooms be without world-class amenities, right?
Complementing its Robert Trent Jones-designed Half Moon Golf Course, a Golf World Top 100 Golf Resort, a bevy of standout services add to the charm and allure. Between its award-winning dining and spa enhancements, a simple question might be asked: why would anyone ever leave?
"We like to say Half Moon is a destination within a destination," says resort general manager Shernette Crichton.
Among its numerous bars and restaurants — all strategically built around the property to maximize convenience — the Sugar Mill and Delmare were recently awarded as Jamaica's best restaurant and best food and wine experience, respectively. It's not by accident. Nothing is at Half Moon.
The Sugar Mill is something of a landmark, with its origins dating to 1964 when it was known as the Club House Grill. Renamed the Sugar Mill in 1982, the contemporary restaurant underwent a facelift in 2016.
Since 1994, Giorgio Rusconi has been involved at the resort in some capacity. The Italy-born master chef was recruited to work at a Founders Cove restaurant and gradually moved up the ranks from executive chef to his current role as director of resort operations. When it comes to culinary and beverage familiarity, he is no doubt an expert.
"The passion and the evolution are my takeaways from being here," he says. "The restaurants are important to our returning guests and we are attached to the resort. We take a lot of pride in the way the menu is developed. We also value — greatly — our guests' feedback."
It's no wonder. Half Moon has a farm and apiary that the restaurants and Fern Tree Spa utilize. Sugar Mill is known more for its meats and creative fare; the Delmare, a breezy beachside locale, opened in 2021 and emphasizes fish preparations.
Rusconi says Sugar Mill's charisma can be found in its creativity. That and the ambiance infuse a Jamaican feel. For instance, handmade oxtail ravioli with straight pasta could be called a typical Sugar Mill dish.
The Sugar Mill also houses one of six Josper Charcoal Ovens in Jamaica. It provides a savory taste to the crusts of meat and fish while maintaining all the juices on the inside.
When it comes to fish, Rusconi adds there is a high standard for selection. Half Moon works with select fisherfolk who adhere to the standards of Jamaica's agricultural sustainability.
All products at the Delmare are handmade and fresh, says Rusconi. Rolling machines are used for pasta, never pulled from packaging, and all are cut by hand. Known for its carta di musica flatbread, Delmare also serves other types of bread for inspired dips, such as a popular anchovy butter.
If the food is worthy of a pedestal, room should be saved for drinks too. What would a stay in Jamaica be without tasting rum among more than 100 labels, many of them from rhum agricole? Half Moon offers a signature rum, curated exclusively for the resort by Worthy Park in Jamaica. It's a 14-year-old single cask that came in 309 bottles, which is dwindling, says Rusconi.
Where many spas rest on marble and stone, the Fern Tree Spa's architecture leverages the garden, an arborist's dream. It lends itself to a signature look, and has attracted guests like nails to tires on a construction site.
Touching on the word "paradise," its etymology was derived from an Iranian word that the Greeks modified into "paradeisos," meaning "enclosed park." That, more or less, describes the spa's setting —inspired by lush surroundings nestled between rolling hills and the Caribbean Sea's azure water.
"The spa brings the elegance and best of the tropics that Jamaica has to offer," says Tanya Vassell, Fern Tree Spa's director.
The spa promotes rejuvenation and healing traditions amid a tranquil setting. More than that, the treatments offered support physical, spiritual and emotional well-being. Indigenous ingredients and the best of international techniques are woven into many of the services. In all, Vassell has a team of about 35, many of whom are trained and certified in a multitude of treatment types learned globally.
There's a culinary element that follows vegan and sugar-free diets, including cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices that can be found in its Ital Café. "Ital" in Jamaica was developed by Rastafari.
The spa boasts a sweeping infinity-edge swimming pool, aromatherapy steam and sauna rooms, and a private beachfront with a natural swimming cove. More than that, it has 11 treatment rooms, two of which are located in overwater bungalows at the northernmost point of Jamaica. Not to mention that they are immensely popular.
"With these overwater bungalows," Vassell says, "there is nothing between you and the horizon and it's a nice and special place to have services."
Perhaps the best way to describe the spa is akin to a choose-your-own-adventure book. After entering through an outdoor garden pathway, guests are treated to tea made from its garden herbs.
Myriad services range from herbal baths and scrubs to Swedish and tai massages to yoga, pilates and much more.
"We offer three dipping pools at different levels called Fern Tree Falls," Vassell says. "It's a nice cooling feature in between using the hot steam and sauna."
Most of the treatment areas are set up outdoors, on terraces with mouth-gaping views. Those looking for privacy can be accommodated with a spa cottage, which includes treatment rooms and has its own waterfall and whirlpool. Vassell highly recommends couples doing treatments together because of a shared, relaxed mindset and feeling after it's over.
"I have a saying that couples who spa together, stay together," Vassell says. "Both feel rejuvenated together and complement each other."
Rusconi, who counts Fern Tree Spa under his purview, says the secret lies in the local environment. Vassell and her team continually look for ways to inculcate local methods and ingredients that leave a client feeling replenished. Vassell adds her team will take it one step further.
"For example, we offer exfoliation services," she says, "so we will work with guests on how to create a face mask and show them how to go into their own kitchen and pull together something great for skin nourishment."
It's not uncommon for bridal parties to come through. The private cottages are perfect for groups, as well. Vassell recommends potential bridal couples visit first to feel more comfortable with hair stylists and makeup artists.
To bring it full circle, between the food, beverages and spa, that's just three top-notch amenities among countless themes that touch on water sports, beach and resort activities at Half Moon.
Yet, like dipping toes into warm water, it could be just enough to experience that personalized paradise.