Travel east from Montego Bay and you will discover a number of exclusive resorts hugging the coastline. Keen to get a taste of Jamaica, I sampled two of them to find out what they had to offer
Noisy; vibrant; edgy; colourful; dangerous; these are all words commonly associated with Jamaica. Haunted by melodies and words from my favourite Bob Marley songs, I was curious to discover more. The first part of our trip was to take the form of a large family reunion in one of Montego Bay's top resorts. This proved to be a perfect and gentle introduction to Jamaica, a Caribbean island with a distinct personality of its own.
Half Moon Bay Resort, Montego Bay
Whistling frogs and croaking lizards
Shortly after landing in Mobay, as it is known in Jamaica, we were stepping from the courtesy hotel shuttle into the vast granite reception area at Half Moon Bay Resort . Already, the playing fountains, alabaster pillars and tropical vegetation were screaming out “quality”. From there, we were taken by golf cart to our accommodation in one of the “Royal Villas”, at the far end of the resort. It was twilight, and we left the hotel complex behind, with its spa; ocean side restaurant; vast array of tennis courts; enormous swimming pools; and Anancy's children’s play village the size of Portmeirion. Heading around “Sunset Bay”, whistling frogs called to us from the darkening palm trees, and the sea murmured against the shore, as bands of deepening pink streaked the horizon. This Caribbean paradise was beginning its seduction.
The Royal Villas
There are 32 splendid colonial style “Royal Villas” for rent at Half Moon Bay. Each has between 4 and 7 en suite bedrooms, and comes with a maid, cook and butler. No ordinary self catering establishments these. You order the provisions, but stepping into the kitchen is definitely not on. From a cup of tea to a five course dinner, your every need is met by the courteous and charming staff. Washing is whisked away and returned neatly ironed. If you have a problem, it is quickly sorted.
Each house boasts its own swimming pool, and is set in expansive lawns and gardens alongside a private area of coastline. To reach the main hotel facilities, or to take a complimentary breakfast in the hotel restaurant, you can use one of two golf carts.
Weddings and Reunions
This proved to be a perfect spot for our family reunion. Equally good for wedding parties, you can hire a number of houses together, combining staff for one large function. A Royal Villa costs from 1275$ per day In low season.
N.B. Tourist Prices in Jamaica are usually quoted in American dollars, and don't include taxes..
Half Moon Hotel
I would also recommend the hotel section for couples or small families. The breakfasts are out of this world, offering local dishes such as akee and salt fish, tropical fruits and freshly cooked omelettes with your own choice of ingredients. And of course, the exclusive setting and leisure activities, such as golf, water sports, swimming and tennis are second to none. If swimming with dolphins is your thing, then visit "Dolphin Lagoon" .This costs from 89$ for a beach experience to 400$ for a private swim. A double room with breakfast costs from 300$ .
The Sugar Mill Restaurant, is situated on the edge of the resort’s 72 par golf course. This offers a romantic setting for dinner under the huge water wheel of the old plantation. My " King Special", a beef and shrimp skewer was extremely tasty and beautifully presented. At 36$ for one course however, prices are aimed at American wallets. An all inclusive meal plan might be worth considering.
Half Moon Bay is undoubtedly a top class resort, in a beautiful setting, and if you are seeking an exclusive environment for a special occasion then look no further. The staff could not be more gracious, and you really feel as if you are in a tropical paradise. If you are curious about the Jamaica that lies beyond, but feel a little uncertain, then compromise by joining one of the hotel's tours to YS falls or Black River Safari for example, from 50$ pp.
After leaving Half Moon Resort, we hired a car and headed towards Negril to explore the western side of the island (see my guide on Negril http://www.simonseeks.com/travel-guides/search-real-jamaica-negril__174212 ). We returned to Montego Bay, overwhelmed and exhausted, to chill out for our last two nights before flying home. We decided to opt for a different, more economical resort this time.
Rose Hall Spa and Resort
Recently refurbished by the Hilton Group, the unprepossessing high rise buildings have been transformed internally into an elegant and stylish hotel. We chose an ocean front room, with a panoramic view from our balcony over the golf course, ocean and swimming pool. Beyond, hidden amongst towering palm trees, lay the resort's fantastic water ride, and Jaccuzzis. Rose Hall Spa and Resort may have been a cheaper option to the Half Moon, but it met our needs perfectly, and we enjoyed some excellent meals in each of the hotel’s restaurants. The Italian" Luna di Mare" serves perfect, if slightly quirky Italian food. My puttanesca sauce was made with a julienne of fresh vegetables, odd, but delicious. The Palm Tree restaurant, situated alongside the "Great House " of the old plantation, offers Jamaican cuisine, with its emphasis on subtle spices , fresh fish, fruit, and vegetables such as plantain. Our meal for two came to 75$ with a bottle of wine.
All inclusive or room only?
When our flight was delayed, we had to book an extra day, so we opted for an all inclusive deal which proved excellent value at about £35 per head on top of £96 for the room only( booked via the internet to avoid rack rates). This entitled us to 3 meals a day, drinks and snacks. You can still choose to eat at your favourite restaurant, but be sure to book in advance.
When children stay free in their parent’s room, an additional charge of 70$ per day is levied on checking in, for this all inclusive package.
I would wholeheartedly recommend an all inclusive deal at this hotel for families seeking a winter break in the sun. The food is excellent and varied, and there are lots of activities. With endless free drinks on offer, you'll even find spectacular sunsets thrown in with your sundowners.
And what about Jamaica?
It certainly is easy to enjoy the wonderful things on offer at some of Montego Bay’s exclusive resorts. Tourism is Jamaica's primary source of revenue, and wherever you choose to stay, you will bring local employment and tax revenue. But if you want to learn more about Jamaica and its people, if you want a taste of that vibrant and noisy culture, be sure to venture beyond the hotel complex, before leaving the shores of this wonderful island in the sun.