When Half Moon opened in 1954, the 400-acre resort, with two miles of oceanfront, including a crescent of sand that gave it its name, described itself as creating an oasis of relaxed gentility. And the description still works pretty well. During the day, there is enough to keep even the most active families busy—golf, tennis, horseback riding, swimming with dolphins. But in the evening, when the light is fading from Sunset Beach, and kids worn out by a day of discoveries are starting to fade, too, the resort takes on a more formal and romantic air, as anyone will discover who tries to get into the Sugar Mill Restaurant wearing shorts. The approach has made it popular not only with families, who come back generation after generation, but newlyweds, couples on their second honeymoon, celebrities, and even a surprising number of British royals, the latter two groups particularly appreciative of the luxury and privacy of the resort’s 31 villas, each with its own pool.
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About 15 minutes east of the airport at Montego Bay, Half Moon is an easy drive to a number of attractions, including a bamboo raft ride on the slow-flowing Martha Brae River, named, in the finest Jamaican tradition, after a witch. It’s not necessary to go off property, though, to find plenty to do. The Half Moon Equestrian Center offers riding and jumping lessons, beach rides, pony rides, and, should one’s family expect it, polo lessons. The Dolphin Encounter allows in-water interaction with creatures so intelligent it might seem as if email addresses should be exchanged. And the Robert Trent Jones–designed golf course, built in 1964 and extensively renovated in 2005, is challenging, if not quite as scenically dramatic as other local courses. Half Moon’s Sugar Mill Restaurant is such a gloriously romantic place to dine that going beyond the resort for a special meal nearby might be disappointing. But for a true Jamaican experience, stop by Scotchies on Falmouth Road (there are also locations in Ocho Rios and Kingston), order anything jerk, grab a place at one of the community tables, and declare, because in Jamaica it is the polite thing to do, that there is no beer better than a Red Stripe.
Need to Know
Rooms: 197 rooms, including 160 suites, plus 31 villas. From $279 low season, $459 high season. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: Of the Half Moon’s half-dozen restaurants, its finest dining spot is the Sugar Mill, whose setting—candlelight, starlight, and a 200-year-old waterwheel turning slowly in the background—is so romantic, don’t spoil the mood by arriving underdressed. And don’t go on a Friday, because that’s the evening to kick back at the Beach Barbecue on Sunset Beach. For breakfast and lunch, look out across that same beach from the Seagrape Terrace. Spa and gym details: The 68,000-square-foot Fern Tree Spa is the largest in Jamaica. Treatment rooms include overwater bungalows, where, befitting the setting, a popular variation of the hot stone massage uses heated seashells. The fitness center has just been refurbished and offers classes in spinning, yoga, aerobics, and Pilates.
Who’s it for: Visitors who have been coming for three generations, or plan to. Our favorite rooms: Anyone who believes they should be treated like royalty will want to stay in an oceanfront Villa, as HRH Prince Harry did when he visited in 2012. Good to be king: In order to be treated like royalty, it helps not only if you are a prince but also if your grandmother, herself a previous guest, is the Queen of England.