Half Moon Hotel, Montego Bay

Escaping the city heat of Kingston, we headed to Montego Bay for a weekend at the Half Moon Hotel. Reggae Sumfest, Jamaica’s biggest musical festival, was on just down the road, but not ideal for babies! Our weekend was definitely more piano jazz than dancehall, but we may have spotted a few stars, and certainly enjoyed feeling like stars ourselves…

As summer starts to cook here in Jamaica, most expat wives have taken flight with their offspring for the cooler climes of Europe. Kingston is littered with abandoned expat husbands supporting each other as best they can. Weekly support groups (drinking sessions), therapeutic games of golf, copious amounts of sleep etc., are just some of the ways they manage to sustain themselves, sometimes for weeks, while their wives are off visiting relatives at home. This expat wife, however, is still here, and sweating! So, last weekend, I packed up the baby, scooped up my husband early from the office, we drove off across Jamaica’s madly windy inland roads, headed for one of the loveliest resorts on the North coast.

Lobby at Half Moon Hotel

The Half Moon was first opened in the 1950’s and has a charming, old-world colonial feel. We arrived hot and sweaty from a 4 hour car journey and stepped into nothing short of paradise. A huge marble-floored entrance hall complete with stone lions and chandeliers opens out onto a beachfront terrace, where as we arrived, a fabulous gold sun was slowly sinking into the sea. As Kingston is on the south coast of Jamaica, and surrounded by high hills, we don’t get to see many sunsets, so we made straight for the bar to enjoy this one! (Plus, it was taking front desk far too long to sort out our room).

Sunset on the Seagrape Terrace

As the sun melted away, so did the baby’s patience.  While I’ve breastfed him pretty much everywhere I’ve needed to, I just couldn’t face doing it, surrounded by glamourous Jamaicans in cocktail dresses. He was getting a bit desperate (as was I!) by the time we eventually were shown to our room. It was a ‘Superior Double’, in fact, the cheapest type of room available, and we were slightly worried would be at the back of the resort above the kitchens or something. But it was perfect! The hotel is made up of villas dotted along 2 miles of white sandy beach front, and our double room was the top floor of a little villa, directly overlooking the beach.

It’s an amazing opportunity being able to visit a place like this for a weekend. For many of the guests, they’ve flown 4000 miles to get here, and yet we can get here in just 4 hours from Kingston, and take advantage of low-season, local rates. Exhausted from the journey, B went straight to sleep in the huge cot laid out for him and we sat out on the balcony listening to the waves of the Caribbean Sea, playing candlelit chess, and laughing at how quickly life changes…

Well, the chess is the same (on my part, suicidal), and our picnic of wine, tinned fish and crackers has been enjoyed in many a place, but there was a time, not long ago, when nothing that could have kept me away from a music festival! I’d have been there like a shot dancing at the front till the early hours! Not to mention our holidays were more a case of hiking and camping than 5 star luxury resorts… In fact, I would have shuddered at the idea of going to a ‘completely self-contained resort facility’, (this place even had its own furniture making facilities.) Funny how that all changes with a baby.

By 7am on Saturday morning, my husband, the baby and I, were up and out exploring the 400 acres of private beach-front estate, feeling like we had the world to ourselves in the relative coolness of the early morning sunshine. (Presumably, an earlier incarnation of me would have just been coming home from the festival!) We wandered through beautifully landscaped gardens and played giant chess, said hello to the dolphin in its lagoon (who, as my husband pointed out, can’t help but look happy, poor creature) and visited the equestrian centre complete with a polo field and show-jumping arena. Lovely to have the freedom to be able to push the pram around and feel safe, not something we can do much in Kingston.

We spent the rest of the weekend enjoying the facilities; I had a tennis lesson for the first time in 20 years (and was, unsurprisingly, useless!). For Saturday night, we got the baby ensconced with a competent, friendly Jamaican granny who came to our room to babysit. (Happily, he’s at an age where he doesn’t mind strangers, maybe even breathes a sigh of relief thinking, ‘Finally! Someone who knows what they’re doing!) We caught the hotel shuttle bus to the Sugar Mill Restaurant out on the golf course and had rum-rubbed jerk kebab and coconut crusted snapper. While the restaurant was fairly empty and seriously pricey, the food was delicious and the service was friendly and impeccable. We met the Maître D, Solomon, who’s worked there since it opened in 1964.  Then, we headed back to the beach bar for some pretty punchy cocktails, meeting some friends (abandoned husbands to be precise!) who were just on their way out to the Reggae Sumfest, as we were stumbling off down the beach to bed…

If I knew anything about reggae, I’m sure I would have spotted a few stars. We kept getting glimpses of hip young Jamaicans toing and froing from the variously bling private villas or hanging out at the bar.  On Sunday morning, I passed a huge, wealthy looking Rasta on the beach with a Red Stripe in one hand, and splif in the other. He greeted me with ‘Blessings, Princess!’ and I reckon, for the weekend that was in it, that he pretty much summed up how I felt!     

So, while we didn’t see much of the ‘real’ Montego Bay, and there’s certainly a lot more to explore (and some serious partying to be done), I know I’d have a hard time driving past the huge gates of Half Moon and not getting sucked back into this luxury piece of paradise… Besides there’s still the other 3 restaurants to eat in, the spa to disappear into, about 50 more pools to swim in, snorkelling trips to take, beach horse-riding and polo lessons to do…

Half Moon Beach

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