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The Vacation Syndrome: Royal Pampering at Half Moon Resort, Jamaica

Five years ago, Mary and I were in Spain for the first time. Madrid, actually. So much to do, see, taste. There was no time to waste, we were tourists and we needed help.

“Buenos dias, uhm… can you please tell us how to get to the Prado?”

“¡Eeh si, claro! Here…” The concierge pulled out a map, laid it open onto the counter and proceeded to scribble along the route we were to take. “Her-e… her-e… and her-e. ¿Sí?” Good?” The concierge was now smiling at us.

We nodded, and just as Mary was picking up the map from the counter and we were ready to leave, the concierge blurted out:

“Eh…sorry but eh, you are star? American star?”

“Excuse me?”

“Eh…you famous? Celebrity?” He was pointing to us as he spoke.

Mary and I glanced at each other and laughed out loud. She adjusted her massive dark shades, flipped back a couple of her braids and replied, with as much composure as she could muster:

“Oooh no, no, no…no superstar… We’re just a couple of lawyers. Abogadas!”

Superstars!? Of course, we had to be. Two young black females staying at a five-star hotel in Europe. Solo travelers on vacation, pampering themselves. Surely we were rich and famous?

Before she married, Mary and I were travel buddies. We went to Europe together at least five times. Wherever we went and could afford it, we deliberately sought out swanky places to stay. Not necessarily all-inclusive, but luxury. We worked hard, we deserved it, we told each other. We called it the “diva tour.” Our six-figure lawyer salaries allowed us to stay at some of Europe’s prestigious hotels, like the Pestaña Palace in Lisbon (Madonna’s hideout whenever she visits). Or at the Westin Palace in Madrid. Half the fun was doing the pre-trip research. We would ooh and aah at the online photos and wonder if the place would live up to its website; if it really would offer us the kind of relaxation and treatment that’s fit for a queen.

As much as we glorified lush hotels, we also loved roaming around in the day and night like real travelers. We hated organized tours. We preferred to walk the streets, find our way (discreetly with a map) and talk to people. Discover the locals’ favorite bars and the best foods, and go to museums and other such cultural spots. And later, get back to our “palace.”

Now and then, Mary and I reminisce about our diva tours and days of luxury. The massive suites with a view, the heated towel racks, the “Miss B” and “Miss Girma” and being mistaken for “superstars.”

The one thing I always swore I wasn’t, though, throughout my travels, was one of those tourists that never leaves their resort, except maybe to buy souvenirs. They laze around all day on the beach, they have no interest in going anywhere into the “real world.” They spend hour after hour getting pampered. I swore I’d never be that. I need to be outside, walk, see the country, meet the people and eat street foods and stroll in real markets.

What was it again, never say never? OK… I confess. Last month, I spent five days at a resort in Jamaica and never left the grounds.

Well, not other than to cross the street to dine at one of the resort’s fantastic restaurants. Five days of absolute relaxation, luxury, good food, spa treatment and unique activities. A property unlike any I have visited anywhere, in Europe or the Americas. Ah! how I’d missed that luxurious feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I still think staying at small guesthouses and outdoor exploration are what travel is about. You feel brave and alive when you have to plan every aspect of your trip, when you walk around in the streets and take in the novelty. But after the past three years of heavy travel and budget accommodations, I loved staying at a five star and not leaving the property. In fact, I kept hoping the entire time that I wouldn’t have to put one foot outside. It was that fabulous, and I was that tired.

One caveat: I wouldn’t be able to do that at a Sandals-type of all-inclusive property.

But the type of resort I got to experience – Half Moon in Jamaica – is not an all-inclusive. It’s a luxury resort and only all-inclusive as far as being able to stay and not leave for an entire week if you choose.

See, everyone in Jamaica knows of Half Moon. Located in Rose Hall, just 10 minutes outside of Montego Bay, it’s Jamaica’s most prestigious and famous property (not to mention the Caribbean’s). I won’t even bother listing all their awards. It’s a place where the “who’s who” often relax – European royals, the Kennedys, celebrities, and other “VIPs.” On the island it has a reputation as being “off limits” and only for the really rich people. As my Jamaican driver said to me when I mentioned my stay at Half Moon: “I’ve only seen it as far as my eyes can see.”

I realized he was describing me as well, prior to my time there. In four years and dozens of trips to Jamaica, I’d never ventured to Half Moon beyond going to the spa or the shopping center. And that’s the perception of the resort to the outsider: so exclusive you assume you’re not allowed on the property unless you have a room reservation.

So when the opportunity to stay at Half Moon presented itself (yes, I’m a lucky gal), I was excited. I had a chance to see whether the place lived up to its prestige.

And I came to find out that Half Moon is not only luxurious, but accessible and cozy. It’s five-star quality and certainly not cheap, but it’s not limited to the opulent. And surprisingly, it’s not stuffy at all.

If you appreciate the good things in life and you have discerning taste, this is the place. And if you’re a resident looking for a city getaway, or looking for great restaurant options (as Montego Bay is very limited in food choices), Half Moon is just as open to residents as it is to guests.

From the 400-acre grounds covered with royal palm trees, to two miles of beach stretch to choose from, to the staff and the choice in activities and food - I finally understood why Half Moon is Half Moon. Oh I’ll warn you- the website’s gallery doesn’t come close to doing it justice (though the photos will soon be updated, I’m told).

In January 2011, Rock Resorts was hired to take over the management of Half Moon. It’s expected the resort will be somewhat updated to give it a bit more of a modern twist, as well as bring even greater attention to the meaning of “eco-conscious luxury.” Rock Resorts is known for its environmental programs, and the improvements will no doubt make an already superb resort, even more unique.

The history of Half Moon, in itself, is unique. About 50 years ago, a group of American, British and Bermudian entrepreneurs who loved to spend their winters in Jamaica had the idea to come together and create a winter escape for their families and friends to enjoy. So in 1954, 17 families purchased 35 acres of land on the crescent-shaped bay in Rose Hall and “Half Moon” came into existence, with 17 cottages and 30 beachfront rooms to start. Portraits of the original owners and their families hang around the lobby area, alongside those of Half Moon’s famous guests to date. It’s simply amazing to see how far this resort has become, just from the realized dream of a group of friends with a vision.

This review, by the way, could be ten pages long. I could literally go on and on about Half Moon, because that’s how fantastic it is. But I’ve highlighted only the parts I thought were just too good to leave out.

Rooms, Glorious Rooms

The Hibiscus Suite

The surprising aspect of Half Moon is the variety (and number) of rooms they have available: Superior Rooms, Deluxe Rooms, Deluxes Suites, Junior Suites (or West Cottages), Royal Suites, Hibiscus Suites, Imperial Suites and Spa suites, all in different locations throughout the resort. Not to mention, the Royal Villas. In total: 398 rooms, 54 swimming pools.

You’d think it would have that immense, monstrous resort look and impersonal feel but on the contrary, the fairly low-rise white buildings, the marble interiors in some suites and those endless tall palm trees everywhere give the resort that intimate boutique resort feel. I felt so at home, and everywhere I looked I wanted to shoot.

I stayed in a Hibiscus Suite for my first couple of days. A beautifully-furnished, spacious seafront suite. My favorite part was the cozy balcony with reclining lounge chairs and a spectacular view – literally steps from the water. The Hibiscus Suites are also located at a perfect distance – close to the reception area, close to the man Hibiscus swim-up bar pool and close to the beach and the restaurants.

The room also had free Internet service (cable, however). The bathroom – almost half the size of my suite, was heavenly (I love my bathrooms even more when on vacation). Massive tub, glass door shower, his and hers sinks and his and hers closets. And every night, at 7pm like clockwork, a knock on the door: turndown service. I loved my suite so much, that when two days later I was asked if I was ready to experience a cottage (the “West Cottage” side), I requested Continue reading »

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