I know, I know, it took me months to come up with the conclusion to my Half Moon experience. My apologies but summer in my life was chaotic. It took SO long for me to finish that you might want to refresh your brain on the first three parts of the mini-series below:
Read PART ONE here.
Read PART TWO here.
Read PART THREE here.
Here we go! We left off at the end of part three with the two most epic things happening.
1. I was given another night on the house at this heaven on earth and
2. I was on my way to dine at the top restaurant in all of Jamaica.
I caught the shuttle from the main resort which runs through an underground tunnel that passes under the main highway and onto the Half Moon golf course. The Sugar Mill restaurant is located in the middle of the golf course on the former Rose Hall sugar plantation. I had no idea what to expect but they were expecting me. It was already dark by the time I arrived and this is exactly how it looks when you pull up in the shuttle bus.
As much as I would love to gloss over this pompous fine dining experience I just can’t, for so many reasons. I have never and may never get another opportunity like this in my life so I need to expand on the whole experience. Because I had previously worked in fine dining for years I knew what kind of treatment to expect and I know all the formal steps of service. So basically what I was looking forward to were the Jamaican touches to this event, if any.
I was shown to my table and promptly greeted by not one, but two servers who would be mine for the evening. As much as I appreciated their level of service, I was REALLY hoping to see them loosen up a little….okay a LOT. I just wish there was a way to convey that my expectations aren’t as high as the vacationers who actually pay for this. However, everyone at this resort knew I was there to write the Forbes article so I guess they treated me accordingly.
The menu at Sugar Mill was without a doubt, the highlight of my entire evening specifically because every single top notch dish incorporated Jamaican culinary culture. I wasn’t at all expecting to see the words escovitch, ackee, cho cho, bammy, or callaloo anywhere on it. I thought this would be a much more foreign dining affair so I was pleasantly surprised and proud to see that they are keeping it real and Jamaican here. I should have known because Chef Christoper Golding, who is rated the top chef in Jamaica, is actually Jamaican and I knew this before showing up. If I was wealthy I would have gone back to Sugar Mill many times to try so much more from the menu! But this was my one shot so here’s what I ordered, copied and pasted directly from the menu:
Jerk Chicken Spring Rolls – Crispy Jerk Chicken Rolls with Cho Cho Slaw, Sorrel-Dark Rum Chutney
Jamaican Salad – Romaine Hearts, Jerk Cashew Nuts, Breadfruit Croutons, Creamy Garlic Plantain Dressing
Snapper – Pan Seared Snapper Fillet, Pickled Escoveitch Vegetables
And for desert I ordered a Jamaican Chocolate Story because every woman needs a Jamaican chocolate story in her life. **wink wink**
Oh boy, that just brought back memories of a post I wrote years ago about another type of Jamaican chocolate. READ IT HERE.
But seriously guys, GO LOOK at the Sugar Mill menu! I was shocked at how many ways they incorporate traditional Jamaican items into fine dining. It was incredible! Breadfruit croutons?? Come on!
The fact that there were no prices on the menu made me extremely curious because I knew the prices of all the other dining experiences I had on this resort. Remember I mentioned that this is NOT an all-inclusive resort and even though I wasn’t paying I was still presented with bills to sign off after each meal.
Now you guys are gonna shoot me but there’s ONE thing I 100% wanted to do this night if I hadn’t been fearful that I’d get ejected from the premises and fired from the article writing. This restaurant has the famous 50-year bottle of Appleton estate aged rum. Only 800 bottles of this rum were ever made for Jamaica’s 50th year of independence and it was on the Sugar Mill menu…..for a whopping $500.00 USD per shot! JUST ONE SHOT! I was soooooo close to ordering a shot simply because I wasn’t paying but I was afraid this would exceed my limit and the $500.00 would appear on my Visa bill after checkout. Couldn’t do it.
Chef Christopher Golding made a special appearance at my table to make sure everything was great and I gushed. The food was fantastic and I couldn’t ingest another forkful of anything. I thanked him sincerely and he disappeared. At the end of my dinner I was DYING to receive the bill to see how much this meal was worth. But…..the bill never, ever arrived. One of my servers informed me that Mr Golding himself had taken care of it and I was honored but a little sad. I wanted to see it. And dammit, I should have asked for the shot of rum.
I caught the shuttle back to the resort and closed out my evening with Caswell at the bar again. This time it was the famous Jamaican jazz singer, Della Manley, who serenaded us into the twilight. If you ever read reviews about this resort you will see that every single person raves about Caswell, the bartender. And I’m also here to tell you that he made my LIFE during my stay. For no special reason….he’s just one of those people.
The next day…..
I awoke on my third day at this resort blissfully happy because this was originally my checkout day but now I had been given another 24 hours on site. My tour of the entire resort was scheduled for 10:00am and my spoiler massage with Deneisha was at 1:00pm. I was stoked!
Just to save keystrokes and your boredom level I will try to gloss over the property tour even though there are plenty of things worth mentioning. First of all I need to say that on an overall level, Half Moon resort really keeps it Jamaican. I simply adored that my property tour guide made a point of mentioning that ALL rooms at this resort are furnished with handmade Jamaican wooden furniture. Maybe many resort goers don’t care about that in the least but I sure do. It means a LOT to me that a resort in Jamaica supports the local Jamaican economy.
My golf cart tour of the property revealed an entire side to this resort that I didn’t know existed. I was staying on the original side where the Half Moon hotel and cottage colony opened in 1954. Over the years the resort expanded into so much more including villas up to seven bedrooms large!
I was also told on this tour that there is a grand piano suite somewhere on the property that celebrities such as Alicia Keys and Lionel Richie have stayed in.
There is also a children’s village which impressively maintains all its Jamaican culture from the style of the children’s cottages right down to stories of Anansi the spider, a popular Jamaican folk character. It warmed my heart to know that they teach foreign children some true Jamaican culture as well.
During the tour my guide told me that at the appropriate time of year the resort does a baby turtle release on one of the beaches. I would LOVE to see that in person. Half Moon also has a herb and vegetable garden where they harvest their own items to supply their restaurants. I was completely diggin’ all this information! This place is so much more than just some foreign-owned mega resort, it’s a Jamaican as it can get!
Wrapping up my tour, I was so eager for two things: My 1:00 massage and to try the jerk hut on the beach. I was supposed to have the jerk pork the previous day but the mid-day monsooning prevented that from happening because the beach where the jerk hut is was flooded.
I was interested to see if resort jerk measured up so off to the beach jerk hut I went. Guys. Listen! I would stop in at this resort on ANY day of the week to buy their jerk pork! It was to DIE for….second only to Boston jerk in Portland! No joke, it was amazing and it burned my face off which means it passed the test. For the basket of pork and some festival I think the bill said $14.00 USD. Expensive but well worth the treat.
And now, for my spa experience. Spa services were probably the ONLY thing besides $500.00 rum that were not included in my complimentary package here at Half Moon but a massage was the one thing I really wanted to treat myself to. We all deserve to feel royal every now and then! So I made my way over to the Fern Tree Spa for my appointment with Deneisha, who had given me my teaser massage at the managers cocktail party the night before. I was so ready to just lay down and think about nothing while she worked on me with her coconut rosemary massage oil. This girl had power behind her hands and I was being pampered to the ninth degree!
I remember being pretty dazed when she finally told me the massage was finished. If you’ve ever had one before you know that a massage hour is the FASTEST hour on the planet because you never want it to end. But sadly, it did. Again, I would go back to this resort any day of the week to pay for that service again. It was magical and I smelled so good from the oil that I didn’t even go back to my cottage to shower before heading to the bar for a beverage. I wanted to smell like I did for the rest of the day even though the oil made it very difficult to do simple things such as….you know….sit down properly. I remember posting this to my Facebook page while trying to enjoy a drink at the bar:
Now this was the afternoon I met the privileged kids of the rich in Jamaica. They were a diverse group of younger people, probably in their mid-twenties, all occupying the row of bar chairs beside me. They were white, beige, brown and black and all spoke fluent patois, meaning they’re all Jamaican. I won’t mention any names or get into any details but through conversation I found out who they’re all related to. Their families own plenty of well known spots all over Jamaica and Half Moon seems to be where they come for an afternoon of leisurely drinking at full price.
The conversation was very interesting to say the least, but I didn’t stay long because I truly wanted to shower the oil off myself before I had to think about dinner. I knew this crew would be back later so I didn’t sweat the early departure. I gave one of them my card and I knew I’d hear from them again. Indeed I did later that night while I sat at the same spot at the bar. My phone rang from a random Jamaica number and sure enough it was the same crew telling me they are just rolling through the front gate. It turned into a late night with more alcohol involved than I had intended lol. I’m not sure if I’ll ever run into them again but stranger things have happened and I’ve trolled a couple of them on Facebook since then.
My night ended and sadly I wasn’t given any more complimentary nights at Half Moon, but that was okay because directly from Half Moon I was going to Port Antonio to review San Bar Villa which turned into just as royal an experience. I was VERY sad to leave Half Moon but I already knew I would make a special trip back there the following Saturday to watch the same Jamaican jazz band play. They were fantastic and I wanted more.
I’ll write about that next Saturday night in another post…it was quite interesting and over the top.
Soooo, usually at the end of my reviews I casually ask, “Would I recommend staying here?” This one is the hardest one to say a resounding YES to simply because the average traveler probably can’t or wouldn’t want to afford staying here. That doesn’t mean that I don’t recommend it because HELL YES, I recommend it if you can afford it!
If I had to summarize my overall feelings about spending these three days at Half Moon I’d say I felt like family. And I’m not just saying that because I was a special guest who was doted on. I say that because I really believe it. I was not at all expecting the staff to be as friendly and as down to earth as they are, right up to the resort general manager! Everyone I encountered were simply LOVELY people and several of them have even been working at the resort for 10 to 15 years which in my mind, speaks highly of the resort as a workplace.
I don’t know if Half Moon recruits certain types of people to work there or if the people who work there are just great people but either way, the staff 100% makes the entire experience what it is. And in true Kristi fashion I had to interview a few staff members just for my own curiosity. I straight up asked some of them if they are treated well and paid well. Unanimously, they all said this resort pays better than others and they are treated very well by management. They also said that what you tip them on your bills goes directly to them, not to the resort or into a pool. Each bill does have an auto-gratuity that gets pooled among staff but any tips over and above that goes directly into the hand of the staff member.
On the flip side, if you’re looking for a hype-ish resort this is not the place for you. I can’t rate it fairly on entertainment because I was there in low season and there were only a handful of guests at any given time. So I have no clue what it would be like in high season when it’s full. But there are no nightclubs on site and it appeared that the caliber of guests were not the type who look for clubs. I sat with and spoke to several other guests at the bar and I found it interesting that many of them said they have been coming to this resort for as long as twenty years. That also says something about the family feel that I felt.
It really does exist here.