Half Moon General Manager Sandro Fabris (l) and Chairman Guy T. Steuart III at Toronto's Spoke Club.
Renderings of Phase 2 of the expansion project.
Half Moon's Royal Villas from the air.
A portion of Half Moon's 3 km of waterfront.
An independent hotel needs to set itself apart in order to be successful. Jamaica’s Half Moon has been standing out like a rare gem since 1954. With a major expansion project set to debut this fall, the luxury EP resort is positioning to maintain its distinctive appeal for the next six decades.
Visiting Canada to bring industry partners and media up to date on the evolution of the property were the resort’s Chairman Guy T. Steuart III and General Manager Sandro Fabris, a well-travelled luxury hotel manager.
The ‘III’ in Steuart’s name is important to the story of Half Moon, because his grandfather was one of the 17 original partner families who purchased oceanfront land near Montego Bay to build cottages as an escape from the winters of the American Northeast. Or more accurately, Steuart says -- his grandmother told his grandfather to get in on the deal.
Three of those partner families still retain ownership after over 60 years, with Steuart at the helm. And there’s no place he’d rather be. “I’m a lucky fellow,” he says. “I get to speak with passion and sincerity because I believe in the story of Half Moon.”
There are many Half Moon stories. You can watch a compelling one on video here, starring Solomon Gardner, who worked at the property for 53 years, more than 30 of those as maître d' of the Sugar Mill restaurant, long regarded one of Jamaica’s finest. Gardner joined Half Moon at 15 years old, taking a summer job while at school -- and he never left.
“The guests and staff are almost a family. When you see little children from when they’re small and now they’re growing up and getting married…these are the things that mean so much to me,” Gardner says in the video. He passed away last year, but fondly lives on in the memories of generations of Half Moon guests.
Steuart told another story of a golfer who returned to play Half Moon’s Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed course after 40 years. He reminisced with clubhouse staff about his caddy all those years ago, memorable because he carried the guest’s golf bag on top of his head for all 7,200 yards of the track. “Do you know who I’m talking about?” the guest asked. The staff member replied: “Of course, he’s right over there.”
Half Moon is set on an enviable piece of land: 400 acres including over three kilometers of Caribbean beachfront. Savouring this space are the guests of just 210 rooms. Steuart calls the essence of the resort’s appeal “the liberty of luxury and space.”
The current project is the second phase of a $100 million master plan. It features three new restaurants and three new bars, an expanded beach, swimming lagoon and a total of 57 new rooms and suites that will replace 44 existing ones.
“They’re all oceanfront but not hard up to the ocean,” says Steuart, who notes that water levels have been rising at Half Moon’s location. But the resort has the space to move back, with the result that the closest structure to the ocean will be an infinity swimming pool, about 100’ away.
The second phase comes after the 2015 refurbishment of the Sugar Mill Restaurant – home to the original 1676 sugar plantation mill wheel found on the property -- the resort lobby, the golf course and the addition of the Lester’s Cafe coffee bar.
The new restaurants and bars indicate that Half Moon is adapting to generational changes. A new bar in the Great House will feature every possible Jamaican rum as well as 60 other aged rums. One of the restaurants will feature a buffet concept where guests can take salads and sides while chefs at a stove and wood-burning oven in the middle of the buffet prepare their desired mains a la minute.
A second new dining option will serve “fishermen-to-table” cuisine, possibly including the prickly but apparently tasty invasive lionfish, according to GM Fabris, who talks about food with the unique reverence and passion of the Italian-born. A third will introduce a raw food, vegan experience. And a jerk shack will be one of the attractions at the ocean-water swimming lagoon, which is expected to be a big draw for guests with kids.
“The new generations of guests want culture, they want to experience everything and taste the local foods. And they want to know about the impact of their travel on the environment, so we’re taking a lot of steps to reduce our own,” Steuart says.
All of that curiosity is just fine with the third-generation steward of an iconic Caribbean property. “I see us as an embassy for Jamaica, and conduit to Jamaica’s beauty.”
Bruce Parkinson Editor-in-Chief
An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years, Bruce uses the pre-dawn hours to prepare a daily news and information package to keep industry members up to date.