“Go, annie, go!”
It’s late afternoon in September as a few dozen guests of Half Moon resort in Jamaica are gathered beachside to cheer on the 242 baby Hawksbill turtles clumsily making their way towards the Caribbean Sea one tiny step at a time – frequently and adorably colliding into each other in the process.
Assisting the release is beach attendant Dwain, who has created a runway between two long mounds of sand to make it easier for the critically endangered sea turtles to follow the path down the shore.
“We believe these turtles deserve to come back in the ocean,” he says, noting that the survivors will return to this very spot on Sunrise Beach 20 years from now to lay their own eggs, eventually growing to 90-150 pounds and 30-35 inches in length.
From July through to December, travellers have the opportunity to catch the hatchlings make their maiden voyage to the sea.
“Each nest has between 100 to 150 baby turtles, and we’ve been told they come back every 20 years to their DNA footprint that’s established when they walk to the sea,” says Guy Steuart III, Chairman of Half Moon. “So by having this new enhanced beach, which won’t be developed, we’re providing an environment for them to return to 20 years down the line.”
Within a few minutes all turtles have reached the sea — all but one. All eyes are on Sally as she slowly makes her way to the sea despite dragging her front leg in the sand. A cheer erupts as she finally gets swept into the water for good.
Building a legacy
As the luxury hotel prepares to celebrate its 65th anniversary later this fall, Half Moon is undergoing a transformation to the tune of US$75 million.
“In 1954, we started on these shores with a quarter-mile stretch of beachfront on 35 acres of what was retired sugarcane plantation,” says Steuart. “In those six-plus decades, we’ve expanded considerably from a quarter of a mile to almost three miles inclusive of the golf course.”
At the core of the renovation are the addition of new rooms and suites, including the newly opened East Cove Cottages and the soon-to-open Estate Houses, an expanded beachfront with a natural infinity-edge swimming cove, an adults-only swimming pool, seven food and beverage outlets, and a new main lobby at the centre of the 400-acre property.
“We have built a new great house, which is going to be the grand entry and a real signature moment for people arriving in the destination,” he says. “It will really establish an identity for Half Moon. The new foyer is fashioned along the lines of Jamaica’s well-recognized great houses. We created sight lines that we think will redefine us as the best Caribbean beach resort, bar none.”
The iconic property, which was where Bond, James Bond confronted snakes, a villainous waiter and a double agent in 1973’s Live and Let Die, has also announced Shernette Crichton as its new general manager, the first woman to hold the position.
Get off the resort
From horseback riding to indulging in a meal at the award-winning Sugar Mill Restaurant on the Rose Hall Sugar Plantation, there are plenty of options for travellers to keep busy at Half Moon. But for clients looking for a day trip away from the property, the options are as diverse as the variety of accommodations in the destination.
“Montego Bay, Jamaica’s second city, the island’s tourism capital, boasts attractions for the adventurous, the nature lover and the vacationer in search of more serene pursuits,” says Omar Robinson, president of the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association. “MoBay, as we affectionately call Montego Bay boasts the largest number of rooms in all ranges – all-inclusive and EP hotels, high-end luxury properties, boutique hotels, small intimate properties and villas that cater to everyone – adults-only and family-friendly accommodations, international chains and home-grown properties.”
Here are a few memorable excursions that are easily accessible from Montego Bay:
Adventure awaits at Chukka Good Hope
Kids or kids at heart will enjoy spending the day at Chukka Good Hope, set on over 2,000 acres overlooking lush plant life and the Martha Brae River. Once a working village and sugar plantation dating back to the 1700s, visitors can go zip-lining, embark on a two-level obstacle course, relax on a river tube ride and head down a 300-foot water slide. Cool off by hanging out at the 4,000-sq.-ft. zero-entry pool. ATV and Dune Buggy rides are also available at an extra cost.
Rum for it at Hampden Estate
Unlike many tours which save the taste test until the end, Hampden Estate rum tours kick off with a welcome drink. The working distillery allows travellers to learn first-hand about the 260-year-old rum-making process. Dating back to 1753, a visit to Hampden Estate culminates by tasting the award-winning Rum Fire, a 63% white overproof rum, and Hampden Gold.
Come sail away with Island Routes
Take in views of Montego Bay’s coastline aboard a catamaran cruise with Island Routes. The scenic sail includes music, nibbles and cocktails. The day trip includes a snorkelling stop at a nearby reef trimming with exotic marine life.
Unwind by the river
One of the most popular excursions for overnight guests and cruise passengers alike is a rafting journey down Martha Brae River aboard thirty-foot-long bamboo rafts. Her Majesty The Queen, Chuck Norris, Spike Lee, Jane Seymour, Kenny Rodgers, and Usain Bolt are just a few of the celebrities to have embarked on this activity along a three-mile stretch of the river surrounded by almond trees, coconut trees and breadfruit trees.
“No visit is complete without a night out on our Hip Strip, where the famous Margaritaville holds sway with a host of other clubs and restaurants such as the newly renovated Coral Cliff Gaming Lounge, Starbucks, The Brewery, 27/27 Marijuana Lounge, and Usain Bolt’s Tracks and Records
restaurant,” adds Robinson.