Experience Jamaica the way celebrities and royals do in beautiful Montego Bay and Ocho Rios
Jamaica has always had plenty to offer, from endless beaches and jerk chicken to reggae music and dark rum. But lately it’s become the place to see and be seen for Hollywood celebrities and royals.
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Fans of the island include Beyonce and Jay-Z, Justin and Hailey Bieber – and Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons just tied the knot there. If you’ve got something to celebrate or need to get away from it all, Jamaica is happy to roll out their extra luxurious red carpet.
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You need only visit the library at Half Moon resort to understand just how long this hotel has been a haven for luxury-loving travellers. Lining the walls are throwback snaps of the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince Harry and Jacqueline Kennedy (who wrote one version of her last will and testament on the hotel’s letterhead).
Jackie Kennedy and Prince Charles are among the royals and celebrities who have enjoyed time at Jamaica's Half Moon resort. Photos: © Shanda Deziel
Most recently, Half Moon hosted the Prince William and Kate Middleton during their tour of Jamaica. Making an "unofficial" pit stop at one of the hotel’s four-bedroom Estate suites for lunch, they marvelled at how much their three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, would love to visit this scenic spot.
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"They didn’t want to leave," says Guy Steuart, the resort’s chairman. "William said, 'I don't want to go. Can we have more mango please?'"
We can understand why the Cambridges didn't want to leave Half Moon resort!
There's no doubt you’ll be as smitten as the duke upon arriving at the 68-year-old property, which offers up an unparalleled view of greenery and ocean the minute you step into the reception area.
From the spectacular infinity pool to the adorable blue bicycles parked at nearly every turn for guests to use, it's the attention to detail that stands out at Half Moon. The sprawling 400-acre property boasts various types of accommodation, so you can be as social or under the radar as you want.
But even if you've come to hide out, be sure to check in on the hotel's four-legged lodgers.
Trina is completely dedicated to the horses at the equestrian centre
At Half Moon's equestrian rehabilitation centre, Trina looks after a stable-full of rescue horses, and in just a half hour she can teach you how to non-verbally communicate with one of these majestic animals, getting them to trust and befriend you. And the adventurous guest can join the horses in the ocean for their early morning swim.
You'll have to travel two hours from Montego Bay airport to stay at Jamaica Inn (unless you really are a celebrity and have the means to book a private helicopter). But it's worth the drive! With just over 50 all-oceanfront rooms, this boutique hotel is brimming with history.
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It too has a library full of photos of famous guests, from a 1950s snap of Winston Churchill painting seaside, to Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller dressed up for dinner while honeymooning at the hotel. Plus, there's a pic of Meghan Markle in a wedding dress hugging her father, Thomas Markle. Meghan had her first wedding to film producer Trevor Engelson here in 2011.
The Jamaica Inn has a gorgeous beach, and amazing snorkeling opportunities in its waters
But Jamaica Inn's biggest claim to fame remains its connection to James Bond author Ian Fleming, who, despite having his own place down the road, always preferred this hotel's beach. As the legend goes, one night Ian and his good friend playwright Noel Coward ordered martinis at the bar and wanting them made as cold as possible, they proposed the drinks be "shaken, not stirred."
Meghan Markle and her father Thomas at Jamaica Inn
When rolling up to the property, which is nestled in the heart of the city of Ocho Rios, there’s a good chance you’ll be greeted by the hotel's pet dog, Shadow, a friendly black lab who has the run of the place. Now eight years old, he's a calm and affectionate presence, but any of the long-serving staff will tell you some amusing stories of his puppy antics (including the time he took off with a guest's Tiffany diamond ring.)
Shadow is an incredibly good dog who is sure to be your new best friend when you stay at The Jamaica Inn
You'll want to follow Shadow's lead in taking an early morning swim, but be sure to head back to your room to order-in breakfast. After all, it's the hotel’s super luxurious terraces and decks, which hang over the ocean or sit right on the beach – and come complete with cozy furniture for lounging and dining – that make this accommodation stand out. (That said, Jamaica Inn runs a turtle conservation program which is pretty noteworthy as well.)
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For special occasions book Room 21, an oasis within paradise, featuring a private pool, wraparound terrace and direct access to the ocean. With a policy of no TVs or radios in the rooms, every detail at Jamaica Inn is designed to offer up complete rest and relaxation.
If you're taking a five-star vacation, you'll want to add a few mind-blowing meals to your itinerary and Half Moon is a good place to start. The property boasts two award-winning, possibly Michelin Star-worthy, restaurants, which are only getting better thanks to friendly competition with each other.
Sugar Mill, which sits on the site of an old Sugar Plantation adjacent to the resort's golf course is overseen by Chef Chris Golding, who is so proud of his braised short ribs that when no one at the table orders them he brings out a round. And he's right, they're not to be missed.
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Then again, neither are the oxtail ravioli or the Solomon's brochette, a skewer of beef, pork, sausage, fish and lobster all doused in rum and set aflame at your table.
The cocktail options at Half Moon are spectacular
But before tucking into any of those specialties, start your evening at the bar where the rum cocktail menu is extensive – from classics like Pina Colada, Mai Tai and Dark and Stormy to their own signature concoctions, including the Estate Special, which pairs dark rum with mint, bitters and that iconic Jamaican soda, Ting.
Over at Half Moon's oceanside restaurant, Delmare, Italian ex-pat Chef Claudio Facchinetti mixes tastes of his homeland with Jamaican staples, putting the focus on fresh seafood. Anything featuring octopus on the menu is a must!
The food at Miss T's Kitchen in Ocho Rios is delicious! Is your mouth watering yet?
To experience the best of contemporary Jamaican dining, you'll want to find your way off the resort and head into Ocho Rios to see what a few of the country’s creative chefs are doing. Anna-Kay Tomlinson is whipping up island favourites like curried goat and jerk chicken at Miss T's Kitchen, but it's her oxtail stew – with meat melting off the bone – that truly is a revelation.
Summer House's Suzanne and Michelle Rousseau both attended Western University in London, Ontario
Bringing a sophisticated veg-forward philosophy to their country’s cuisine, Kingston-born and Canadian-educated sisters Suzanne and Michelle Rousseau are making waves at their new restaurant Summer House. With a focus on fresh summer salads and entrees that reveal a new twist on Jamaican ingredients – from a honeyed breadfruit to eggplant plantain parmesan to ackee pastas and souffles – the Rousseaus provide a culinary experience that is unexpected and delightful.
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Plus, the restaurant even boasts a clothing boutique, featuring unique and stylish finds from local designers, for a little post-meal retail therapy.
Relaxation is guaranteed at the Ocean Spa at Jamaica Inn. A whole array of treatments are delivered in their open-air cliffside huts and can be followed up by a lounge in their naturally healing saltwater sea bath.
Soma Yachts in Montego Bay is a truly luxurious escape on the water
No celebrity-inspired vacation is complete without a little time out on the water, and a quick call to Soma Yachts in Montego Bay gets that party started. With a professional crew catering to your every whim, you’ll find yourself on a private cruise enjoying bottomless mimosas and heaping plates of coconut shrimp.
If reggae is your thing, plan your visit during one of the island's music festivals, like Reggae Sumfest and Rum Fest. And follow that up with a couple nights of relaxation at the legendary Geejam Resort and Recording Studio in Port Antonio, where pop stars like Drake, Rihanna and Katy Perry have all come to work, play and pay homage to the island's musical history.