Accommodations offer an embarrassment of choice. Since so much of life at Tryall is lived out-of-doors, and since a three-shot par five is not everyone's idea of heaven, the size and orientation of the terrace should be a guiding factor when selecting a villa. Safety?The resort spends a reassuring half million dollars a year on security, including guards.
Rte. A1, Hanover Parish, Montego Bay; 800/742-0498 or 876/956-5660, fax 876/956-5673; two-bedroom villas $828 in high season; Great House suites from $500.
Founded in 1954 seven miles east of Montego Bay, Half Moon plays the size card—419 guest rooms, suites, and villas in Georgian-style buildings spread over 400 acres, with 52 swimming pools, six bars and restaurants, 13 tennis courts, and 86 full-time gardeners. Nearly 300 pounds of pineapple are consumed every day, and the workshops alone employ 10 people to produce the hotel's Queen Anne-style furniture and vividly patterned curtains, bedspreads, and cushions. The most elaborate of three wedding packages includes one set of La Perla lingerie, two bags of Blue Mountain coffee, and one aisle runner.
But not a single map of the property.
At least I never saw one during my 24 hours at Half Moon, and it sure would have been useful (apparently you have to ask). As the above numbers suggest, this is resort life on a potentially bewildering scale. A map is so crucial to understanding and enjoying the place, sending one out to guests should be a standard part of reservation procedure.
Of all the big-gun Jamaica hotels, Half Moon has the lowest style quotient. But it probably also delivers the best value for money. At $195 a night, my bottom-of-the-line "superior" had a chipped bathtub and twee heart-shaped cushions. But the sea view was so spectacular, Half Moon could ask $100 more for the room and not be accused of overcharging. A good diver could use the terrace as a springboard into the Caribbean.
The resort is big on kids, offering activities that are the opposite of run-of-the-mill, such as tree planting, reggae dancing, and classes in Jamaican patois. These distractions free up parents for golf, which is pursued almost as seriously as at Tryall. Molded from foothills, long on both bunkering and beauty, Half Moon's 18-hole, 7,119-yard championship course was designed in 1961 by Robert Trent Jones Sr. Beginners set on becoming middle-handicappers are in good hands at the hotel's David Leadbetter Golf Academy. Leadbetter "rebuilt" Nick Faldo's legendary swing and has sharpened the games of pros Ernie Els and Greg Norman.
Half Moon also rebuilds self-esteem. Pulling under the porte-cochere, which is only slightly less grand than the White House's, is a pure act of ego-fluffing.
Rose Hall, Montego Bay; 800/626-0592 or 876/953-2211, fax 876/953-2731; doubles from $195.
Peter Morrow, whose Jamaica Inn is cast in his own determinedly preppy image, estimates that last season the hotel "turned off" 20 to 30 percent of its potential clientele with a dusty bylaw requiring that men wear a jacket and tie at dinner. This season, amid the grumblings of 30-time repeat customers who still love cha-cha-ing (and sweating) under the stars in tuxedos, the regulation has been relaxed. Ties are now optional.
"Imagine you're one of those wired Young Turks who put on a suit every day to go down to Wall Street," reasons Morrow. "Is buttoning your top button any part of your picture of a winter vacation in the sun?The answer is no. After a hotel in Antigua retired its tie policy last year, we were the last place in the Caribbean with one on its books. Our five-piece dance band is so bad it's good, if you know what I mean, but I wouldn't think of getting rid of it because we've had one for forty years. Still, I've got to bring the hotel forward."
Not too forward and not too fast, the core constituency of old-timers pray, worrying about the butter curls on their crustless white toast and bacon bits in their salads. Situated 70 miles east of Montego Bay in Ocho Rios, Jamaica Inn is fronted by a private, 700-foot beach dusted with silky sand, the diamond in the hotel's tiara. The beach is enclosed by rocky spits that rustle with vegetation and conjure the marvelously exclusive feeling of an enclave. Donning red jackets with gold braid, smiling waiters—some with 25 years of service at the resort—appear under the punishing noonday sun to tempt guests lounging beneath thatched umbrellas with—peanuts! In a deliciously retro gesture, the salty snack is doled out with a lemonade spoon from linen-lined silver dishes. Eat up, because at dinner the kitchen may try to pass off Sea Legs as crabmeat.
Of the 42 guest rooms, 3 suites, and one cottage, "premier" accommodations are the way to go. They have fully furnished living areas that are bigger than a Manhattan studio and completely open on one long side to the sea or beach. In the beach wing, only chunky, whitewashed balustrades stand between the sand and these charming, highly civilized, stage set-like verandas, appointed with terrazzo tiles, mahogany writing tables, and wing chairs and sofas. Fabrics are in the tonic Lilly Pulitzer taste.
Morrow has a tough row to hoe. On the one hand, by changing the dress code, he is openly courting the frisky MTV generation that throngs Negril up the coast. On the other hand, the last thing he wants is to alienate the croquet crowd. It's too early in the season to tell, but Morrow is convinced that both groups can find happiness at Jamaica Inn.
Main Street-Old Road, Ocho Rios; 800/837-4608 or 876/974-2514, fax 876/974-2449; doubles from $525 in high season.