Jamaica’s Newest Luxury Hotel Is Filled With Eco-conscious Architecture, Local Art, and Over 65 Years of Half Moon History
In a recent meeting, Guy Steuart III was philosophical in describing his latest project. “We’re in the memory-making business,” he said. “Hotels can feel like suspended reality, but things happen there that are significant and enduring. That’s what we do at Half Moon.”
The chairman of the iconic resort development, just outside Montego Bay, sat down with Travel + Leisure to discuss the upcoming opening of Eclipse: a 57-room luxury property that officially welcomes guests starting March 1. This contemporary addition to Half Moon represents, in some ways, the next era for this Jamaican stalwart — but, Steuart stresses, Eclipse is true to its roots.
“My family have been the owners since Half Moon’s inception in 1954,” said Steuart. “I represent the third generation. When a resort has been operating for this long, with this reputation, things wear out and things evolve.” With Eclipse, Steuart hopes to offer a new experience that complements Half Moon’s existing properties: Founders Cove, the original old-school Caribbean accommodations built in the 1950s, and Rose Hall Villas, exclusive-use bungalows popular with families and large groups. Still, he said, “We have a lot of stories, so part of our initiative is to draw that out of our history.”
Eclipse has been in the works for years, but the first real change was made behind the scenes. “We opened a new back-of-house facility in October 2017,” Steuart told T+L. The top of the line facilities, he said, are essential for creating a good work environment for the staff who keep Half Moon running. “We have over 900 people, almost all Jamaican, working for us. We owe it to them. And we want to provide resources for the best and brightest in the industry.”
Over the course of several years, Steuart worked with the hotel group, Salamander Hotels & Resorts, and architecture and design firm Hart Howerton to envision what the next chapter for Half Moon should look like. 26 buildings were torn down, and 20 acres redeveloped. “Ultimately, we wanted to reimagine what hospitality looks like for the next 60 years,” he said, “and to be relevant to the next generation of travelers. To build something new, you can’t window dress what you had before. You really have to start from the bones.”
A main priority for Eclipse was giving guests a sense of space, and a connection to the dramatic Jamaican landscape around them — which, of course, requires no window dressing. “We designed Eclipse to accept the world as it was delivered to us,” said Steuart. “It’s not a dense development. Everything is linear and low slung, and it gives you a sense of the topography. The peaks of the roofs are symbolic of the mountains behind us, and you always have a clear view of the sea and the horizon beyond.”
Each of the 57 rooms and suites has a restrained, modern aesthetic, with muted sand-and-sea tones, clean-lined furniture, and a few standout pieces showcasing Jamaican craftsmanship. “We didn’t want to overpopulate with opulence,” Steuart told T+L. Instead, the team focused on the resort’s island heritage and the natural beauty of its setting. “All our doors and windows are made in Kingston by a local company. Everything we hang on our walls is done locally.” Steuart also donated archival family photographs that document the history of Half Moon. “I pulled them out of my closet,” he remembered. “There were over 500 Ektachrome slides taken by my grandmother, starting from her first trip to Jamaica.”
This sense of place is, of course, an increasing priority for today’s traveler, who tend to reject stodgy, white-gloved luxury in favor of experiences they see as authentic. For Steuart, celebrating the community around the resort is essential. “We have a rich history of artistry, music, and food in Jamaica,” he said, “and it would be silly not to embrace it.” Instead of opting for an all-inclusive model, management opted to encourage visitors to explore off property — and to welcome locals into the space. “If you live in Jamaica and want to dine at my restaurants, just make a reservation. If you want to golf, make a tee time.”
Guestrooms are divided between three areas. The focal point is the Great House, which also contains the lobby and has become a center of gravity for the broader Half Moon property. It opens up onto a saltwater infinity pool at the ocean’s edge, which plays host to Jamaican reggae, calypso, and live jazz. The Great House also houses nine rooms, the grandest of which is the 2,500-square-foot Ocean Suite — filled with original art by Montego Bay-born artist Jeffrey Samuels.
Local art is also featured prominently in the 32 Ocean Rooms, which occupy a set of cottages to the west of the Great House. “We sponsored a competition at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, in Kingston, on the theme of ‘vibrant Jamaica,’” Steuart explained. “We chose eight amazing pieces to design the rooms around.” There are also four Estate Homes, on the eastern side of the Eclipse property, which contain four rooms each and feature indoor-outdoor showers and wraparound porches with hammocks and views of the sea. “It’s like being in your own home,” said Steuart. “It’s luxurious, but contemporary and natural.”
The opening of Eclipse introduces many new restaurants and amenities to Half Moon, all of which are available to guests at the other properties next door. Delmare, a new Italian seafood restaurant, features a sweeping art piece mimicking scallop and mollusk shells, created by local ceramicist David Pinto. Steuart noted that there are mirrors running all around the walls, so that “no matter where you are sitting, the sea is always present.” There’s also a rum bar, Lester’s, named after the artist Michael Lester and centered around his joyful 16-foot-long mural, Junkanoo. The Polish émigré anglicized his last name to Lester after he arrived in Jamaica after World War II — and, Steuart points out, “he also changed his style of painting to reflect his new home.” The bar serves over 100 rums from Jamaica, the Caribbean, and Central America. Also new: a pool bar, a casual beach restaurant and waterside drinking hole, and a grab-and-go café. Guests also have access to Fern Tree, a luxurious wellness center from the Salamander Spa brand that features overwater treatment rooms.
Hayward’s, the new all-day restaurant, honors an especially fascinating slice of Half Moon’s 66 year history. Steuart loves the active grill at the center of the dining room, “where chefs will make jerk chicken or the catch of the day right in front of you.” But even more, he loves that the restaurant nods to Half Moon’s huge influence in Jamaica. It’s named after Lance Hayward, the blind Bermudian jazz pianist who was once part of the Half Moon house band — and whose first album was the first ever recording from iconic label Island Records. “Chris Blackwell, who started Island Records, had been our water sports instructor in the late 50s,” Steuart told T+L. “He found Lance through his cousin, who was the daughter of our original resort developer. One night, after too many rums, Chris decided to record them. He had never recorded before, but when he got enough money together, he took them to the studio and his world changed.” The name of that first album? “Lance Hayward at the Half Moon Hotel.”
But perhaps the most significant developments at Eclipse are those that aren’t meant to be noticed. “People now are much more conscientious of the impact they have on the destinations they visit,” noted Steuart, “so we need to be stewards.” Along with the new resort came many initiatives to restore and nurture the land — including an exhaustive beach rehabilitation project. The stretch of sand that now abuts Eclipse had been damaged by a development, in the early 2000s, which brought a dolphin enclosure to the resort. A wall built around the lagoon blocked the natural ocean currents, and after ten years, the beach was lost. “It became rocky and vegetated,” said Steuart, “so we opened up the wall, re-accommodated the natural currents, and brought in 10,000 cubic yards for sand from Bimini.” With the beach and foreshore stabilized, natural sand quickly started to take hold. “The beach always wanted to be there,” Steuart said, smiling.
The Eclipse property is also filled with native flora and fauna, including over 70 trees salvaged and replanted during construction. “We raise our own spices, herbs, and fruit,” explained Steuart. “Before construction, we tagged trees we wanted to save. Fig trees, fish poison trees, sea grapes, palms. We didn’t want to just impose structures on the environment.” The first thing visitors see as they pull up to the Great House is a massive guango tree, which has become somewhat of an icon at Half Moon. Also known as a 'rain tree,' the leaves of the guango fold into cups at night and during the rain, collecting water which they then drop onto the roots as the sun re-emerges.
“There’s a saying in Jamaica,” Steuart told me. “The grass grows greenest under the guango tree.”
To book: halfmoon.com/eclipse, doubles from $699