"Where's the most romantic spot on the resort?" I asked a lot of people this question: former guests, current guests and many of the staff at Half Moon in Montego Bay. It had been a long time since my husband and I were able to escape. But the babysitting stars had aligned. We had five days – just enough time to jet off to Jamaica. Half Moon promised us luxury, and lots of ways to reconnect without leaving the resort.
"Take a long walk. The coastline goes on forever."
Giddy with new-found freedom – our only commitment was a dinner reservation – we took our time strolling the resort's three kilometres of shoreline. We found the best shells on the quieter Sunrise Beach, eels and sea urchins in the eddies and, surprisingly, a giant chessboard at the water's edge. We never have time to play chess any more, but Jamaica was working its magic. I lost, twice, but the scenery took out the sting. Who says chess isn't sexy?
"Watch the ocean from the waterfront gazebos."
We'd heard that the best place to see the sunset was in Negril at the westernmost part of the island. But joining a tour group would kill our coupledom, and driving a rental car in unfamiliar territory (on the left side of the road no less) was an argument in the making. So we took our tequila sunset cocktails to the beach jetty instead. The white gazebo juts far enough into the ocean that all you hear is the pounding surf, letting you get lost in the changing sky. We felt like we had the sunset, and the ocean, to ourselves.
"Have dinner under the waterwheel at the Sugar Mill."
It's a lovely spot, all right, a private table under the stars, lit by candelabra and moonlight, set up in a restored corner on an old sugar mill. It's about 50 steps from the restaurant (the classiest one at the resort), but the $200 (U.S.) premium just to be seated there put it out of our range. Our favourite spot was the Seagrape Terrace where the tables are steps from the ocean. At night, the trees are wrapped in white lights, the frogs are serenading, insects are chirping, and cruise ships are lit up like Christmas trees out in the black ocean. I'm falling in love all over again.
"Try the spa."
This is not just any resort spa. This is a Rock Resorts Fern Tree oasis. Literally. The spa is a world unto its own in the middle of Half Moon. There's a breathtaking outdoor soaking pool shrouded in palm greenery with a waterfall design that lets you canoodle at three different heights – unless, of course, your man disappears into the sauna. I opt for a bigger pool and a decadent chaise longue, perfect for soaking up the sun and listening to yet another waterfall. Treatments here are plentiful and creative, using local ingredients like Blue Mountain coffee, coconut and rum. Best of all, when you book a treatment, you can use the relaxing rooms, dry and wet saunas and secluded pools for the rest of your stay at the resort.
"Spend the day at the beach."
We borrowed a double kayak at Sunset Beach but co-ordinating it through ocean swells threatened to overturn our laid-back vibe. We traded it for singles – plying the waves this time was a lot more fun. We raced about, crashed and rode the waves into shore and out again, and played like the kids we were when we first met. At day's end, we took a chilled bottle of Champagne to the shore and toasted ourselves with our feet in the ocean.
To set and keep the mood, take advantage of luxury airport lounges. WestJet's Plaza Premium Lounge lets you forget the indignity of security screening. Less than $30 gets you its hushed confines in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Quebec City. A hot breakfast, a great view of the sun rise over the tarmac and comfy chairs to snooze in was a sanity saving start to our trip.
On the way home, we hung on to our vacation mindset a little longer inside Club MoBay at Donald Sangster International. A ticket to this 10,000-square-foot private lounge took us to the front of the security line – worth the $30 (U.S.) cost alone. Inside, the first thing I hear is a cocktail shaker at the massive bar and it (almost) feels like we never left the resort. Food and drinks, including cocktails, are included, there's also a business centre, showers and a play centre for children. (A mini onsite spa arranges massages for a fee.)
Since the realities of home are fast approaching, I send a Club MoBay runner to elbow his way through the duty-free lineup for me. Meanwhile, I have one last pina colada at the lounge bar in peace.
FOR THE REAL HOT STUFF (A GOOD JERK)
We had to make one foray off the resort – for real Jamaican jerk. Turns out it's hard to find in hotel restaurants, as most guests can't handle the heat. Scotchies, a roadside jerk stand, is just a five-minute drive west from Half Moon. (If you're coming from downtown Montego Bay, it's about 10 minutes east on Falmouth Road.) Seasoned pork, chicken and fish are slow cooked in a fire pit over green pimento wood and covered with sheets of corrugated metal that seals in the flavour. Mouth-cooling sides run from deep-fried festival bread, roasted breadfruit and yams to bammy (Jamaican flatbread). Get some to go (on your way back to the airport) or enjoy it in the rustic bar behind the grill area. Jerk tastes better when you're sitting on an overturned beer keg anyway. Quarter chicken with festival bread is about $4 (U.S.).