Jamaica’s Moon Palace for Dads and Daughters
A definitive daddy-daughter getaway in Jamaica
By Bruce Northam
Nearly universally, when experienced parents find out that you have a 13-year-old kid, they solemnly nod while forecasting your next five years of rough seas—and, double if you’re talking daughters.
Uh oh. One week prior to our landing in Jamaica, my daughter Bella (13) replied to my text inquiring about the name of her high school entrance exam tutor with “Why?” I replied, “That’s an interesting name,” and wondered if we’d stepped onto that dreaded adolescent battlefield.
Well, Jamaica was the perfect place to figure it out.
Nobody wants to be told what to do. That is, unless it’s “You can do whatever you want,” which put a smile on Bella’s face as she wandered away from an outdoor jerk-chicken hut toward a 24-hour ice cream parlor—two of a dozen culinary destinations at a swank resort called Moon Palace Jamaica.
Once the luxury-mode all-inclusive lifestyle dawned on us, traditional annoyances like chores, cleaning, danger, bargaining, and signing checks fell by the wayside and allowed our banters to be instantly tilted toward fun instead of rules.
This 17-acre otherworld isn’t just family-friendly, it’s human-friendly. Moon Palace has the longest stretch of private ivory-sand beach in Ocho Rios, but that’s certainly not the only water option.
The property boasts the only FlowRider Double wave simulator in Jamaica, neighboring swimming pools that double as artwork (two with swim-up bars), and a kiddie water park.
Off-site resort activities—more like on-water activities that are only steps away—include kayaking, paddle boarding, and scenic catamaran rides. Want to swim with dolphins? That experience is also 100 yards away. You won’t get bored here.
I didn’t tell Bella that the resort had unlimited long-distance calls to the U.S., but she figured out how to do it on her phone anyway. I did tell her about the 24-hour complimentary room service—no easy feat serving more than 700 rooms in three buildings—but she was already in a routine of hitting her culinary hotspots and chatting with the personnel.
Multiple dining destinations and six bars aside, there’s a gourmet corridor (hello sushi!), a groovy nightclub/disco (NOIR) and a signature AWE Spa, Jamaica’s largest.
A dozen Jamaican food vibes—from rustic to revelry.
Five sit-down restaurants await your arrival. Pier-8 was our first outdoor dining choice, where fresh-caught fish dominate an enticing menu while the staff is always available to shoot the breeze.
The next afternoon, Bella and I waltzed between a slice of gourmet pizza fetched on the sun deck to an indoor dessert display case that wasn’t far from the sushi bar.
From the meat options (Certified Angus Beef, fresh seafood, heavenly jerk chicken) to world-renowned pastry-chef (Antonio Bachour) inspired treats to mixologists on a mission to please, second place just doesn’t cut it here. And the laid-back Jamaican staff make it all look easy.
The Gondola Restaurant’s Italian cuisine glory was matched by direct views of a setting sun. The cappuccino al Pomodoro (soup) set the stage for a fantastical hour-long feast.
We decided to return for another sunset and enjoy more private conversations and caprese at this elegant but comfy restaurant.
When we were ready for a dining environment enhanced by meeting other guests, we hit the fabulous Momo Hibachi restaurant where family-style groups enjoy the mandatory humanity merge, all being witnesses to an ensemble of reggae-singing chefs that double as enterprising comedians.
Moon Palace Jamaica is quickly becoming one of the Caribbean’s top entertainment destinations with nightly world-class performances by live bands, steel-drum ensembles, and other artsy performances.
They also throw wild beach parties where families dance in the sand to classic dance hits and upbeat reggae tracks. The resort’s handsome stadium-sized lobby is also an entertainment venue, where a captivating crooner entertains nightly. Oh yeah, the game room is right next to an indoor pub with a live music stage.
I’ve always been a fan of escaping the USA summer in favor of the breezy Caribbean—call it an offseason offense. As we visited in August, there was no shortage of Jamaicans on vacation. Getting high on the low season at this endless-pleasure zone was made even more real by mingling with the vacationing local families.
Going off property
We did indeed stray from our creature-comfort estate a few times. Chukka at Good Hope boasts over 2,000 acres of lush plant life, primary jungle, scenic views and excursions such as Zipline Canopy (Bella went first), River kayaking/tubing, Dune Buggy or ATV, Challenge Course, Swimming Pool, and Adventure Falls.
The recently-launched terraced playground features a 300-foot waterslide (guess who went first) and six wading pools.
Another off-property foray took us to the fabled and nearby Dunn’s River Falls + Park, a natural waterfall that’s as beloved by Jamaicans as the Grand Canyon is by Americans. The mission was climbing the multi-level falls, which takes an hour and requires holding hands with the other members of your guided expedition.
Surrounded by lush, tropical plants and trees, Dunn’s River is one of the few rivers in the world that flows directly into the Caribbean Sea, and that’s where we returned to after climbing the falls to luckily find Bella’s lost flip-flop.
Later, we hit Yaaman Adventure Park, also located just outside Ocho Rios. Yaaman offers a number of adventurous tours to get travelers in touch with Jamaica’s great outdoors, wildlife and agriculture.
Transport modes included piloting a Segway and riding a camel. We also learned first-hand about Jamaica’s rich heritage through its diverse cuisine with the park’s Flavours of Jamaica Culinary Tour, which was set on the front porch of a royal plantation house overlooking the ocean.
The two-hour experience taught us how to prepare a traditional Jamaican meal with secret ingredients and techniques. We’ll be introducing jerk chicken at our next USA barbeque.
One of the highlights at Yaaman was the long-and-winding tractor ride to and from the plantation cooking class with a Broadway-actor-caliber driver/guide who made us laugh, wonder, and ponder the simplicity of Jamaican happiness.
One on One Time
Our father-daughter connection went beyond laughter-filled conversations enjoyed in seemingly endless idyllic venues. With so much one-on-one time to chat—she’s a great roommate, too—we experienced a revelation. Part of her summer homework previewing eighth grade was becoming more versed on current events, so we tackled several.
This getaway represented the turning of a page for this father and daughter. Inspired by Jamaica’s relaxed undercurrent, we returned to New York hip to what’s going on between us and out there in the world. More ice cream? Why not.
Who said leaving paradise had to be a bummer?
I asked our driver to the airport to play his favorite classic reggae CD and he dug for one by Dennis Brown, the Crown Prince of Reggae.
Was that Bella tapping her foot to something not by Shawn Mendes? At the airport, the Club MoBay Meet and Greet Bundle Service not only whisked us through immigration and customs—both coming and going—it also means lounge access.
The sprawling multi-room Montego Bay airport departure lounge is not attached to any airline and is a nice final dose of Jamaican charm. There, we breathed in another gorgeous Jamaican sunset and circled back to examining current events, like helping mom out back on the homefront.
If you can’t relax here, seek help! Young teens—and pretty much everyone else—can run free. No checks, no signatures, no reality, and 24-hour something for everyone.
Bruce Northam is the author of The Directions to Happiness, a 135-country quest for life lessons, and a Chicken Soup for the traveler — with balls. He lives in New York City. Bruce’s show, American Detour, reveals the travel writer’s journey. His alternative keynote presentation, Directions to Your Destination, reveals the many shades of the travel industry and how to entice travelers. His other live performance, Street Anthropology, is an ode to freestyle wandering. Visit AmericanDetour.com.