Jamaica's Moon Palace Is the Perfect Family Getaway for Beaches, Pools, and All-Inclusive Dining

Jamaica Epic Stays
by Nickolaus Hines May 22, 2024

My wife was seven months pregnant with our first daughter the first time I went to Jamaica. That trip, I was focused on Kingston, but made a quick day trip to Ocho Rios to eat, see the town, and experience Dunn River Falls. I’d already fallen for the charms and lively atmosphere of Kingston. But on the drive back from Ocho Rios, my guide and I couldn’t stop talking about how on the next trip I needed to take my wife and newborn. Nature, beach, and a generally family-friendly atmosphere beckoned.

In April I returned, this time with my wife, Heather, and soon to be year-and-a-half year old, Margot. We’re typically the type to stay at minimalist accommodations — something our daughter was already accustomed to with stays in studio Airbnbs in Tokyo, agriturismos in Tuscany, and a vineyard barn in California. For this eight day trip, we went the other direction.

Photo: Nickolaus Hines

We based ourselves at Moon Palace, a 700-plus room, Four Diamond resort. The Ocho Rios property is all-inclusive and family-friendly (kids under 17 stay free) with a private beach, pools wrapping around one side of the property, numerous dining options, and a children’s splash pad and pool — and that’s just the start. Importantly, it’s also close enough to town to hear the music and walk from the resort gates to the heart of Ocho Rios.

All included here does pretty much cover everything. That goes for the restaurants (both casual and nicer affairs), the bars (including premium spirits, though not higher-end wines), and the entertainment (from magic shows to karaoke to Michael Jackson theme nights). Also included are non-motorized water sports like kayaking, paddleboarding, and the FlowRide wave simulator that lets you surf or boogieboard despite the calm waves that lap the beach.

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The rooms at Moon Palace Jamaica

Our view from our room’s balcony. Photo: Nickolaus Hines

Views abound at Moon Palace, and the view from the rooms are no exception. We stayed in an ocean view room with a small balcony that showcased the bay on one side and the town on the other. Resort-facing rooms come at a lower cost, while rates rise for larger rooms that can accommodate four people. Honeymoon suites, suites with a private patio and jacuzzi, and the Governor Suite are all on the higher end. Family suites with two connecting rooms can hold up to six guests, as can the two-room Presidential Suite.

All come with a minibar that’s refilled with beer, juice, and water daily, as well as a coffeemaker, TV, and other creature comforts one would expect from a resort. The family suite also comes with kid robes and slippers along with a beach toys kit and L’Oreal bath kit.

Prices start at about $300 per night with a four-night minimum for the smaller rooms, depending on the season, and go up from there.

Dining at Moon Palace Jamaica

After our flight, two things topped our list of what we needed to do first: grab a drink and get something to eat. We downloaded the Moon Palace app immediately after check-in and started scrolling through the dining options and zooming in on parts of the map.

The app keeps things simple and seamless. In addition to serving as a guide and central hub for the hours of each bar, restaurant, and activity, it’s where guests can order 24-hour room service and make reservations.

We beelined straight to Pier 8, a beachside seafood and steak restaurant by night, for daiquiris and a flavorful fish dinner (and some fish sticks for Margot). The meal set the tone for what dining would look like throughout the week: some stand-out dishes (particularly the ones that lean on more traditional Jamaican flavors and cooking), some crowd pleasers that hit every flavor a kid could ask for, and some misses. All-inclusive resorts aren’t typically known for the quality of food, but with so many options to choose from at Moon Palace, it’s hard to go hungry.

The highlight is Momo, a pan-Asian restaurant with sushi, noodle and rice dishes, and teppanyaki with chefs quick to joke and entertain as they grill fried rice, shrimp, chicken, steak, and veggies on a flattop (note that teppanyaki requires reservations that are easy to make on the app). The raw options are beautifully presented, and the drinks list has higher-end wines for a price and a load of sake and other beverages that are included.

Moon Palace’s other higher end restaurant, the Italian spot Gondola, emphasizes classic pasta dishes. Or opt for Mediterranean-style pizza and pasta dining al fresco on a little pier at Sundeck — best enjoyed at sunset or under the stars if you can snag a table.

Pier 8. Photo:

Breakfast in the room is tempting, and we started our days with fresh fruit platters, fried plantains, and banana milkshakes. But it’s worth venturing down to Pier 8 for the first meal of the day. There, you’ll find a well-executed traditional Jamaican breakfast with rundown (a rich stewed fish), boiled green bananas, ackee and salt fish (Jamaica’s national dish), and callaloo (a savory stew of greens).

In the afternoons, a casual snack bar and grill near the pools serves up hot dogs and burgers, while Buccaneers Reef buffet opens the door to more options in a casual setting with fish, desserts, and dishes from India, Italy, and more. The true winner, however, is again the spot that focuses on Jamaican classics: Jerk Hut, which serves jerk chicken, jerk pork, and festival (sweet fried dough). The smell of the grill is enticing in the hours leading up to when service starts, and the hot sauce delightfully doesn’t hold back on Scotch bonnet pepper spice. The spot puts tables with white tablecloths out in the sand for dinner and flips on the string lights as well for later dining.

In the main building, other quick options abound: a casual sushi restaurant sits next to another pizza place, while Boulangerie across the way has ice cream, macaroons, and a full espresso bar. Parents of young children shouldn’t be deterred from the line that starts to form after dinner — the sweets are a hit, of course, but this is also where guests can pick up some milk for the little ones. Depending on the length of your stay, you can grab a whole carton to skip the trips up and down.

One thing to keep in mind regardless of where you eat is that this is Jamaica, and island time is a very real thing. The staff is attentive, but be prepared to take your time with everything.

Bars at Moon Palace Jamaica

Just because Moon Palace is family first doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of places to get a drink — from a casual beer or frozen drink from the multiple poolside bars, to an upscale piano bar and lobby bar, to one of the clubs.

Adults can get away at Piano Bar, which specializes in martinis in an intimate setting, or Noir, a club with a DJ that keeps things going into the later hours. Sports and spirits are always on at Loud Bar.

We found ourselves returning to the Lobby Bar the most. The light-filled bar is the first thing that greets guests as they enter the resort with inside seating as well as an outdoor area that looks over the beach. One afternoon as Heather and Margot napped, the bartender, Oshane, took me through a mini rum tasting at Lobby Bar. Big names like Appleton Estate and Bacardi top the bar, along with well-loved Jamaican brands like Plantation, Wray & Nephew, and Kingston 62. There’s even Worthy Park, a high-end Jamaican rum that pulls in smoky notes. Other Caribbean rums are there for the tasting as well to compare and contrast, as well as a full line of other spirits and Red Stripe on tap — all included. You’ll see plenty of people ordering a Bob Marley cocktail, but a better route is to tell the bartenders the flavors you like and let them take the lead.

Sabrina taking one of her many walks with Margot, hand-in-hand. Photo: Nickolaus Hines

Other than the club and piano bar, the bars are just as welcoming for families as the other parts of the resort.

We made a habit of getting a pre-dinner cocktail every night at Lobby Bar. One of the cocktail waitresses, Sabrina, made quick friends with Margot and would walk with her hand-in-hand from one side to the other. Margot is quick to win people over everywhere she goes, but we’ve never been to place so ready to genuinely embrace her and call to her by name as she passes day after day.

Things to do at Moon Palace Jamaica

Few countries are as known for music as Jamaica. It’s fitting, then, than live music fills most parts of Moon Palace day and night.

For months, we’d been trying to get our late-walking toddler on her legs. Turns out all that was needed was a bit of live steel drums. Margot took her first steps in the Lobby Bar, entranced enough by a musician in one corner to stand up, walk over, and start swaying with the music on one of our first nights. Each subsequent night, we would walk inside and out, stopping at the various musicians playing around the property. Inevitably, Margot would stop to turn any space into a mini dance floor and other toddlers would join, causing mini traffic jams of guests and workers.

Kids four through 12 can get away from parents in the supervised playroom with crafts and a jungle gym, while teens can get out of the sun at the arcade-filled Wired Lounge.

By day, water takes center stage. A kids splash pad and sand box sits next to a water slide on one side of the resort, while pools big and small stretch to the other side. The beach has soft, clean sand and a cordoned-off swimming area where the sea never gets deeper than about chest level. Another smaller beach with kayaks and paddleboards fronts the kids area next to the wave simulator and marina where scheduled catamaran cruises depart.

I tried my best to time my ocean swims with the rhythm of food. It’s hard to imagine a more satisfying post-swim meal than walking out of the water and straight to spicy jerk chicken and a Red Stripe.

Awe Spa treatments aren’t included in the all-inclusive rate, but are worth seeking out for anyone who wants to be pampered. Awe Spa is the largest spa on the island, and a spa credit comes with booking depending on the room level you choose. Wood therapy, traditional massages and spa services, facials, and hydrotherapy are all available at Awe Spa.

Things to do in Ocho Rios

Ben’s Jerk, a short walk away from Moon Palace. Photo: Nickolaus Hines

There’s plenty of entertainment and dining to be found at Moon Palace. That said, one of the biggest selling points for me was it’s proximity to the town. From the gate, it’s a short walk to either the more touristed side of Ocho Rios where you’ll find shops and outfitters that cater to the cruise crowd, or to the more local side of town where you’ll find a vibrant market.

We went left to the latter on our first full day. There are plenty of locals willing to show you around for a small price, but it’s easy enough to navigate on your own. Stop for a coconut and sweet chopped sugarcane at one of the rasta stalls, and pick up spices from one of the many vendors who bag it for you and provide some tips on how to use them (don’t forget this helpful tip for keeping your spices fresh until you get home).

Turn right and you’ll pass a number of restaurants and shops before reaching Island Village, which is filled with tour operators, a Jamaican chocolate shop where you can take a chocolate-making class, the Jacana dispensary selling cannabis and mushrooms and farm tours, and more.

Excursions to other parts of the island can be booked right from the hotel. To name a few, there is snorkeling as well as scuba diving and certifications at the marina, and private charter sports fishing boats and sunset catamarans that depart from the property. Busses to famous attractions like Dunn’s River Falls, where you can hike the falls down to the beach and go ziplining, depart daily.

Getting to Moon Palace Jamaica

A new direct flight from Florida to Ocho Rios is the fastest way to reach the property. Moon Palace also offers free bus transfers from the island’s larger airports in Montego Bay and Kingston.

Timing for bus arrivals and departures are handled by the resort. We had a slight scare as we left when our bus broke down on the way back to Montego Bay, but the worry ended up being wasted as the resort quickly arranged another to come and pick us up and get us to the airport with enough time.

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