TRAVEL; This sporting life

At the Half Moon Club in Jamaica there are no half measures. It's only value for money if you play sport till you drop. Peter Corrigan reports
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The Independent Culture
BY CHANCE, I had chosen an unusual day to leave the golf course unmolested while I lolled on a lounger under a beachside palm tree. It didn't seem unusual at first; idyllic would have been a more appropriate word. A deep blue sky presided over a faultless 84 degrees as I lay with one foot on the lounger and the other dangling in the Caribbean. One eye dreamily surveyed the delicious sweep of Jamaica's Half Moon Bay while the other kept vigil for the waiter; a banana daquiri seems to last no time in that heat.

Slowly, there came into earshot the sound of calypso. I was silently commending the management for their attention to detail when the music took shape in the unmistakable strains of "Here Comes the Bride".

I glanced over my shoulder and, sure enough, here came the bride. A picture of coy Japanese beauty in her flowing white wedding dress, her dainty feet doing their best to glide gracefully while endeavouring to keep up with the brisk step of the calypso musicians who preceded her. The groom scuttled beside her, sweating resplendently in a starched white wing-collar and oversize cream-coloured suit of tails.

A few paces behind came a man wearing the insignia of the Jamaican Salvation Army who was to officiate, a waiter and waitress commandeered as witnesses, and the official photographer and video cameraman. The party made its way through the restaurant, past the bar, alongside the beach and to a causeway that stretches 40 yards out to sea and has at its furthest point a pretty gazebo, in the shade of which the party assembled for the service.

The mutterings that followed did not carry across the shimmering water separating the ceremony from the beach's pampered occupants, of whom I seemed to be the only one remotely interested. How much of it was actual knot-tying, how much posing for the video man and how much the happy couple understood was difficult to tell, but eventually the wedding party proceeded back along the causeway while serenaded by the calyspo band's version of "When the Saints Go Marching In".

They returned to the bar and dining area where the necessary documents were signed and the newly-weds adjourned to a top table immaculately set and containing a three-tiered wedding cake and champagne on ice. They cut the cake and toasted each other as the video captured the moment, with the Caribbean at their backs and the air filled with "She Wears My Ring".

If you are wondering how I preserved my powers of observation under a generous flow of banana daquiri, you ought to know that I had the benefit of witnessing four such weddings from my semi-recumbent position. Indeed, more than 200 Japanese couples were married last year at the exclusive Half Moon Club, whose reputation obviously resounds through the land of rising sons and daughters.

The enthusiasm of couples to travel to the opposite side of the world to get married is by no means confined to the Japanese. But what makes their journey more remarkable is that the wedding and the trappings are typically Western. Perhaps it is the all-in package that appeals; all you need take is the bride, or the groom as the case may be, and they provide the rest. There's even a resident solicitor at the Half Moon in case it doesn't work out.

The wedding deal is just one of many specialised plans offered by holiday complexes like the Half Moon. I was on one called the Imperial Plan and the marriage boom distracted me from exploiting all its benefits; free and unlimited booze being one of them.

It is a dubious notion, largely circulated by the insufferably hearty, that a holiday has to involve a significant amount of discomfort before it can properly be described as challenging. Neither does it follow that the true fulfilment of travelling is available only to those labouring under a back-pack or sitting astride a lumbering beast.

All-inclusive plans reveal a willingness steadily spreading among holiday providers to offer a challenge that carries no inconvenience whatsoever, is faced in luxury surroundings and can be answered triumphantly if you throw yourself into the pursuit of enjoyment with all the gusto that others put into scampering around inhospitable places.

Furthermore, not only can you return glowing with well-being and swollen with achievement, you might also have scored a financial victory over your hosts. All-in plans offer the intriguing prospect of a holiday that encourages you to exercise everything except restraint. You don't have to be energetic but when every scrap of activity - from eating to drinking, from tennis to golf, from squash to scuba-diving and from aerobics to a massage - is on the house, the incentive is to get the most out of your break.

When you pay the extra for an all-inclusive holiday, the "all" depends totally on your capacity to make the most of what's on offer. The first trick is to ensure that there is enough on offer. For many, the promise of unlimited alcoholic beverage will be a strong lure, but serious drinkers would be sadly handicapped to find one of those establishments that provides only wine, beer and an insipid sangria or punch under the inclusive banner.

As the all-inclusive concept, which originated in the Caribbean, spreads more widely into European package-tour business, it is becoming steadily more sensitive to the consumer. To receive the full benefit, however, you still need to go to its birthplace and it helps to have your whims allied closely to a specific activity.

Sport will do nicely. I am particularly keen on sporting holidays that take place on one site. Sun City in South Africa is probably the ultimate in extravagant design. The Boca Raton Resort and Club in Florida's Palm Beach County has a similarly eccentric flavour, but superb facilities for every manner of sporting action.

The Half Moon is nowhere near as ornate but it's spread elegantly over 400 acres and can do more name-dropping than most. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were among last year's visitors and probably still the most fetching of the beachside villas is the one where Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon had their honeymoon early in the 40-year life of the complex.

The Half Moon is not cheap. My party was accommodated in one of the palatial six-bedroomed Royal Villas. It cost $12,600 per week at the height of the season and comes complete with cook, butler and maid. There's more reasonable accommodation to be had. I went with Elegant Resorts, who have a range of packages. If you want to brave the heat of May and June you can get two weeks for the price of one.

What is more important is the plan you select. The golf plan, for instance, will give you unlimited access to their Trent Jones course. I found it in super condition and very enjoyable. Clubs, caddies and lessons are included, plus tennis and squash and literally as much food and drink as you can take. Similar plans cover a concentration of sports, water activities or general fitness.

The more ambitious, not to say more challenging, Imperial Plan cost $200 a day but covers more than a person of normal appetites needs. A daily game of golf and/or tennis or any water sports, three brilliant meals and an endless generosity of drink will be guaranteed to send you to bed not only replete but quids in.

You can get the plan that suits you, happy in the knowledge that you've paid up front and there are no hidden extras. This may be how all holidays will end up. They've probably already written the slogan for the ultimate package: "Give your mourners a break; have your funeral in the Caribbean". !

TRAVEL NOTES

THE HALF MOON CLUB: Peter Corrigan travelled with Elegant Resorts. Seven nights in a superior double room costs from pounds 925 per person, including return flights with British Airways and private car transfers. Half board is an extra pounds 42 per person per day. Also available are Platinum and Imperial Plan supplements. Platinum costs an extra pounds 84 per person per day and includes all meals, drinks and activities; Imperial, for an extra pounds 130 per person per day, includes all of the above as well as unlimited wine and house champagne.

ROYAL VILLAS: Three-bedroom villas with private pool cost from pounds 4,190 per week, without flights but including a staff of three. Elegant Resorts brochures and reservations from The Old Palace, Chester CH1 1RB (01244 897 999).

GETTING THERE: The fare on direct flights from Gatwick to Montego Bay with British Airways (0345 222111) is pounds 696 in April and May if purchased 21 day in advance. Flights depart Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

FOREIGN OFFICE ADVICE: Because of recent civil disturbances and a rise in street crime in Jamaica, the Travel Advice Bureau urges vigilance outside the safety of tourist hotels. Do not carry valuables, large amounts of cash or travel documents unless unavoidable; do not walk at night-time and avoid downtown Kingston unless absolutely necessary. Avoid public transport.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Jamaica Tourist Board, 1-2 Prince Consort Road, London SW7 2BZ (0171 224 0551).

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