According to census information from 2009, 830,000 of the five million people residing in the UAE are between the ages of 25 and 29, and 800,000 are between 30 and 34, meaning more than 30 per cent of the population is at the age when people most commonly get hitched. No wonder weddings are such big business – The Bride Show brought in 20,980 visitors this March, and the Modern Bride Exhibition will attract brides-to-be to Dubai Ladies Club on October 30. Many of you are now planning beach, garden and high-class hotel weddings here before the summer hits again. Stressed? Don’t be. Read our guide.
Before every wedding comes the engagement. This part is really up to the individual, of course, but if you’re planning to stay in Dubai for the big event and need a restaurant that guarantees romance, try Pierchic, a seafood venue perched on a pier at Al Qasr (04 366 6730). Another quirkier option would be to pop the question mid-skydive. It’ll cost you Dhs1,700 for a tandem jump (Skydive Dubai, Al Sufouh Road, 050 153 3222), but yes, some dude will have to be strapped onto your fiancé during the special moment.
On a budget? You don’t need branded jewellers. A one-carat round brilliant cut diamond ring in Tiffany & Co will cost you between Dhs65,000 and Dhs120,000 (The Dubai Mall, 04 339 8350), whereas a similar ring at Cara in the Gold and Diamond Park costs between Dhs10,000 and Dhs60,000 (Sheikh Zayed Road, 04 347 8089). Sure, some expat forums feature tales of negative experiences when buying from the park, but for every one that’s negative there are 10 positive reports.
Order quirky designs such as the unusual invites by Voh Handmade at www.etsy.com – they have some beautiful options that ship to the UAE, and you’re looking at about Dhs7 per invite (not including the envelopes). The nicest shop in Dubai for invites is The Paper Room at The Dubai Mall – the service there is great, it’s a one-stop shop, and they even sell a Vera Wang range (04 330 0780).
The hen and stag dos
Options are endless, but an unforgettable start to either a hen or stag party is a boat charter. A low-key do will be more expensive: a yacht that fits 12 passengers costs Dhs2,150 per hour (Dhs180 per person). But if you can wrangle more mates, the 64ft catamaran with a capacity of 40 people will cost you only Dhs3,400 – a measly Dhs85 each per hour (www.bristol-charter.com).
Another daytime revelry option is karting at Dubai Autodrome (04 367 8700 ext 322): you’ll pay Dhs310 per person for 90 minutes of karting. You’ll need to book in advance and have a minimum of 10 people.
Or, for a more subdued (and admittedly girly) option, try at-home manicures: Dhs140 per person for a mani/pedi plus a Dhs20-Dhs70 transportation fee (04 282 8385). Then, as night falls, hire a private section of the Rooftop at the One&Only Royal Mirage, which will cost up to Dhs200 per person for up to 40 people (04 399 9999); or try crooning karaoke tunes in the surprisingly rowdy private room at China Sea in Deira: you’ll pay Dhs700 with dinner for eight people (04 295 9816).
We did a spot of mystery shopping – here’s what we discovered. Note: make sure to book an appointment before you visit these stores. Frost This super-smart, expensive boutique stocks designer labels including Monique Lhuillier and Carolina Herrera. However, on our visit the disinterested staff told us there were only two dresses in our size (12) – both huge pouffy numbers. However, our own five-second hunt revealed three more dresses in our size and style. When dresses are expensive, we expect service that makes the purchase worth it.
Palm Strip Mall, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 345 5690).
Pronovias: This Spanish range is all lace and drama, although there are also more subtle options. The service in the Dubai Mall branch is erratic, and we had an odd experience: the staff stared at us blankly when we arrived for our booked appointment, before leaving us on our own to figure out the whole fitting.
The Dubai Mall (04 339 8770).
The Wedding Shop: This tucked-away store in Jumeirah stocks half a dozen labels, including Spanish brands White One and Atelier Diagonal, and Canadian brand Paloma Blanca. There was only one assistant on hand in the store during our visit, but she was incredibly helpful, trawling the store to find something in our preferred style. While most of the dresses were a little meringue-like for our taste, we found one or two gorgeous pieces, although they were around the Dhs10,000 mark and crafted from man-made fibres – that just doesn’t seem right.
Jumeirah Centre (04 344 1618).
The Bridal Room: Despite being the smallest store we visited, this turned out to be the best. The attendant was really helpful and a dab hand with the corsets, and we also met the tailor, a lovely lady called Anne Rashid. She was very professional and seemed to understand our taste – she offered to make us a bespoke dress using the loveliest materials for half the price of the off-the-rack polyester numbers. Unbeatable.
Jumeirah Plaza (04 344 6076).
Another great option for dresses is Bridal Boudoir, run by Chee Smith. Aware that not everyone can afford designer brands, Chee has collected beautiful dresses by Vera Wang, Monique Lhuillier, Jenny Packham and more, and is offering them for rent. She currently has 12 dresses in sizes six to 14, but she acquires more every month. Dresses cost Dhs5,000 to hire for two to three days, and you’ll need to put down a Dhs5,000 deposit in case there’s any irreparable damage.
For bridal hair, shop around some of the city’s better salons and have trials with the stylists – you don’t want this to go wrong on the day. We recommend Pastels in Jumeirah (04 394 7393), which offers a bridal hair package for Dhs1,000. Expensive, yes, but during the trial run they’ll try as many styles as you want until you’re entirely happy. Then, on the day, just pop into the salon to have it recreated.
A reliable and friendly choice is Sunflower Florists, based on Sheikh Zayed Road (04 331 7477), which offers a tailor-made service and charges from Dhs300 for a bridal bouquet. Another option with great service is Shakespeare & Co (04 329 1040), which has various outlets across the city. Some of the bouquets are alarmingly ornate, but the florists are happy to work with your ideas and are great for quirky colour themes. Bridal bouquets also start from about Dhs300.
Most of the cakes used for the traditional cutting ceremony are fake and are provided by the hotels. However, Gourmandise Al Wasl Road (04 345 5455) specialises in any kind of design for the eating part. It offers cupcakes from Dhs15 each to cakes for the tables for Dhs200 and up. Another good bet is House of Cakes, based in Jumeirah Lakes Towers (www.houseofcakesdubai.com), which offers quirky designs from Dhs400 to Dhs3,750.
The make up
To avoid looking like a cabaret act on your big day, try Bobbi Brown (04 330 8151), a brand known for gorgeous neutrals. You have to go into the Dubai Mall branch on the day, but they’ll make sure you feel special. Either choose a 45-minute party make-up session for Dhs250 (good for bridesmaids), or get a bridal make-up session for Dhs1,500, which includes a 40-minute trial and one make-up session on the day, which takes around an hour.
If you’re after some creative, non-cheesy wedding shots and nice use of natural light, Ugly Duckling Photography, run by two British women, is a good bet. Packages start at Dhs7,000 for two professional
(all-female) photographers covering the whole day; chuck an extra Dhs3,000 into the pot and you’ll get a videographer as well (www.uglyducklingphotography.com). We also like the style of Aussie photographer Darrin James, who comes very highly recommended by everyone who’s dealt with him. Packages start at Dhs9,500 for two of the company’s photographers for the day. However, if you want the man himself there, plus a stylist, another photographer and an assistant, you’ll need to fork out Dhs28,000 (www.jamesweddings.com).
Get a suit tailored – in Dubai, you have the resources at your fingertips. Royal Fashions at The Dubai Mall and Bur Dubai (www.royalfashion.biz) and Parmar Tailors in Bur Dubai (www.parmartailors.com) are both reliable, yet ever-so-slightly more expensive options. You’re looking at about Dhs2,000 to get a suit made from high-end material at either of these spots. Not bad, we say.
Many people marrying in Dubai choose to have a low-key legal ceremony and then have their ‘blessing’ in the same area as their reception. All Dubai hotels offer wedding packages, with planners and most details included. Recommended hotels are the Park Hyatt (04 602 1234), which provides a peaceful backdrop and feels very private; the Ritz-Carlton (04 399 4000) for its extensive grounds, lovely beach and the fact that outdoor music can continue late into the night; and the Jebel Ali Golf Resort (04 814 5555) because it feels far out and has many areas for your ceremony, from the beach to the gardens of Palm Court.
While we’ve always harboured dreams of zipping round a store randomly zapping the items we want on our gift registry, the reality in Dubai is that many of us transients don’t want to acquire piles of stuff. Our favourite idea is the honeymoon registry – let other people pay for your few weeks of bliss. Try www.honeyfund.com, one of the few free honeymoon registry services (although this means you’ll have to navigate a lot of ads).
If you’re after a luxury break, it’s well worth booking a package deal. Get over the stigma that package travel is tacky, because you could save up to 40 per cent on a good deal. Try locally based Dnata Holidays
(www.dnataholidays.com) – its deals aren’t the cheapest out there, but its high-end reputation means you’re guaranteed not to land in a cockroach-infested hole. An excellent international option is
www.luxurylink.com, a travel auction website, where you’ll find discounts of up to 80 per cent. We have our eye on a luxury package stay at the Viceroy Bali, which includes five nights in a villa with a private pool, round-trip transfers, welcome drinks, breakfast every morning, a six-course degustation dinner one evening, a 120-minute couple’s spa treatment and a private shuttle service any time to Ubud city centre. All this costs Dhs6,000 for two people. Lush.
The destination wedding
Time Out’s Body & Mind editor Nyree Barrett is planning her wedding from afar. Here’s what she’s learned so far…
‘Just less than two years ago I met a tall South African in Barasti, the starting point of many a great romance, and today we’re in the final stages of planning a wedding. In May, Roy (the ‘fiancé’), stole me away to Istanbul for a weekend and on the second night took me out for a fancy meal. Just after the main course, my always-gracious and thoughtful boyfriend stood up, his face green, and uncharacteristically blurted, ‘I’m going to the toilet.’ ‘You just went! Was the salmon dodgy?’ I squawked (oh why didn’t I say something more eloquent?). ‘Okay, no, I’m not going to the toilet,’ he said, eyes pleading, darting toward the floor. ‘Nyree Barrett, will you do me the honour of being my wife?’ he asked. ‘Yes!’ I shouted, and five seconds later a middle-aged Texan tourist boomed over, camera in hand, and papped us – it was all too surreal.
‘Once the odd combination of joy and shock from this moment passed and I’d spent the whole night staring at the beautiful rock on my finger, we were faced with a lot of logistics. First things first, Roy and I are from almost opposite ends of the earth – he South Africa, me New Zealand – so choosing where to have the wedding was tough. We eventually chose South Africa because it’s closer for most people we know. Keeping the decision intellectual was the best way to do it.
‘A week into the engagement we’d set a date, and countless people were sending me websites to check out. ‘You just have to see the colour palettes on StyleMePretty.com,’ said one friend. ‘Download the checklist on TheKnot.com and follow it to a tee,’ advised another. And while these blogs are fun to trawl through, thinking about colour palettes and checklists just makes me break into hives.’
Nyree’s anti-Bridezilla tips for planning a destination wedding
• ‘Make decisions quickly, and don’t sweat the small stuff – no one cares what colour the napkins are.’
• ‘Choose a venue that has it all – we’ve gone for Emily Moon in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. They know weddings and have made our lives a lot easier.’
• ‘Book accommodation and arrange travel for your family and bridal party only. If you start arranging it for all your guests, you’ll just end up resenting the process.’
• ‘Delegate small jobs, such as buying the favours, to those in the home country, or order from websites such as www.etsy.com and get them delivered to the destination.’
• ‘Don’t micro-manage the experts, such as the baker, the chef and the photographer – if you’ve chosen the right people, they’ll know what they’re doing.’
• ‘Remember that at the end of the day it’s about the marriage, not the wedding.’
To marry under Shari’ah law, the groom must be Muslim, but the bride can be of any religion. A dowry must be agreed and paid to the bride, or a written declaration must be produced if there is no dowry. There needs to be the bride-to-be’s father or legal guardian and two other male Muslim witnesses present at the ceremony at the Islamic Marriage Court.
Choose a church recognised by the Dubai Courts – try Christ Church in Jebel Ali (www.christchurchjebelali.org) – which will issue you a marriage certificate after the ceremony (you will need to have this translated officially too). Then get the documents authenticated and processed by the Ministry of Justice and then verified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. You’ll then need to contact your embassy to have your marriage legalised in your country (or countries) of origin. You’ll also need a no-objection letter from your embassy to state that you’re not already married in your home country.
Head to the Indian consulate to fill out a Notice of Intended Marriage, after which you’ll need to get a notification published in a daily newspaper from your native city (or cities) as well as a local newspaper in the UAE. You’ll then have to wait 30 days to check there are no objections (fingers crossed!). Once that’s done, you and your partner, along with three witnesses who hold a valid residency visa, will need to appear before the marriage officer at the consulate, sign the related documents and then be declared Mr and Mrs. You’ll need to get the marriage certificate approved by the UAE authorities, but the consulate will be able to help. The Hindu temple in Bur Dubai is available for religious ceremonies (04 353 5334) but you’re already married in the eyes of the law.
Time Outers get hitched
The Dubai wedding
Last year, Time Out ad sales guru Michael Smith wed his bride Chee Mustafa at the Park Hyatt Dubai. Here’s their story…
Michael proposed to Chee on a seaside jetty after a magical day on holiday in Sydney, Australia (he even took her out on a sea plane – that’s our boy!). They instantly knew they wanted to get married in Dubai because their relationship grew here, their families love visiting and they wanted to be able to plan in person. After much deliberation about venue, with buffet-only dinners at other hotels putting them off, they decided to hold their blessing and reception at their favourite hotel, The Park Hyatt.
After a gorgeous ceremony in a private garden, they had a bubbles reception in the Palm Garden and then moved into the ballroom for the dinner and dancing (so that the party could carry on until late). Michael says the hotel was a well-oiled machine. ‘They’re so used to holding massive functions there, so our wedding with just 100 people wasn’t difficult for them. We were able to have a food tasting with the chef in the run-up to the big day, and they kept us involved with everything, but obviously they’re more clued up than us so we felt it important to let them take control.’
Michael’s top tips for planning a Dubai wedding
• ‘Give yourself time to look around and research the different venues – wait until you find somewhere run by someone that you get a good feeling from.’
• ‘Sourcing things for weddings in Dubai can be tricky, so don’t be afraid to shop online. Chee bought her wedding dress by Reem Acra online, as well as the wedding favours.’