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As soon as I realized I would be in Dubai for my 29th birthday, I knew I would have to plan a fun celebration. Believe it or not, this is only the second birthday that I would be spending abroad — the first was my 17th birthday in Ireland!
Luckily, Dubai is a city that lends itself to celebration. This is the kind of destination that you could, theoretically, do on the cheap — but it is so much better if you have some money to spend.
A few months back, I resolved to focus more on high-value budget travel…with occasional exceptions. While I travel the world on the cheap, I fully believe in saving up and splashing out for special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, honeymoons, other occasions worth marking with a celebration
So when it came time to celebrate the final birthday of my twenties, I spent it in a few of Dubai’s finest establishments:
Dinner at Blue Jade
Blue Jade, the glorious pan-Asian restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton by Dubai Marina, is a new restaurant, opening this past spring, and they’ve been expanding their reach from hotel guests to the public. When the Ritz’s PR team invited me for a complimentary dinner, I accepted — and decided to make it my birthday dinner.
And WHAT a dinner it was. I can’t remember the last time I had a meal that impressed me this much. Both the food and the service at Blue Jade were absolutely impeccable.
Some of my favorite items on the menu:
Duo of crab: softshell crab and a crab cake, Singapore-style. THAT CRAB CAKE ROCKED MY WORLD — it was astoundingly good.
Duck sausage on skewers. I’ve never had duck sausage before in my life, but this is absolutely outstanding. I decided it was my favorite item of all. Highly recommended.
Blue Jade’s signature dish: ginger lotus seabass. I’ve never tasted flavors like this before — it’s honestly a fantastic meal.
Another nice thing about Dubai? You’ll find plenty of alcohol-free mocktails on menus along with regular cocktails. As much as I liked my sparkling sake cocktail at Blue Jade, the passion fruit iced tea mocktail (with a teabag garnish!) was even better.
I finished with a ginger creme brulee with green tea ice cream.
And fortune cookies, delivered in the cutest way possible.
Even the tea was sensational. It was a simple blend of green and jasmine teas — but I couldn’t stop drinking it. I need that tea in my house.
After the meal, I got to meet chef Ta Van Huong and raved about how much I enjoyed my meal. A native of northern Vietnam — not to mention the quietest chef I’ve ever met — he’s brought some of his family recipes to the restaurant. The ginger lotus seabass is a recipe of his grandmother’s.
Visiting the Burj al Arab: The World’s Most Luxurious Hotel
Next time I come to Dubai, I would love to come back to Blue Jade and see the latest that Ta Van Huong has come up with. This is a chef to watch.
Stay at the Kempinski Mall of the Emirates
When I traveled to Jordan almost two years ago, I stayed at the Kempinski Ishtar on the Dead Sea and it was one of my favorite hotels to date. So when Kempinski themselves contacted me looking to advertise on this site, I took a look at their properties and suggested that instead of a traditional ad for cash, we swap a bit of editorial coverage for a stay at their Dubai property: the Kempinski Mall of the Emirates.
Now — my timing was unfortunately a bit off, which I did not realize at the time of booking. The hotel was under construction, many of the public areas were closed, I had to enter and exit via the basement parking garage, and the lobby and breakfast restaurant were moved to conference rooms. Not ideal, and it took away from the atmosphere, but I was upgraded to a bigger suite.
This living room was spacious and perfect for working, and it was nice to have the space beyond just a bedroom.
The bathroom was huge, too, with a deep bathtub, huge shower, and very cushy bathrobes:
And I LOVE calling the front desk and having them answer, “Yes, Ms. McCulley?” It’s just a little thing, but it’s something that makes me so happy.
The Mall of the Emirates is a good central location. Dubai is absolutely covered with shopping malls, but the Mall of the Emirates is one of the biggest and best. They’re also home to Ski Dubai, the indoor skiing theme park! The Kempinski even has some ski chalets.
Also, if you happen to be a native New Englander with a permanent Dunkin Donuts craving in the morning, there is one in this mall!
Cocktails on Top of the World’s Tallest Building
When Mario celebrated his 40th birthday in December, he wanted to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. “From now on,” he told me, “whenever I see the Eiffel Tower, I’ll be able to say to myself, ‘That’s where I was on my 40th birthday.'”
I loved his idea. And being in Dubai, there was only one place that could hold a candle to the Eiffel Tower: the Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building.
We had originally planned to visit the tower’s At the Top observation deck during the day, when our friend and Dubai host, Simon, suggested we skip that and go for cocktails at night instead. Going to the observation deck would have cost us 125 AED ($34) each; going for cocktails would cost us a 200 AED ($54) minimum spend and, well, include cocktails!
Easy decision. We made our reservation for 10:30 that night. A cab sped us to the Burj Khalifa, brilliantly illuminated in the evening, and an elevator that seemed to move at the speed of a bullet whisked us to the 123rd floor.
At.mosphere is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest restaurant in the world from ground level (441.3 meters, on the 122nd floor).
Cocktails here are definitely not cheap — two drinks ran us about 180 AED ($49) — but they are beautifully made with ingredients like camel milk, gold leaf, and raspberries macerated in balsamic vinegar.
And how often can you say that you ate 24K gold while gazing at the view from the world’s tallest building? (Just make sure you go soon. Someone’s going to build a taller building any day now.)
After finishing our cocktails, we finished with a walk around the grounds and the dancing fountains.
Dubai is a fantastic place to celebrate a special occasion in style. If you’ve got an upcoming birthday or anniversary or other major occasion, this is a great city to visit for a short getaway. In lots of ways, Dubai reminded me of Las Vegas, and like Vegas, the perfect length of a visit is around four days or so. I’d recommend making a Dubai getaway part of a longer trip, as it’s well connected to Asia, Africa or the Middle East.
In lots of ways, this birthday celebration epitomized the later, more mature end of my 20s. (Especially when you compare it to my 22nd birthday, which I spent wearing a pink “Birthday Princess” crown, taking pictures with random dudes in uniform and doing test tube shots at Sissy K’s in Faneuil Hall. If you’ve been there…you know.)
It’s amazing how much my life has changed since then — now working for myself, traveling as much as I have always dreamed of, and engaged to a wonderful man. Life is pretty good — and having this at age 29 is definitely worth celebrating.
Essential Info: There are two Ritz-Carltons in Dubai. Blue Jade is at the Ritz-Carlton Dubai Marina, not the one in downtown Dubai. Make sure you take a cab to the right one! You can find the menu and prices here.
Rooms at the Kempinski Mall of the Emirates start at 900 AED ($245) per night.
At.mosphere at the Burj Khalifa requires reservations. Men are required to spend a minimum of 200 AED ($54); there is no spending minimum for women. You can find the menu and prices here. The entrance to At.mosphere is a bit tough to find — go through the Armani Hotel.
Alternatively, visiting the At The Top observation deck at the Burj Khalifa starts at 125 AED ($34) for adults, 95 AED ($26) for children for visits scheduled in advance; walk-in visits cost 400 AED ($109) for all.
Many thanks to Blue Jade at the Ritz-Carlton Dubai for the complimentary dinner, and to the Kempinski Mall of the Emirates for the complimentary two-night stay. We visited At.mosphere at the Burj Khalifa at our own expense. All opinions, as always, are my own.
49 thoughts on “How to Celebrate a Special Occasion in Dubai”
🙁 if I had the money I’d be there in a heartbeat… Looks amazing
The perks of being an extraordinary travel blogger! Good for you!
Have an awesome time!
absolutely, the perks of being a travel blogger. $245 per night makes my face hurt.
You can’t have the perks without the pitfalls. Remember that.
Until last night I was lying in bed freaking out every night because I was down to $181 in my checking account and was owed $9,461.05 from various clients that wasn’t getting paid to me 1) because of clients messing up in various ways 2) because either my bank or my clients’ bank messed things up.
Now I’m happy to say that almost one third of that has made it to my bank account. Waiting on the rest of it, but at least I have some security now.
The perks come with the pitfalls, Bradley. Trust me, you don’t want the pitfalls. 🙂
Happy birthday! That looks like a fantastic night out – I’m glad you got to share it with each other and go to such amazing places (especially that dinner, omg).
What’s the blue on the fortune cookie? It looks gorgeous!
Thanks! I’m pretty sure it was at least partially white chocolate!
I’d love to go to Dubai on like a layover or something. Thanks for sharing!
Did you have the chance to go to Abu Dhabi? I enjoyed Dubai but in some ways preferred the less over-the-top feel in the capital city.
No, I didn’t. It does sound interesting. I hear that it’s much more conservative and expensive than Dubai, so instead we did a day trip to Hatta, out in the desert.
That meal looks divine… Happy belated birthday! 🙂 x
Definitely sounds like a great place to celebrate something really special. Probably a bit too expensive for an impromptu splurge. But a planned one? For sure.
Dubai is one of those places that intrigues me. I don’t like some of the things I read about the behind-the-scenes stuff there, but I would still like to see the place for myself one of these days.
I’m actually going to be getting into that dark side of Dubai in my next post. Stay tuned…
I love the idea of fancy mocktails. You don’t see them too often in restaurants and for me that would be a special treat instead of just ordering a plain ice tea!
Thank the booze-free Islamic society. 🙂
So you point out how you’ve decided to save up for fancier experiences, which I get, that’s great. Except for the fact that you didn’t have to pay for any of it except the cocktails. It’s easy to save up for fancy hotels and meals when you pay nothing for them.
Anita, I’ll tell you the same thing I tell everyone who questions why I do sponsored activities: because I travel full-time. I can easily afford them if I traveled like most travel lovers who work full-time — say, four or five times a year — but in order to cover activities with the frequency that I travel, some of them are indeed sponsored.
And please don’t think this is taking the easy route. As a full-time travel blogger, I work 80-hour weeks, never have any time off, and sometimes have to wait months to get paid for the work that I do because of circumstances out of my control.
I have no problem with accepting sponsored activities/accommodation/whatever. I’m a travelling blogger, though not a travel blogger, so I get it. I don’t have a home anymore cos I’m away so much.
That said, I do have a problem with exactly what I said before – making a big deal about not cheaping out all the time and saving up for things that are worth it and then using this as an example. Two thirds of what you spoke about you didn’t have to save or budget for. I don’t know how you can call that ‘saving up and splashing out’. You didn’t save up, you just didn’t have to pay.
I see what you mean by that, and I see how what I said could be confusing. We paid for a lot of things that didn’t happen to make it into this post. What I meant to emphasize is that I identify as a budget traveler who splurges at special occasions.
I also never said being a travel blogger is easy. I get having to make a living and working hard. That’s irrelevant to my point here.
Dubai, is THE place to be for glamour and glitter! Unfortunately when I was there a few months ago, I had to watch the sparkle from a distance ,you need quite a budget to enjoy the luxury of Dubai, don’t you?! Good thing that Dubai can be done on the cheap too 🙂
Well, it can, but I honestly wouldn’t recommend it. Just because it’s possible to do Dubai on the cheap, it doesn’t mean that it’s a good budget travel destination.
The food pictures look to die for. What a wonderful way to celebrate your special day. Happy birthday wishes!
Oh man, looks AMAZING! Looks like you had a good time 🙂
Dubai is like dream place to me…thanks for this information..Surly i am planning celebrate one of my occasion here…
Wow, what way to celebrate. The German in me thinks that a duck sausage is a crazy idea (what happened to good old pork?), but it sounds and looks quite yummy. 🙂
The wifey and I just watched House Hunter’s International last night where a lady moved from NYC to UAE. I would really like to visit there one day and have it on the list of places we would like to travel. What a great way to spend your 29th bday! Glad to hear and see that you had a wonderful time.
I’m glad you’ll be talking about the dark side of Dubai in your next post. It’s one of the reasons why I’m not sure I’d like to visit. I have read awful things, especially about the way Indian construction workers are treated.
Happy belated birthday! Dubai seems like a fantastic place to celebrate a really special event, and those cocktails at the Burj Khalifa sound awesome.
Thank you! Definitely worth a visit.
Oh, the FOOD! Looks seriously incredible. Happy belated birthday – looking forward to see where you spend your second 29th! (Though 30 wasn’t that bad – I’m dreading my upcoming 31st because then I’ll have to start using the phrase “in my thirties.” Ugh.)
Thank you! 🙂
Sometimes you just need to splurge! I definitely can’t handle Vegas for more than three days but Dubai just seems… I don’t know, a bit classier?! I’m glad you had such a fabulous birthday! Great post.
Happy travels 🙂
Dubai isn’t as inherently party-hard as Vegas (though you absolutely could party hard if you wanted to), nor as cheap, nor as open. It is similar in lots of ways though, not least because of the desert.
I’ve enjoyed reading of your travels. Thank you for sharing! My husband and I are traveling to Dubai in November. I’m interested in knowing the dress code for women around Dubai? Since it is a muslim country I realize dress/styles can be sensitive issue even if one is a foreigner. I also traveled to Jordan and found it not to be so strict. I was able to wear long shorts in Petra without being stared at. Can strapless dresses or maxis be worn at restaurants… Burj al Arab, Burj Kahlifa?
As a western woman, you can wear almost anything you’d like in the main tourist areas of Dubai. I chose to cover up a bit more than usual (rather than just a short skirt, I’d add leggings). I found the environment similar to Jordan. And yes, you can wear strapless dresses or maxi dresses in restaurants. I wore maxi dresses myself!
We’re 58 days away and counting down… Dubai & Thailand. So excited! Again, thanks for the tips and travel info. Continue enjoying your adventurous life & safe travels! 🙂
It will be a really a great idea that he wants to celebrate his birthday in Dubai which is most beautiful destination. There are many popular hotels as well as resorts at there where he can celebrate his birthday.
My wife and I were trying to decide where to visit that was close to get a break from the cold Kyrgyzstan winter. After reading this we decided to visit Dubai and loved it! Aside from the crazy expensive thing we found there were a lot of ways to enjoy the ‘Dubai lifestyle’ without spending a ton so really I think it’s a great place to visit even if your budget isn’t huge. I put a lot of photos on my blog in case anyone wants to read it: http://www.ericpaulphotos.com/visiting-dubai/
Loving your blog! When are you coming to Central Asia?
I’d love to come to Central Asia! Maybe summer 2016?
Summer is the best time for sure! Let us know if you come, Kyrgyzstan is a crazy place and I bet you’ll love it.
I was looking at birthday ideas for my sisters birthday bash in Dubai when I came across this link. Wasn’t interested in reading personal blogs, but you do write well. After reading the entire thing I realized why am I reading this? Interesting post and you kept it well-engaged with the pictures.
Atmosphere is awesome.
Blue Jade Not sure I would go.
Kempinski Yes, maybe.
Happy and Safe Travels:)
Thanks, Lyra! Welcome. Hope you stick around. 🙂
Hi, may i know what camera ur using in taking your awesome photos? 😉
Today I use a Fuji X-T1. This was back in the day, using my old Nikon D5100.
I am a food and travel blogger and I loved your article on Dubai. My boyfriend and I are celebrating our anniversary near Dubai Marina, and we have already booked a venue, Atelier M, for the party. But I love your suggestions, and we’re definitely going to try them out.
Specially the cocktails on the top of the building. !
It is a wonderful blog. I had a wonderful experience in Dubai. We celebrated our son’s birthday in Burj Khalifa – the tallest building on the planet. We had a wonderful time in the desert. The desert is a storehouse for adventurous activities like dune bashing, sand boarding, camel riding etc. Thanks to our tour operator for the amazing experience we had and I would definitely visit this wonderful city again.