By Keith J Fernandez

We know, we know. These are uncertain times we live in. Although things are beginning to look like they’re returning to normal, what with business picking up this year, the spectre of the debilitating recession we’ve just come through has not quite properly faded yet.

Head down to Al Seef Street to watch the fireworks every evening during the DSF (FILE)
Head down to Al Seef Street to watch the fireworks every evening during the DSF (FILE)

But that doesn’t mean you need to cease celebrating life – or indeed, love. Even if you can’t afford it, whether you haven’t had a raise in three years or you lost your job and are temping to put food on the table, the ongoing Dubai Shopping Festival means there’s plenty of opportunity to do Valentine’s Day on a budget.

From getting the right present to pushing the envelope to generate emotional dividends, then, we’ve figured out just how you can take advantage of the DSF for a pocket-friendly Valentine’s – without necessarily looking cheap.

Gifts that keep on giving

In what must be one of the biggest years in the history of the festival for deals and discounts, almost every store you can think of is on sale, with all sorts of fabulous offers. Jashanmal, for instance, has discounted some of its handbags 50 per cent, while its Swiss army knives are off 25 per cent. (If you’ve watched Danny Boyle’s Oscar-nominated film “127 Hours”, you’ll know exactly what use these monstrous little delights can be put to.)

Other shops are giving away free gifts or cash returns. Acer, Samsung and HP notebooks (not to be confused with netbooks), for example, are being retailed at Dh1999 at Lulu Hypermarkets across the emirate, and come with a Dh250 money-back voucher.

Better yet, several UAE banks have rolled out all kinds of instalment plans to help you pay for your purchases. HSBC and Citibank, for example, offer three or six monthly interest-free plans at electronics stores such as Sharaf DG and Plug Ins and at jewellers such as Liali and Joyalukkas. This way at least, your monthly budget doesn’t take as much of a hit.

Put a shine on it

But if it’s a shiny symbol of your undying love that you’re looking for, several city retailers have discounted their jewellery lines. The Joyalukkas Group, for instance, has slashed diamond jewellery by 70 per cent at its Global Village store. Some pearl lines are marked down 50 per cent and no making charges are being levied on gold jewellery, Chairman Joy Alukkas says.

You can’t miss these promotions if you tried – malls across the city are bursting with deals, or simply drive down to Global Village and do your shopping there.

Love in the skies

Look at your relationship from a new perspective by taking to the skies in a seaplane tour. Experience-based gifts are all the rage now, and Seaplane operators Seawings have just the ticket.

They will take you and your partner on a 40-minute aerial tour of iconic city landmarks such as the Palm Jumeirah, the World Islands, the Burj Al Arab, the Burj Khalifa and the historic Dubai Creek district – for Dh2,800 per couple. A newly announced promotion offers anyone booking 30 days in advance a dining voucher worth Dh350 at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club.

So never mind if you can’t organise it for February 14 – simply present him with the voucher instead and tell him to mark the date in his diary. Hit up for details.

Under cover of darkness

If that’s too much for your rather quiet tastes, perhaps you’d like to snuggle up to each other in the dark instead. All month long – in fact, until March 15 – Dubai Mall’s Reel Cinemas will screen a series of British films that coincide with the DSF.

On the menu are such recent hits as “Made in Dagenham”, which stars Sally Hawkins and Miranda Richardson and is about the 1968 strike at a Ford motorcar factory where women workers walked out in protest over gender discrimination, and “West Is West”, which sees veteran actor Om Puri reprise his role as George Khan in a tale of a dysfunctional Pakistani immigrant family struggling for survival in Northern England. While not exactly romantic fare, they’ll give you something to talk about over dinner. Log on to for show times.

Room for two
Instead of shelling out on expensive air tickets, pretend you’re getting away by simply checking into one of the city’s hotels. With tourism such a large part of the emirate’s GDP, it’s no wonder almost every single hotel, whether luxury or budget, has some kind of deal on offer.

The Arabian Courtyard Hotel & Spa, in the bustling souk just off Dubai’s historic Bastakiya district, has discounted its suites to Dh675 per night all through the DSF, inclusive of breakfast, in-room wired internet, and discounts on spa treatments and meals, General Manager Habib Khan said in a media statement.

Cheaper still is the Holiday Inn Express, which has rooms for Dh300 at its Safa Park branch, inclusive of breakfast. That’s almost unbeatable value, in our opinion.

But if you’ve got the money, you could splash out on the Armani Hotel instead. Their Dh4,888 getaway promotion is one of the best-value deals in town. Running through February 28, it includes accommodation in an Armani Suite, breakfast, a bouquet from Armani/Fiori, a bottle of a bubbly and a tailor-made five-course Valentine’s dinner at Armani/Ristorante.

Escape to the desert

You’ve lived in Dubai how many years and you’ve never been camping? We know it’s the toilets you’re worried about, but the DSF has addressed these and other issues by setting up camp on the edge of the desert.

Aimed at visitors looking to unwind away from the stress of the city, there’s a wide range of things to do, including quad bike riding, barbecues and art and drama events.

If you’re any sort of culture aficionado and are at all curious about how people live, this one’s for you. Perhaps you could even learn a new skill. A range of tents are available for rent from Dh200 for five or six hours, and the more adventurous can book for a few days. Call Ahlan Dubai for details: +971.600.545555.

My budget romance

Instead of getting swept up by capitalist urges to celebrate your love expensively, put the focus on having fun instead by harking back to the days when you were a young couple just starting out, when you scrimped and saved and went on low-budget dates to save up for a new television set or a two-week holiday adventure.

Head down to Al Seef Street, then, where Emirati grannies straight out of the freej will cook you some traditional ragag or khameer – local bread that you can eat with date syrup or cheese. If you’re there around 8pm, DSF authorities throw in a daily fireworks show for free, as entertainment while you’re biting into Emirati culture.

Further along the street you can stop for some personalised art, perhaps to help mark a milestone in your relationship. A local artist will paint a caricature of the two of you, Bollywood style, or if you prefer something more serious, a portrait painter will be more than happy to oblige.

And as you’re waiting, ask flamenco guitarist David, who’s here from Scotland, to put you in the mood with a couple of dramatic Spanish pieces.

Be warned though: you need serious attitude to pull this one off.

The lazy, last-minute choice

And if you’ve scrolled to the end because you’ve left it too late, we’ve one last-ditch option. Everyone loves receiving a credit card, so stop at an Enoc or Eppco gas station and buy our partner a pre-loaded Visa card being made available by the festival sponsors in collaboration with MAF Finance. You can put anything from Dh200 to Dh3,500 on these little babies, with a paltry service charge of Dh15. Simply wrap it up, or put it into a mushy, sentimental card and you’re set.

It isn’t too late for this one!