From the modern architecture that shapes our skyline to sites of natural beauty, the UAE has many backdrops for a truly romantic engagement. Traditionally it is men who are expected to plot the perfect proposal, however, 2020 is a leap year, so it is likely there will be more women than usual taking the matter of marriage into their own hands on Saturday, February 29.
So where to do it? We spoke to couples who got engaged in the UAE, from sunset dinners to sky-high moments at 5,000 feet.
Vincent Reffet, 35, the French professional skydiver Jetman, proposed to his wife Agnes Rodriguez Alejandro Reffet, 31, a communications specialist from Puerto Rico, in his true high-octane style. At 5am on December 15, 2015, Reffet asked his partner to watch him work. "I was still in my pyjamas when we left our apartment in Dubai to go to Vince's workplace," she says. "He had told me he wanted me there because he was working on a special stunt and wanted to show me.
"Basically, he said it would mean a lot if I would wake up early and come see him fly that day and I did it, but thought it was a regular workday for my husband. Then we got engaged approximately 5,000 feet up, while my now husband flew with his Jetman wings and I watched from a helicopter over the Skydive Dubai Desert Campus."
She acknowledges their proposal is not one the average couple will be replicating. "When people hear our story, they think it's amazing … although, I also get a lot of 'Definitely not showing that to my girlfriend, because how could I ever compete with that?'" Agnes is, however, quick to add that she doesn't think proposals should be a competition.
Still, it was "definitely a yes", she says. "I was mind-blown and I think all our family and friends were too. I still remember when I saw what he wrote on the back of his wings, "Agnes, will you marry me?" and get goosebumps. I could not believe it and broke down in tears." She says she did not feel the pressure to live up to the proposal for their big day, which took place in two parts, legally in Vincent's native France on August 20, 2016, then with a wedding party and ceremony in Rincon, Puerto Rico, on April 29, the next year.
A sky-high proposal isn't the exclusive remit of stuntmen, as proven by Dutch couple Rene Speelman, 29, and Mareike Scherfig, 25, who got engaged on January 19 this year. The pair were in the UAE on a cruise holiday with Scherfig's family, and on the final day Speelman proposed during a Seawings seaplane tour.
"It was our last day of vacation and I couldn't wait to fly with the seaplane and enjoy the view," Scherfig, a media saleswoman, tells The National. "In the air he couldn't even get my attention at first because I was enjoying the beauty of Dubai and the buildings so much and couldn't take my eyes off the view," she says. "I didn't get [what was happening] until he pulled out the ring and asked me the questions. It was so romantic and absolutely surprising." They have decided to wait until May next year to marry, because that is their favourite time of year in the Netherlands. They plan to tie the knot in a characterful old monastery.
Speelman almost proposed at Burj Khalifa, or on Sir Bani Yas, but weather and crowds intervened. "During our cruise there were several moments to propose, such as Burj Khalifa. First, I planned to ask Mareike on Sir Bani Yas Island during a Jeep tour, but because of stormy weather we couldn't board the ship, so that plan failed. Places such as Burj Khalifa are great but too crowded.
"On the last day we planned the Seawings seaplane tour. This was a private tour with me, Mareike, her parents, and her sister and her boyfriend. So not crowded at all, and with a very nice view of Dubai from above."
In another moment of high-altitude chivalry, on July 2018, Adrian Mackay proposed to his partner, Susan Kuruvilla, on a platform on Jebel Jais, becoming the first person to propose on the world's longest zip line, in Ras Al Khaimah. A banner reading: 'Will you marry me?' popped the question.
By the beach: Burj Al Arab and Sir Bani Yas
Arguably, one of the most recognisable UAE views is that of Burj Al Arab, and so the stretch of beach between Jumeirah Al Naseem and Jumeirah Beach hotels provides a popular location for people from all over the world to propose.
In February 2018, British couple Lydia Jayne Hetherington, 24, and Ryan Hudson, 26, got engaged on the beach overlooking Burj Al Arab. They had checked into the seven-star hotel to celebrate their fifth anniversary as a couple.
"I was not expecting it at all. Ryan told me many lies as I figure everything out all the time [but] he proposed on the beach in front of Burj Al Arab during sunset ... he planned it perfectly," says Hetherington, a cabin crew member for Emirates.
"Our wedding will be in 2022 – we are currently planning it. It will be in Barcelona. I want it to be like a fairy tale, just like the proposal was – it was a dream come true!"
Hudson, who works in property, explains why he picked that particular spot: "The reason I chose the Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach Hotel is because it's one of the most iconic and romantic locations in Dubai, with an amazing sunset backdrop.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stay there, and I wanted to make sure the whole day was perfect from top to bottom. I ordered from our favourite restaurant in Jumeirah Beach Hotel for the private meal on the beach."
Meanwhile, on January 17 this year, Dubai blogger and digital strategist Naomi DSouza got engaged to her partner, Jacob Thomas, by the beach at Summersalt Beach Club, with a Burj Al Arab backdrop.
Thomas had been planning for "two to three months" and, with the help of DSouza's mother and wedding planner EventChic Designs, set up blown-up photos of the couple to line their stroll to the beach.
“When we reached the location, I immediately saw the set-up and the huge photos of us everywhere, and my heart started doing tiny little somersaults, but I wasn’t expecting it beforehand,” the bride-to-be recalls. But Thomas plays down his proposal, insisting “It was actually not a big event at all”.
"Only Naomi and I were there, because I knew she would have wanted it to be private and intimate," he says.
“For dinner that evening, I surprised her and asked our parents to join us. As for the location, it had to be by the beach. The beach is Naomi’s happy place, and Jumeirah Al Naseem is such a stunning location that it was a no-brainer.”
Private dining experiences on the beach clearly make a proposal special. Blogger Carly Neave got engaged to Jack Neave, now her husband, at Anantara Al Yamm Resort on Abu Dhabi's Sir Bani Yas Island in October 2015.
"I can't say it was a typical weekend for us, so I would have definitely suspected something was up if Jack hadn't already planned a cute staycation two weeks prior. I thought that was the weekend," Neave says, "so when it turned out to be simply a nice gesture, I thought better for my emotions to not assume that any special treat meant we were getting engaged."
He had a private dining experience overlooking the beach set up, with candles and lanterns illuminating the area. “At this point I think I knew it may be more than just a weekend away,” Neave admits.
For those planning on proposing, Dubai Opera offers a package in which cast members come out to help with a proposal before performances. The proposer simply has to arrange to pop the question with a Dubai Opera event manager at least one week in advance. Special extras, such as a bouquet or a candlelit dinner with a Burj Khalifa view, can be factored in.
A theatrical proposal is something Abdulla Yarulin is well versed in: as a member of the team of divers at Atlantis, The Palm, he proposes to scores of women from the hotel's Ambassador Lagoon every year. Abdulla even proposed to his own partner, Marina Mukaeva, the same way. Although it may have been a fairly typical day in the office for him, he chose a big day for Mukaeva: her first diving lesson.
Surprisingly, according to Louvre Abu Dhabi, no public proposal has yet been staged at the stunning museum. Watch this space.
A-list engagements in the Emirates
Some famous faces have also chosen to get engaged in the UAE. In December 2015, Eva Longoria and Jose Antonio Baston, known as Pepe, got engaged in the desert. A romantic occasion was co-organised by Ice Agency, an events company based in Dubai and Zurich.
Baston got down on one knee in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, then had an engagement party at Mercury Lounge, the roof terrace bar at Four Seasons Hotel Dubai. “You all know Dubai has a special place in my heart because this is where Pepe proposed,” Longoria has said of her relationship with the UAE since. “Not only did he propose here in Dubai, he proposed here in the desert. And so it’s always so nice to be back.”
In November 2018, English footballer Rio Ferdinand chose one of the UAE's more modern backdrops for his proposal to TV personality Kate Wright. He proposed on the helipad of The St Regis Abu Dhabi, with the city glittering in the background, while his three children Lorenz, 13, Tate, 11, and Tia, 8 watched on.