Abu Dhabi: Gone are the days when a few balloons, candies and a cake at home with some neighbourhood friends made a child feel special on his or her birthday.
Instead think theme parks, beauty salons, spas, bowling centres, zoos and paintball clubs with customised decorations, entertainment shows and elaborate arrangements, for these are the hallmarks of the latest trend in children’s birthday bashes.
Party organisers and event managers say parents don’t mind blowing tens of thousands of dirhams to make sure their little ones blow their birthday candles out in the most opulent style.
“Each parent is competing to show how much they love their kids. They don’t want to spare any expenses to make a birthday unique and memorable,” said Dolly Smayra, founder of Colour Nail, in Dubai.
Price no bar
Smayra who specialises in organising spa parties for little girls, says she once organised a party that cost a whopping Dh25,000.
“The parents wanted multiple themes including a spa session, cooking classes, disco etc. It was a one-of-a-kind birthday party for a five-year-old girl,” said Smayra.
She says her Colour Nail spa is fully booked from Thursday to Saturday almost every week for little girls’ birthday parties. “We charge Dh135 per child, and that includes pedicure and manicure, hair braiding and snacks.”
In Abu Dhabi, Samara AbuSamra, Director of Arabesque Ballet Centre, said she started hosting kids’ birthday parties two years ago due to the high demand.
“It started after I hosted a ballet-themed birthday party for my daughter. Many parents who came attended it or heard about it started requesting me to organise the same for their kids, and I saw a business opportunity there,” said AbuSamra.
She hosts one-hour ballet or hip-hop dance sessions as part of birthday celebrations for a price of Dh2,400 for 20 kids. Snacks, return gifts and cakes are charged separately.
Many entertainment parks and sports centres like Ferrari World, Zayed Sports City, Al Forsan International Sports Resort, Paintball Abu Dhabi etc have special birthday deals.
Parents also hire party organisers and event managers to plan and organise a party for their kids at home or in public places like parks and beaches.
“I wanted to host a Caribbean-themed beach party for my seven-year-old daughter. We invited 30 kids and we wanted to choose a theme that none of her friends had done before. I hired a party organiser for Dh6,000 – they did the costumes, gifts and entertainment. The whole thing including return gifts cost us around Dh11,000,” said a mother based in Abu Dhabi who did not want to be identified.
Carine Alwane Rizk, who works as a programme manager in a cultural organisation in Abu Dhabi said she did every bit of planning for her son Anthony Joseph’s fourth birthday last month.
“We held the party at My First Gym Downtown Abu Dhabi. He chose the theme of Lightning Mcqueen and Mater. He loves cars and we made sure that everything – from the cake, cookies, balloons to tables and gifts – were all related to cars. It took me six weeks to plan and organise the party,” said Lebanese mother Rizk.
But what is driving parents to go over the top when it comes to marking their children’s birthdays?
Some parents say they want to do their best for their kids. “The motivation for parents to splurge comes from their desire to see the child happy. Kids really like birthday parties and can talk about it for months after the party is over,” said Rizk.
However, some residents say it’s the urge to show off on social media that makes a lot of parents spend exorbitantly. “People love to brag on social media. And they want to post eye-catching pictures on Facebook and Instagram because everyone else is doing it,” said L.K., a British parent in Abu Dhabi.
Oliver, a German father of two in Dubai, said parents come under pressure to reciprocate the invitation to big birthday parties.
“When my kids get invited to a lavish birthday bash, then you feel you have to return the invite,” said Oliver, a business consultant.
“While there is no harm in making a birthday special, what is unhealthy is when parents compete to outdo one another,” he said.