Expo 2020 is open and it perfectly coincided with my mother visiting from the UK, so I decided to add it in to our itinerary and head off to the ‘biggest World Expo ever’. Now visiting in opening week wouldn’t normally be my first choice, I much prefer things to be running smoothly and that any kinks would have been ironed out before I part with my hard earned cash and to be perfectly honest I was expecting the worst, but I was pleasantly surprised and ended up having a fabulous day and I cannot wait to go back to explore more.
To start from the beginning. Getting there (from Abu Dhabi) was relatively easy, there is a lot of yellow Expo signage up and the car parks are clearly marked. We ended up parking in Mobility Car Park, as it was the first one we came across, and were guided to a parking spot by about a million parking attendants. From the car parks you will catch a bus (which arrive every 10 minutes or so) to the main expo entrance. Not only is it crucial to memorise where you are parked but also the number of your bus, as it will be the one you will need to take back at the end of the day. There is also a QR code at the end of every parking row, but in our excitement and haste to catch the bus we forgot all about this and had to make-do with a note on my phone.
Arriving at the front gate, you go through security where they will check your vaccination status/PCR results (unvaccinated people will need a PCR of no more that 72 hours), through the metal detectors and through ticket checks. They are meant to be taking photos for your season pass here I think but at the moment this is not working. This was all hassle-free and ran smoothly but it wasn’t particularly busy so would be interesting to see how they would cope with the queues of a Friday or a Saturday, but then again perhaps interesting is not the right word.
We decided our plan of attack would be to have absolutely no plan and just explore and visit whatever took our fancy as we saw it. This was great as it meant we had the freedom to spend more time in places we were really enjoying, the Russian Pavilion is epic and had so much to explore, and also to go to pavilions that I perhaps wouldn’t have considered before going, the Oman pavilion with its fragrant (and very well traveled) Frankincense trees and the somewhat hidden Cambodia pavilion which we ran in to to escape the midday sun but we stayed to marvel at the temple like inside structure. The pitfalls to the carefree attitude is we definitely missed some of the standout pavilions, which is fine if you are planning to return but you might regret if you were only visiting for a day.
I cannot quite express how big Expo 2020 is, and wear your step counter if you have one as you will definitely wrack up some steps! Comfortable walking shoes are an absolute must and be prepared for some aching muscles by the end of the day. If you are taking young kiddies make sure you take the stroller/pushchair as I guarantee you will need it! Also, perhaps surprisingly to me, a lot of your time will be spent outside walking to the different pavilions so make sure you are sun creamed up and drinking plenty of water. Drinking water fountains are available to fill up your own bottles, though these are not easily found, and I am hoping this is something the expo will re-evaluate and add more in the future.
We wandered round for hours, popping in and out of pavilions that we liked the look of, ensuring very tired feet, and managed till about 7.45pm. We did miss the majority of the main shows but caught a projection show at the Al Wasl Plaza, which was enjoyable if a bit odd. On the way to the exit, the highlight of my day, we met the robot penguins and a rather bossy security robot that had our party in stitches when she swiftly told me to move out of her way! One we had navigated ourselves to the correct bus it was plain sailing (or bussing) back to our car, and off home for a well deserved rest!
Australian Pavilion - Planetarium show is a colourful masterpiece, there was a super cute primary school watching while we were there and their enthusiasm was infectious!
Russia Pavilion - just Wow! The colourful candy-like structure is impressive in itself but the upstairs area with the giant brain is a must-see.
Saudi Arabia Pavilion - an incredible mirrored pavilion, with a fascinating journey through Saudi’s history and in to its future. Also don’t miss the hidden palm garden underneath with its cafe and ice cream parlour. The mango and coconut ice cream was incredible (though expensive) and you are surrounded by the worlds longest interactive fountain.
Water Feature - Dubai certainly knows how to do a water feature and I was expecting something of the Dubai Mall/The pointe ilk. But this is very different. A large pebbled wall with water trickling down it is then brought to life with cascading water and a emotive soundtrack. You can also stand in the fountain to get the full experience and cool your feet off in the process.
Rising Flavours - this Arabic styled food hall has tonnes of choice which you can enjoy in comfy chairs and air conditioning to escape the heat. It was relatively quiet when we visited at lunchtime but I could imagine this to be heaving at night. The Ksa Kabsa from Chef Duha was a standout dish for me and a bargain at AED 55, for the huge amount of food.
Not So Great:
In general there are a lot of things currently not operational, and no signage to inform about when it might open. Also the staff, although very polite and friendly, are not particularly knowledgeable about what is open/closed and also the timings of shows and events.
Denmark Pavillion - definitely more of a business opportunity than one to visit for fun. The best bit is the golden troll statue outside!
Moroccan Pavilion - this pavilion looks impressive from the outside but that’s about it. You end up travelling in an elevator up 7 stories so there is a few pretty good view points. But it takes a long time to come down and I thought my time could have been better spent elsewhere. I think there is due to be a restaurant opening at the top here that could be very cool but it is not currently open.
Egypt Pavilion - one that I was very excited about, as I have visited Egypt several times and am a bit of a history buff regarding ancient Egypt, but this was disappointing. We queued for ages and inside the guest journey was confusing and it felt very crowded and was hard to hear the presentations.
Drinking - there seems to be a massive lack of places to just get a quick drink and also hard to find any drinking water fountains. I truly hope this is something that Expo addresses as this is a big issue when being out in the sun for hours on end.
Something that doesn’t fit on either of the lists is the UAE Pavilion, this is an incredible structure (reminiscent of falcon wings) which had by far the longest queue we experienced. The queuing system, however, is well organised as you are given a numbered ticket, but you are expected to wait outside. The inside of the pavilion is fascinating and had some of the most enthusiastic staff we encountered. However on our journey right before the main show we were told rather abruptly they were experiencing technical issues and were shown to the exit. Obviously at the start of an event the size of this one you expect some teething issues but you would have hoped with the extra year of planning a problem of this size wouldn’t have been the case. I will defo go back to experience the full show but will make it early in the day when the queues are quiet.
I am excited to go back and see more of what Expo 2020 has to offer. I especially can’t wait to see some of the shows and live events. Keep up to date with all the Where To Team’s experiences at Expo and make sure to let us know your favourite pavilions to visit on the Where To Facebook group.