Long time lurker here, first time poster. I just returned from Shanghai and thought I would share my experience.
First--I am a lifelong fan of World's Fairs, and the veteran of one--2005 in Aichi, Japan, at which I had an incredible experience. I visited Expo 2010 for five days.
First of all--it's huge. Anything you pictured in yor mind, multiply it by five. I swear--the distances from one end to the other are so long, I think you can see the curvature of the earth. Indeed, what you have heard it correct--the Puxi side is less busy than the Pudong side. The pavilions are huge. I really disliked the design of the site. Instead of a park like setting, the pavilions are lined up along streets that are obviously designed for post-fair use. When crossing these streets, you really have to watch out for buses, and there are a lot of them. Because of this grid design, you often are along the back sides of pavilions, and you have to do a lot of backtracking. The design in Aichi was much more intuitive. The exception to this is the UBPA, which looked great, and what I think an expo should be.
I read an article that the Expo attendance was not what they were hoping it would be. Given that, I can't imagine what the place would look like if they had the numbers they were shooting for. The grounds (again, with the exception of the UBPA) were trashed. I have NEVER seen so much trash everywhere, especially in queues. They obviously didn't have nough "real" trash cans, so there are dumpsters everywhere. Not attractive at all. Although there are beautiful gardens along the river, the main part of the Expo lacks a lot of landscaping--and what little there is was often trampled.
Restrooms were another issue. At each location, they have the "real" semi-permanent restrooms. They varied wildly in cleanliness--some were pristine, others were filthy. Each of the restooms (mens at least) only have two western toilets, the rest are squatting type. I had to use those most of the time, as the western toilets were almost always occupied. In addition to these faciities, they have rows of hastily constructed facilities next door. These are all individual unisex squatting-type toilets. They have sinks and soap at the end of the rows, but no paper towels (The regular facilities have paper towels). These facilities are nicer than port-o-lets, but no where near as nice as the regular failities. I avoided them if I could.
Queues were out of cotrol. Yes--as other perople have said--wait times for the most popular pavilions--Germany, Switzerland, Oil Pavilion, Japaan--were almost always 2-4 hours long. Given that, I did see most--though not all--of what I wanted to. Queue entrances were really hard to find when lines were long. I have to say, the worst part of my experience was waiting in line. Mainland Chinese folks push, shove, and cut in line incessantly. They are not being rude--it's just their culture. However, it really got old after awhile. If you have personal space issues--you should seriously take that into consideration. If the queue was narrow, people were pretty good about waiting in line--but if it was wide--it was a free for all. I got to the point where I would just hold onto the queue rail to prevent peole from moving past me, and pushed back. Also--you will be blinded by all of the flash photography. The locals take pictures of everything--and I mean everything. The most annoying thing was them taking picutres of films. I guess they don't know their picture will just be of a white screen! :rolleyes:
Don't expect to see the China Pavilion--it is by reservation only, and they hand out tickets at each entrance first thing in the morning. I went early a couple of days, hoping to snag them--I was in the gate by 10 minutes after opening, and they were nowhere to be found.
You will notice a lot of shoddy construction. Of course, World's Fairs are not permanent, but a lot of stuff was really beat up already.
I had a pretty good experience with food. I DO NOT like "real" Chinese food, so I ate at the pavilions. I had a great meal in Germany, and good meals at Belgium, Austrailia, Czech Republic, Mexico and Japan. I also had Pizza Hut a couple of times. Other western chains on site are Burger King, Papa John's, and KFC. There were ample places to get beverages and ice cream (although I avoid dairy products in Asia--I think their cows eat something different than ours--it always tastes a little "off" to me.)
Really disappointing. I think they underestimated demand, and there is a lot of duplication in the stores. Be advised that while the "Official Licensed Products" stores all look the same from the outside, they are operated by several different companies, and do not have all the same merchandise. They also vary in procedure--one store had the annoying Chinese practice of once you chosse your item, you give it to the sales clerk, who writes up a ticket. Then, you go to a seperate cashier, pay, they stamp your ticket, then you return to the original clerk to pick up your item. Crazily inefficient! As far as Guidebooks, which to me are my most prized posession--they are hard to come by. However--contrary to what a previous poster said--they are available onsite--at a bookstore buried on a lower level of the Expo Axis. It doesn't make a bit of sense to me that not every store on the grounds sells them!
For me, I loved the UBPA--it looked great, wasn't crazy busy, and the exhibits best fit in with the theme of "Better City, Better Life". I also liked the Theme Pavilions--especially The Pavilion of Urbania. It was very elaborate, well-done, and, what I like best about about an expo--thought provoking. I also enjoyed the USA Pavilion--contrary to a lot of opinion out there, I thought it did our country proud--and it was really efficient in its operation! My other favorites were Chile, The UK (we had a great private tour there), Austrailia and New Zealand. Singapore had a nice presentation, as well. Basically--I liked every pavilion I saw. Sure, depending on the country and their money--some were more elaborate than others, but even when they weren't elaborate, you kind of had to give them an "A" for effort.
Staying and getting around:
If you're going to the Expo, and are looking for a western hotel, I HIGHLY recommend the Sheraton Shanghai Pudong. It was ultra-convenient--The Metro line 4 stops directly in front of the hotel (at Tangqiao) and it is only two stops to South Xizang Road (no transferring necessary) which drops you direclty at Expo entrance #2 on the Puxi side. It was less than 10 minutes from our room to the turnstile. The hotel was really nice--clean, modern decor, and great amenities and service. There is a shopping center next door, and a McDonald's across the street. If you are more budget oriented, there is a Four Points by Sheraton right next door, as well as the "You You Grand Hotel", which looked okay to me. I got to the hotel using the Maglev and the Metro--much quicker and cheaper than a taxi. Regardless of where you stay, try to find somewhere that avoids walking, as you will walk--a LOT--at the Expo. I'm a walker by nature, and not in bad shape--but by day five, my feet were blistered and I could barely hobble along. Getting across the river is not an issue--I used the cross-river bus, the metro and ferries. You kind of choose which mode to use based on where you are and where you want to end up. Directional signs and the official map make it easy to get around. There are also Expo Volunteers everywhere, who are eager to help--although, remember than English is not their first language, so you may have to try a couple of times to find someone with whom you can converse.
You can NOT buy multi-day tickets on site. They only sell them at Bank of China, China Mobile, and a couple of other participating companies. The ticket lines were never very long, though. The entrance gates have really long queues. When getting there early. you'll have to wait forever. The gates open at 9. When I arrived early (at 8) I stood there for an hour and 10 minutes before getting in. When I arrived at 930, I walked right in. Trust me--SAVE YOUR FEET! It makes much more sense not to camp out in line (Note--they won't let you sit in the queue).
The people working at the Expo are very eager to welcome you. When they see a western person, they try really hard to greet you in English. At countries where people's first language IS English, the staff will glom on to you, eager to see a friendly face. It's how we got personalized tours in several pavilions! Most--though not all--presentations have English subtitles. Unlike in Aichi, there were no audio translations (via headset) of anything I visited.
Am I glad I visted Expo 2010? Absoultely. Even though it's not a cheap or easy undertaking to go to China, an event of this magnitude is not to be missed. Did I get frustrated with the crowds and some of the other issues I've noted? Sure, but at the end of the day, there will probably never be an event this big ever again--so my advice--GO! Arm yourself with patience, lots of cash, and give yourself a few days to see as much as you can.