I finally got it! And loving it!
Only played maybe 2 hours so far. But I can see all the ways the game is improved from number 1 that I enjoyed so much for all those late nights 3 years back.
I'll just give the lowdown on the features I was most intested in. The bottom-line is...everything I anticipated and learned from online research was correct. So this is a happy report. There are also some bonuses I didn't expect.
Game control: either wii remote or classic controller. Does NOT work with Gamecube controller, but I'm finding the wii remote controls are actually quite nice.
Offline mode: Better guided and more RPG-like than the original. In a good way. There are long walls of text in npc dialogues, though, which might have been interesting to read if I weren't trying to play while my son was around.
2-Player mode: Arena battle mode is split-screen combat. You can earn money for your character while completing arena challenges. A good addition to the game (though I wish offline 2-player questing were available...oh well)
Online mode: Logging into servers is very easy. Just go to City instead of Village, and choose a server. You don't actually have to log in with a username and password, it just lets you go right in, which speeds things up. To connect with friends, just communicate beforehand which server to meet in. There's probably a friends list feature built-in, though I haven't looked into it (MH1 had a friends list, so it's gotta be there).
Online chat: Wii Speak or any USB keyboard works. There's also the onscreen keyboard.
Excited to keep playing! If anyone else has this game and wants to try to play together, let me know!