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UA's Micronesia Island Hopper - consolidated questions, advice, ....

UA's Micronesia Island Hopper - consolidated questions, advice, ....

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Old Jan 31, 19, 6:23 pm   -   Wikipost
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Best seat advice
See update in post 500
See update in post 690


Best seat on the Island Hopper .. {closed to new posts}

An Island Hopper [Micronesia] Definitive Guide on Where to Sit [UA B737] {this thread}

FAQs derived from findark's post (post #500)
What is the Island Hopper?

The Island Hopper is a United route between Honolulu and Guam, stopping at the islands of Majuro, Kwajaelin, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Chuuk in between. The Island Hopper operates in both directions, and skips Pohnpei on certain days. You are allowed to get off the plane and "transit" at each stop except for Kwajaelin, which is a US Army base.

This route is similar to Alaska Airlines' "milk run" routes in rural Alaska. All of these routes serve as lifelines for the residents living in areas served by the routes, as the sole connection providing supplies and transportation to/from the rest of the world.

What is the Island Hopper schedule (as of 1/14/19)?
UA154 (the full Hopper) departs HNL Mon/Fri and flies HNL-MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM.
The shorter UA154 flies from HNL on Wed and does HNL-MAJ-KWA-PNI-TKK-GUM (skips KSA).
UA132 departs Sun and flies HNL-MAJ-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM (skips KWA).

UA193 (GUM-ROR-MNL)departs GUM on the evenings of Tue/Fri and flies GUM-ROR-MNL.

The Hopper arrives around 1800+1, so in order to do the entire flight without a stopover you would need to depart HNL on UA154 on Monday morning.


Should I experience the Hopper?

If you like hopping through short segments, with beautiful island views, as well as a constant parade of amazing cloudscape between islands, the Island Hopper may be for you!

Which direction (west or east) is better?

The prevailing wisdom here seems to be in favor of taking UA154 (HNL-GUM). findark did 155 from GUM to HNL, and I think there were some overlooked benefits. The eastbound Hopper has the advantage of doing all the fun stuff in the morning and afternoon when you're fresh and eager to enjoy. 14 hours onboard a 737 is a long time*, and doing it eastbound you can give in to the exhaustion and conk out for the final MAJ-HNL segment. Even the HNL arrival was actually not too bad - it's only 10:50pm Guam time, so if you head on to a hotel you're pretty much in line for a night's sleep.

The most notable downside of taking the Hopper eastbound is that you visit MAJ in darkness. We ran about 25m late the whole way, and it was full dark by the time we touched down in MAJ. Whichever way you go, don't do it on a Wednesday! Kosrae was my favorite island, and it would be a shame to miss it.

*And, I learned, while the flight mechanic hops off in MAJ and the pilots get to work in shifts, the cabin crew are on duty for the whole 14 hours. They were understandably a bit burnt out by the middle of MAJ-HNL, but were simply outstanding nonetheless - greeting kids and handing out wings as they boarded in MAJ.


What's with the plane configuration?

The Hopper is currently flown by a GUM subfleet 737-800 (currently Version 4 on the United website - Row 1 is set back several inches which yields fewer E+ seats). The seatmap is loaded as the "Asia local" 737 map, which looks roughly like a 737-700. Like with other "generic" maps, it will update to the full seatmap about 4 days before departure, when the additional rows will appear.

1AB are blocked for the augmented flight crew, who change places with the pilots in the cockpit at MAJ. 2AB are also blocked because the crew rest seats at 1AB will recline until almost touching row 2, and it is usually used for crew storage.

Where should I sit?

The key here is understanding approach and wind patterns, along with each airport's runway configuration. The following stops and runways are on the north side of their respective islands:

TKK (4/22), PNI (9/27), KSA (5/23)

The following stops have runways on the south side of their atolls:

KWA (6/24), MAJ (7/25)

The prevailing winds at this latitude blow from the east, so a typical landing goes from west to east (into the wind). Therefore, in order to have best views on final approach and initial takeoff, you want to be on the starboard (right, F) side for TKK, PNI, and KSA, and on the port (left, A) side for KWA and MAJ. If you are flying westbound, or you land backwards at any stop on the eastbound flight, then the flight may need to position into the approach, usually by overflying the island at higher altitude out to sea. In this case, both sides of the aircraft will get views, although the closer views belong to the "correct" side. In my case, we landed "backwards" on 22 at TKK, and used the regular 9, 5, 6, and 7 at the other stops.

You should absolutely have a window seat - why else are you here?! The best seats are therefore any window in the Business cabin (note that 1A and 2A are blocked), 7AF and 8AF in Economy Plus (10AF has a misaligned window but is okay, the missing window will kill you in 11 and then the wing really starts intruding), and anything nice and far behind the wing in Economy. In this vein, I declined an upgrade on GUM-TKK since only 2E was left, and we flew in 4A/7F, 2F/4A, 2F/3F, 3A/4A, 3A/4A, 2F/7F.


What can I do at the stops?

The best thing to do is get off the plane! You can take tarmac photos and get amazing close-ups of the plane. You will then be shepherded into the gate area, where there are restrooms (some lacking soap and/or towels) and often locals selling souvenirs and snacks. On our trip, the most substantial souvenirs were available at MAJ. If the flight is running late they will make an announcement requesting transfer pax to stay on the plane; however, as obviously savvy travelers who were along for the whole ride and could get on/off quickly with no bags to stow, we got absolutely no pushback from the purser whenever we went outside anyway.

If you do disembark, you are required to take all carry-on baggage with you. They conduct a security sweep onboard the aircraft and will remove unclaimed bags. As is mentioned many times in this thread, KWA is the exception - as it's a US Army base you cannot get off unless ticketed to there. On our flight, we were requested not to take photographs but were allowed to look out the window. I didn't see anything terribly interesting.

You can also use WiFi in the terminal/transit area when you disembark and at some stops you can get your passport stamped. MAJ, PNI, and KSA have confirmed free WiFi. Passport stamps have been confirmed at PNI, KSA, TKK without "exiting" just ask security about getting a stamp at these 3 airports and they should be able to accommodate you.

Should I check my bags?

Yes. As annoying as it was to wait ~10 minutes for our bags in HNL, it was a lot less annoying than having to haul them around each stop, and find bin space again once on board.


What is the food situation?

Going east is a slightly different meal schedule than west. GUM-TKK and KSA-KWA are coded Snack, and MAJ-HNL is Dinner. The first and last meals are reasonably substantial in J (think like a Breakfast and Dinner code) and somewhat small in Y (somewhat less than a meal in int'l Y - was six pieces of fruit and a muffin in the morning, followed by a turkey sandwich for dinner). The middle snack was just a pass of the snack basket up front; neither of us sat in Y that segment but I would guess they just offered almonds. Additionally, every segment they were offering J pax some packaged almonds.

My general verdict is if going the distance in Y, pack some snacks or buy them at the stops along the way. If you're in J then there's enough food for 14 hours of sitting.


And how about IFE?

Look outside! That's actually about all the IFE there is. The GUM fleet has no WiFi and only DirecTV. Note that DirecTV does not work outside of CONUS, so really it just has the 8-10 looping movies of DirecTV (slightly different movie set for an Asian audience). The movie loop resets at each stop, so unless you want to watch the first 1h30 of a movie six times, there's not much use to the IFE. It is at least free in Y. I brought a book and read it for the middle 20 minutes of each segment and until I fell sleep on MAJ-HNL.


Can I get an upgrade on the Hopper?

Empirically, yes! We were offered upgrades of 11/12 eligible segments; I declined a GUM-TKK upgrade to keep my window, and my companion's MAJ-HNL upgrade was eaten by UA IT (agent in MAJ apologized profusely but understandably wasn't going to remove the already-handed-out upgrades to the next 2 pax on the list).

In order to have any shot, however, you need to be able to split the direct flight into six segments. This generally cannot be done on a mileage ticket or a paid through fare, and would need to be done via multi-city ticketing if visiting an island. In my case, I spent a very long time getting an extremely wonderful pmCO agent who was able to hack my ticket together with 9 connections on the way home. As this is also the only way to choose different views for the different approach directions, I recommend asking for this rather than for upgrades. It causes quite the headache for UA systems, but in the end I felt like it was a huge benefit to fly pretty much all of it in J. Absolutely something I credit to the value of being 1K: I was able to ring the 1K desk many times to get agents to deal with the various hiccups that came along with a PNR that had eight tickets and at one point 36 segments attached to it.

The first five Hopper segments (going east) are CPU eligible; MAJ/HNL requires a GPU. We had GPUs on our reservation and did a mixture of advance clearing and clearing at the gates in the islands (where amazingly enough they had the new J BPs waiting!).


Where to stay and what to do in GUM and HNL?

I think this depends on lot on which way you're going. Flying east, we arrived in GUM around 11pm (maximizing time in Tokyo, but not crazy enough for the 2am arrival), and spent the night at the Days Inn Tamuning. It was at the very bottom of my quality standards, but quite affordable and with 9h45 of total ground time all in the dark I did not want to pay double for a beachfront property I would never enjoy.

In HNL, I took up the excellent recommendation in this thread of the Best Western Plaza Honolulu. It was the cheapest of the few airport hotels in HNL. Having cleared customs by 3:45 (we arrived late), it was off to bed quickly. The arrival is only ~11pm Guam time, so I highly recommend going straight to a bed on arrival in HNL. Afterwards, we took advantage of the 24h connect rule to spend the whole day in HNL before continuing on home to SFO. We were pretty exhausted after another redeye home, but the beach time in Hawaii was well worth it, especially after being taunted by all the beautiful mid-Pacific islands.

Big Metal Bird Episode 8: Island Hopper - 2018
Originally Posted by COEWR2587 View Post
They just did a video in the Micronesia island hopper flight which is pretty interesting
https://youtu.be/TPueM5OF1Wc
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Old Jan 31, 19, 10:24 am
  #796  
 
Join Date: Oct 2013
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Originally Posted by thejaredhuang View Post
[...]only got a stamp in PNI, everywhere else was a hassle. [...]
That's too bad. We were able to get stamps in TKK, PNI, and KSA. Clearly not possible in KWA, and when we got to MAJ, the security people there wanted nothing to do with us. TKK was the easiest place for us...just walked up to the backside of the metal detectors at security and asked the lady sitting near there. She was very helpful and knew exactly what we were looking for! PNI was a bit more difficult, as we had to go to the immigration side as if we were going to stay, talked to a guard there, and he was able to stamp our passports. KSA was the most difficult, as we had to hand our passports over to a guard and wait for him to go stamp them and return them to us.
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Old Feb 1, 19, 2:20 am
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Originally Posted by mpiotrow View Post
That's too bad. We were able to get stamps in TKK, PNI, and KSA. Clearly not possible in KWA, and when we got to MAJ, the security people there wanted nothing to do with us. TKK was the easiest place for us...just walked up to the backside of the metal detectors at security and asked the lady sitting near there. She was very helpful and knew exactly what we were looking for! PNI was a bit more difficult, as we had to go to the immigration side as if we were going to stay, talked to a guard there, and he was able to stamp our passports. KSA was the most difficult, as we had to hand our passports over to a guard and wait for him to go stamp them and return them to us.
At MAJ the security guy strongly suggested I just stay in the terminal/transit lounge. PNI the guy knew exactly what I wanted and had his colleague stamp it for me. My flight didn't stop at KSA. I didn't really try at TKK since I figured one was enough also because it didn't seem like there was an arrivals area for terminating passengers..

I have updated the Wiki with Wifi and passport data.
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Old Feb 1, 19, 10:14 am
  #798  
 
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Originally Posted by mpiotrow View Post
That's too bad. We were able to get stamps in TKK, PNI, and KSA. Clearly not possible in KWA, and when we got to MAJ, the security people there wanted nothing to do with us. TKK was the easiest place for us...just walked up to the backside of the metal detectors at security and asked the lady sitting near there. She was very helpful and knew exactly what we were looking for! PNI was a bit more difficult, as we had to go to the immigration side as if we were going to stay, talked to a guard there, and he was able to stamp our passports. KSA was the most difficult, as we had to hand our passports over to a guard and wait for him to go stamp them and return them to us.
Here's what the stamps look like once you get all four. I had the same experiences mentioned here, but was able to get MAJ with enough patience..

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Old Feb 1, 19, 10:33 am
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Originally Posted by tarheelnj View Post
Here's what the stamps look like once you get all four. I had the same experiences mentioned here, but was able to get MAJ with enough patience..
Showoff! haha Just kidding...well done!
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Old Feb 5, 19, 9:35 pm
  #800  
 
Join Date: Jan 2019
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Originally Posted by CaptainMiles View Post
This should work in the Micronesia stops, but not on MAJ. On MAJ the passport stamp guy is in the baggage collection room. If you go for the stamp you will have access to checked bag contents. Not secure anymore. And they will have closed security by the time you land. So technically there is no way to get back through security and back onto the flight. Now, if you check a bag on the hopper, they may go looking for you because they would have to offload your bag, and at that point they may decide that the lesser pain would be to screen you so you can get back on. IF the security screeners are still at the airport. Big IF. It's quite risky. You may want to try the special room that ctownflyer described in his blog, but I think this too is YMMV.

Then again, there are worse places to be stuck in than the Marshall Islands!

No idea how to get stamped at KWA since they don't let you off the plane.
Flew 154 one year ago, nearly to the day (Friday 9 Feb 2018, going into the 10). Flew HNL-MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM-MNL on a Friday/Saturday. I did manage to get stamps at all the stops except KWA, where I could not deplane due to the army base. MAJ was the only place I ran into issues trying to get one, but I persevered.

Majuro - most challenging, they were reluctant to stamp due to the secure area issue/laziness but I went back to the edge of DEPARTURE security/immigration to ask the officer (same booth as arrivals, but separate window). I told the officer it was "for my records" and tried to be as polite as possible, he was annoyed but stamped it.

Kosrae - An officer took my passport into the arrivals hall to stamp and sent me to the departure lounge, then brought my passport back to me. Easy.

Pohnpei & Chuuk - I got pointed towards the arrivals halls and asked, explaining I was transiting. Also easy.

Guam - Since I was coming from HNL, the USCBP officer told me I was "already cleared" after checking my passport/global entry. I requested a (United States) stamp as a souvenir and he gave it to me.

Manila - normal arrival stamp

Last edited by seakrait; Feb 10, 19 at 12:40 pm
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Old Feb 10, 19, 9:44 am
  #801  
 
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I flew the westbound on January 25. After getting grief trying to get passport stamps at the first few stops, I instead used the time at the stops to enjoy talking to fellow passengers and crew. The pilots were super friendly and easy to talk to. They love flying this route and sharing their stories. If interested, I did a video chronicling my day:

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Old Feb 10, 19, 12:42 pm
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Nice video, enjoyed the commentary! Yep I was also dead tired for that Guam-Manila flight.
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Old Feb 13, 19, 5:56 am
  #803  
 
Join Date: Sep 2011
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Mini TR

A few observations from my trip:

I flew HNL-MAJ-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM, stopping en route in MAJ, PNI and TKK.

MAJ:

I spent 48 h in the Marshall Islands, arriving on UA 154 at 10:35am and leaving at 11:30am two days later, which gave me two half-days and a full day in between. I stayed at the Robert Reimers Hotel (RRH), which in my view is the nicer one of (effectively) the two hotels on the island, the other one being Marshal Islands Resort (MIR). It also has faster WiFi ($15 per day) than MIR and I liked the Tide Table restaurant at RRH more than the one at MIR (which is generally consistent with the majority of reviews I've read). Having said that, both hotels are very dated and neither restaurant is anything to write home about. I absolutely loved the fisherman's breakfast at Tide Table though (tuna steak, overeasy eggs, steamed rice). Tuna with rice is generally the staple along the Island Hopper's route and you'll see it in various forms (steak, sashimi, poke) during your trip. Needless to say, it's fresh, it's delicious, and a safe choice.

Both RRH and MIR were relatively responsive over email. Both have free pick-ups/drop-offs at the airport.

I rented a scooter from MJCC, the Japanese hardware store which is halfway between RRH and MIR. The cost is $20 per day plus $100 deposit. While taxis are cheap ($1 a ride), I loved the freedom the scooter gave me. The first day, I went all the way west to Laura beach, stopping at the WWII memorial on the way; that's around around 25 or 30 miles and it took me a little over an hour to reach Laura. The island becomes more green and lush past the airport, and it's a very nice ride. You can see the water on both sides during large part of the trip. Laura beach was slightly disappointing, but still a nice place to hang out for a bit and I recommend heading there.

On the following day, I went diving; there's currently only one operator on the island, Raycrew, run by a Japanese guy named Hiro. There was no one else diving that day so I had to pay x2. I wanted to go to the Arno Atoll as I heard good stuff about it, but it was too choppy, so we were diving in the lagoon - two dives, with a plane, helicopter, cruise ship and some coral - overall quite nice and Hiro is a super friendly guy with good stories. Note that the largest wetsuit he has is L (and it's a smallish L - I'd say for a slim 6ft person). Water in the lagoon is warm though.

In the afternoon, I took a boat from RRH to Eneko island, which is one of the islets a bit further up in the lagoon. It was okay, with some nice views on the way. I'd definitely do it again. They may have boats to other places - inquire at the reception.

MAJ airport has decent WiFi, but you can only use it for 30 minutes once in 24 hours, so use it wisely You can of course do 30 minutes on your phone, then 30 minutes on your iPad, etc.

PNI:

I had around 24 hours in PNI. Wish I could do 2 days, to do some extra hiking and/or diving, but could't make it work given the UA schedule. Note that Air Nauru and Air Niugini also operate the PNI-TKK sector - I was thinking about calling UA to drop the PNI-TKK sector and flying PX instead, which would give me an extra day and a half on the island, but would mean a day less of diving in Chuuk. I eventually decided to stick to the original schedule, but it's worth knowing that this option exists; I've flown PX before (from HIR to POM) and it was perfectly okay, although obviously they had a recent mishap in TKK.

Surf Club (Aussie-run, I believe) is the nicest place on the island and also has the best restaurant. It was full so I stayed at 7 Stars Inn instead. Very basic, but immaculately clean and super nice and helpful staff. They helped me arrange a car (newish Hyundai Tuscon, $65 for 24 hours from arrival until departure the next afternoon; I picked it up at the hotel (but could've picked it up at the airport) and dropped it off the airport the next day). I also saw Budget at the airport, which seemed to be the only international chain.

I wanted to arrange a kayak and get it to Nan Madol but that proved to be difficult as it was getting late and you basically need to transport the kayak to the other end of the island; it was low tide the next morning, so kayaking wouldn't work. 7 Stars can put you in touch with a guide (Shawn) - he was unfortunately unresponsive to emails when I tried to arrange things in advance, but now I know I could've chased 7 Stars Inn as they seem to work with him a lot. I guess if it's all arranged beforehand and the tides work in your favor, you can try to head to Nan Madol with a kayak straight from the airport when you land. On the other hand, visiting on foot was fine as well - I didn't feel like I was missing anything. Of course it's hard to visit all 92 islets on foot, but wading through the canals at low tide is doable and easy. I was the only person in the ruins, and as others said, they're spectacular. You can 30-45 minutes to see the main structures; I spent around 2 hours there. These are by far the most spectacular ruins in the Pacific (not much else really, I've seen some stuff in Tonga and Wallis & Futuna). You'll need some change for fees. There's also Kepirohi Waterfall just before you hit the fork in the road leading to Nan Madol - it's a short 5-minute walk to the most beautiful waterfall on the island. You can Nan Madol and Kepirohi as a boat trip (organized by Surf Club).

I also did the Sokeh Ridge (more of a walk than a hike), with some very nice views of Kolonia and WWII guns etc scattered around. Sokeh Rock is a bit harder, I think you definitely need a local guide as there are no signs. One tip - download offline maps on Google Maps for each of the islands you're visiting - makes life much easier.

I mentioned the Surf Club restaurant earlier, which is a great spot for dinner. Lovely location in the marina, good sashimi, overall nice vibe. For lunch, I went to the restaurant at the Joy Hotel that a few people recommended to me - they have seafood bento sets for lunch which are delicious and great value.

I also did a quick trip to Palikir - the capital, 15 minutes from Kolonia - before heading back to the airport.

TKK:

I spent 4 and a half days in Chuuk. I stayed at the Blue Lagoon; the other options are Truk Stop and Level 5. The latter is a compound 2 minutes from the airport, not very appealing (but has the only espresso machine on the island). Truk Stop didn't win my heart over either - went there for dinner one night, wasn't a huge fan of the place/vibe, and there wasn't really anything on the menu which I couldn't get at the Blue Lagoon - except for pizza. WiFi seemed to be faster than at the BL. Taxis stop running around 5pm and arranging transport is surprisingly difficult - you need to let BL know in advance. Truk Stop will drop you off after dinner. Otherwise it's a 40 minute walk, but I've heard mixed stories about safety on the island.

Blue Lagoon - as others have said (and as you can read on TripAdvisor), very very dated. Rooms are basic. WiFi is painfully slow (seemed to be better around 4-5am though!). Food is okay - there's a bit of a variety and the menu is fairly expansive by Pacific standards, but if you want something that is fresh and tasty, it's really whatever fish is fresh that day. Usually, it's tuna, and sometimes reef fish.

The resort itself is lovely though - the grounds are absolutely beautiful, a bit like living on a copra plantation. The sunset bar is a great place to hang out (and I found out on the last day you can actually order anything from the restaurant's menu there, which is a much nice alternative to eating in a fairly nondescript and run-down restaurant). The bar has a good selection of beers (including Big Wave and Island Lager) and has it's own WiFi (you need to ask for the password). There are two hammocks nearby, the closer one is within the WiFi range - a much nicer place to use the internet than the depressing hotel lobby. I generally concur with the TA reviews - I'd give Blue Lagoon 2 stars out of 5. Would I stay there again? Absolutely yes!!

The diving operation is okay. The diving itself is spectacular. There are 2 morning dives and then 1 afternoon dive - I did a total of 9 dives over 3 days. With the number of wrecks in the lagoon, you can easily spend a week diving and won't be bored. As you will read in the reviews on TA, the Dive Shop is okay, but the operation is a bit chaotic, guides' English is not great, everyone pretty much jumps into the water without any briefing etc. There are some deeper wrecks (like San Francisco Maru), but a lot of them are relatively shallow and easily within AOWD or even OWD range. Not a place for beginners (despite what the website says), but if you're not a total newbie, have decent buoyancy and let's say 20 dives under your belt, you'll be totally fine. The dive shop has EANx 30%.

It seemed that many people continue from TKK to Yap and/or Palau - I'd love to do that but couldn't on this trip due to time constraints.

On the way out, my flight was delayed by 19 hours, which the hotel staff said is nothing unusual.

As per the UA website, the check-in cut-off for all Micronesian islands is 90 minutes. BL insists though that it's 3 hours, no matter what you tell (or show) them, so the shuttle leaves the hotel almost 4 hours before the flight, which means you'll just be sitting at the airport for 3h+. I'd just take a taxi and go a little later.

Overall...

All places that I have visited were great. I was positively surprised by the Marshall Islands as based on some trip reports it didn't seem like there's much to see there. 48 hours was a good amount of time to spend on the ground. I wish I had more time in PNI and stopping over in KSA would also be great. I was surprised by how lush and pretty the interior of Pohnpei was (it reminded me of Samoa), and everyone seems to be saying that Kosrae is even more lush and pretty than Pohnpei. Also, a number of people recommended diving and Pohnpei and Kosrae, saying it's worth doing it even if you're heading to Chuuk next.

Would I do this trip in one go, without stopping in MAJ, PNI and TKK? Absolutely not. As much as I like to fly, it's just tiring, the views are okay but not spectacular (compared to some South Pacific islands I've been to, e.g. Tuvalu, Solomon Islands or Samoa).

United itself - I found both the soft and hard product shockingly bad (I did the whole trip in J). Obviously, I didn't expect the product to be on par with Asian or European airlines, but I felt like it was significantly lagging behind even DL or AA. The new "reimagined app" - well, 5 days after the trip it was still showing that I'm onboard the TKK-GUM flight. The 19-hour delay where UA thought $10 food voucher is appropriate for the length of the delay, and a lost bag on one of the sectors nicely complemented the overall experience.

One last side note - I was using the Lonely Planet South Pacific & Micronesia guide, which was published in 2006, so it's very dated, but I still found it very useful - things on Pacific islands clearly don't change overnight (the newer LP guides have dropped Micronesia and cover the South Pacific only). Also, note that since the islands are quite accessible from HNL/GUM and since they were part of the Trust territories, they're quite westernized and there's a fair amount of tourism so you won't have the same experience as e.g. in Tuvalu or Kiribati - don't expect a tropical paradise, but it's still a fun trip and great places to visit.
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Old Feb 13, 19, 9:47 am
  #804  
 
Join Date: Mar 2018
Location: NYC
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Originally Posted by mec72 View Post
A few observations from my trip:

I flew HNL-MAJ-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM, stopping en route in MAJ, PNI and TKK.

MAJ:

I spent 48 h in the Marshall Islands, arriving on UA 154 at 10:35am and leaving at 11:30am two days later, which gave me two half-days and a full day in between. I stayed at the Robert Reimers Hotel (RRH), which in my view is the nicer one of (effectively) the two hotels on the island, the other one being Marshal Islands Resort (MIR). It also has faster WiFi ($15 per day) than MIR and I liked the Tide Table restaurant at RRH more than the one at MIR (which is generally consistent with the majority of reviews I've read). Having said that, both hotels are very dated and neither restaurant is anything to write home about. I absolutely loved the fisherman's breakfast at Tide Table though (tuna steak, overeasy eggs, steamed rice). Tuna with rice is generally the staple along the Island Hopper's route and you'll see it in various forms (steak, sashimi, poke) during your trip. Needless to say, it's fresh, it's delicious, and a safe choice.

Both RRH and MIR were relatively responsive over email. Both have free pick-ups/drop-offs at the airport.

I rented a scooter from MJCC, the Japanese hardware store which is halfway between RRH and MIR. The cost is $20 per day plus $100 deposit. While taxis are cheap ($1 a ride), I loved the freedom the scooter gave me. The first day, I went all the way west to Laura beach, stopping at the WWII memorial on the way; that's around around 25 or 30 miles and it took me a little over an hour to reach Laura. The island becomes more green and lush past the airport, and it's a very nice ride. You can see the water on both sides during large part of the trip. Laura beach was slightly disappointing, but still a nice place to hang out for a bit and I recommend heading there.

On the following day, I went diving; there's currently only one operator on the island, Raycrew, run by a Japanese guy named Hiro. There was no one else diving that day so I had to pay x2. I wanted to go to the Arno Atoll as I heard good stuff about it, but it was too choppy, so we were diving in the lagoon - two dives, with a plane, helicopter, cruise ship and some coral - overall quite nice and Hiro is a super friendly guy with good stories. Note that the largest wetsuit he has is L (and it's a smallish L - I'd say for a slim 6ft person). Water in the lagoon is warm though.

In the afternoon, I took a boat from RRH to Eneko island, which is one of the islets a bit further up in the lagoon. It was okay, with some nice views on the way. I'd definitely do it again. They may have boats to other places - inquire at the reception.

MAJ airport has decent WiFi, but you can only use it for 30 minutes once in 24 hours, so use it wisely You can of course do 30 minutes on your phone, then 30 minutes on your iPad, etc.

PNI:

I had around 24 hours in PNI. Wish I could do 2 days, to do some extra hiking and/or diving, but could't make it work given the UA schedule. Note that Air Nauru and Air Niugini also operate the PNI-TKK sector - I was thinking about calling UA to drop the PNI-TKK sector and flying PX instead, which would give me an extra day and a half on the island, but would mean a day less of diving in Chuuk. I eventually decided to stick to the original schedule, but it's worth knowing that this option exists; I've flown PX before (from HIR to POM) and it was perfectly okay, although obviously they had a recent mishap in TKK.

Surf Club (Aussie-run, I believe) is the nicest place on the island and also has the best restaurant. It was full so I stayed at 7 Stars Inn instead. Very basic, but immaculately clean and super nice and helpful staff. They helped me arrange a car (newish Hyundai Tuscon, $65 for 24 hours from arrival until departure the next afternoon; I picked it up at the hotel (but could've picked it up at the airport) and dropped it off the airport the next day). I also saw Budget at the airport, which seemed to be the only international chain.

I wanted to arrange a kayak and get it to Nan Madol but that proved to be difficult as it was getting late and you basically need to transport the kayak to the other end of the island; it was low tide the next morning, so kayaking wouldn't work. 7 Stars can put you in touch with a guide (Shawn) - he was unfortunately unresponsive to emails when I tried to arrange things in advance, but now I know I could've chased 7 Stars Inn as they seem to work with him a lot. I guess if it's all arranged beforehand and the tides work in your favor, you can try to head to Nan Madol with a kayak straight from the airport when you land. On the other hand, visiting on foot was fine as well - I didn't feel like I was missing anything. Of course it's hard to visit all 92 islets on foot, but wading through the canals at low tide is doable and easy. I was the only person in the ruins, and as others said, they're spectacular. You can 30-45 minutes to see the main structures; I spent around 2 hours there. These are by far the most spectacular ruins in the Pacific (not much else really, I've seen some stuff in Tonga and Wallis & Futuna). You'll need some change for fees. There's also Kepirohi Waterfall just before you hit the fork in the road leading to Nan Madol - it's a short 5-minute walk to the most beautiful waterfall on the island. You can Nan Madol and Kepirohi as a boat trip (organized by Surf Club).

I also did the Sokeh Ridge (more of a walk than a hike), with some very nice views of Kolonia and WWII guns etc scattered around. Sokeh Rock is a bit harder, I think you definitely need a local guide as there are no signs. One tip - download offline maps on Google Maps for each of the islands you're visiting - makes life much easier.

I mentioned the Surf Club restaurant earlier, which is a great spot for dinner. Lovely location in the marina, good sashimi, overall nice vibe. For lunch, I went to the restaurant at the Joy Hotel that a few people recommended to me - they have seafood bento sets for lunch which are delicious and great value.

I also did a quick trip to Palikir - the capital, 15 minutes from Kolonia - before heading back to the airport.

TKK:

I spent 4 and a half days in Chuuk. I stayed at the Blue Lagoon; the other options are Truk Stop and Level 5. The latter is a compound 2 minutes from the airport, not very appealing (but has the only espresso machine on the island). Truk Stop didn't win my heart over either - went there for dinner one night, wasn't a huge fan of the place/vibe, and there wasn't really anything on the menu which I couldn't get at the Blue Lagoon - except for pizza. WiFi seemed to be faster than at the BL. Taxis stop running around 5pm and arranging transport is surprisingly difficult - you need to let BL know in advance. Truk Stop will drop you off after dinner. Otherwise it's a 40 minute walk, but I've heard mixed stories about safety on the island.

Blue Lagoon - as others have said (and as you can read on TripAdvisor), very very dated. Rooms are basic. WiFi is painfully slow (seemed to be better around 4-5am though!). Food is okay - there's a bit of a variety and the menu is fairly expansive by Pacific standards, but if you want something that is fresh and tasty, it's really whatever fish is fresh that day. Usually, it's tuna, and sometimes reef fish.

The resort itself is lovely though - the grounds are absolutely beautiful, a bit like living on a copra plantation. The sunset bar is a great place to hang out (and I found out on the last day you can actually order anything from the restaurant's menu there, which is a much nice alternative to eating in a fairly nondescript and run-down restaurant). The bar has a good selection of beers (including Big Wave and Island Lager) and has it's own WiFi (you need to ask for the password). There are two hammocks nearby, the closer one is within the WiFi range - a much nicer place to use the internet than the depressing hotel lobby. I generally concur with the TA reviews - I'd give Blue Lagoon 2 stars out of 5. Would I stay there again? Absolutely yes!!

The diving operation is okay. The diving itself is spectacular. There are 2 morning dives and then 1 afternoon dive - I did a total of 9 dives over 3 days. With the number of wrecks in the lagoon, you can easily spend a week diving and won't be bored. As you will read in the reviews on TA, the Dive Shop is okay, but the operation is a bit chaotic, guides' English is not great, everyone pretty much jumps into the water without any briefing etc. There are some deeper wrecks (like San Francisco Maru), but a lot of them are relatively shallow and easily within AOWD or even OWD range. Not a place for beginners (despite what the website says), but if you're not a total newbie, have decent buoyancy and let's say 20 dives under your belt, you'll be totally fine. The dive shop has EANx 30%.

It seemed that many people continue from TKK to Yap and/or Palau - I'd love to do that but couldn't on this trip due to time constraints.

On the way out, my flight was delayed by 19 hours, which the hotel staff said is nothing unusual.

As per the UA website, the check-in cut-off for all Micronesian islands is 90 minutes. BL insists though that it's 3 hours, no matter what you tell (or show) them, so the shuttle leaves the hotel almost 4 hours before the flight, which means you'll just be sitting at the airport for 3h+. I'd just take a taxi and go a little later.

Overall...

All places that I have visited were great. I was positively surprised by the Marshall Islands as based on some trip reports it didn't seem like there's much to see there. 48 hours was a good amount of time to spend on the ground. I wish I had more time in PNI and stopping over in KSA would also be great. I was surprised by how lush and pretty the interior of Pohnpei was (it reminded me of Samoa), and everyone seems to be saying that Kosrae is even more lush and pretty than Pohnpei. Also, a number of people recommended diving and Pohnpei and Kosrae, saying it's worth doing it even if you're heading to Chuuk next.

Would I do this trip in one go, without stopping in MAJ, PNI and TKK? Absolutely not. As much as I like to fly, it's just tiring, the views are okay but not spectacular (compared to some South Pacific islands I've been to, e.g. Tuvalu, Solomon Islands or Samoa).

United itself - I found both the soft and hard product shockingly bad (I did the whole trip in J). Obviously, I didn't expect the product to be on par with Asian or European airlines, but I felt like it was significantly lagging behind even DL or AA. The new "reimagined app" - well, 5 days after the trip it was still showing that I'm onboard the TKK-GUM flight. The 19-hour delay where UA thought $10 food voucher is appropriate for the length of the delay, and a lost bag on one of the sectors nicely complemented the overall experience.

One last side note - I was using the Lonely Planet South Pacific & Micronesia guide, which was published in 2006, so it's very dated, but I still found it very useful - things on Pacific islands clearly don't change overnight (the newer LP guides have dropped Micronesia and cover the South Pacific only). Also, note that since the islands are quite accessible from HNL/GUM and since they were part of the Trust territories, they're quite westernized and there's a fair amount of tourism so you won't have the same experience as e.g. in Tuvalu or Kiribati - don't expect a tropical paradise, but it's still a fun trip and great places to visit.
Thanks for sharing this information and I'm currently working on planning a trip to other islands in the South Pacific.
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Old Feb 13, 19, 2:12 pm
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Originally Posted by mec72 View Post
A few observations from my trip:

I flew HNL-MAJ-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM, stopping en route in MAJ, PNI and TKK.
Thanks! How did you organize the stopovers?
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Old Feb 14, 19, 7:46 am
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Originally Posted by erik123 View Post
Thanks! How did you organize the stopovers?
I just built a multi-city itinerary using the tool on the UA website - not cheap, but looks like it's difficult to do it otherwise (I started in NYC and finished the trip in Tokyo btw). Most sectors were available with miles and, especially in the Pacific, that's usually a good deal, but I couldn't get the HNL-MAJ one which was always driving the price up.
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Old Feb 14, 19, 12:43 pm
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If Z space is available, there is a pretty reasonable regular (refundable) Z fare US to GUM which allows for unlimited free stopovers and the Hopper for ca. $4k r/t.
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Old Feb 15, 19, 2:20 am
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Originally Posted by findark View Post
If Z space is available, there is a pretty reasonable regular (refundable) Z fare US to GUM which allows for unlimited free stopovers and the Hopper for ca. $4k r/t.
Yup, and there's actually a lot of good info upthread and in the Wiki which helped me put together this trip. I had a pretty limited set of dates when I could do the trip though and even if all other sectors were OK, I could never find the Z fare for HNL-MAJ sector for the dates I wanted. I guess it's a relatively small J cabin given that 4 seats out of 16 are blocked for the crew, and there's a fair number of officials, military, etc. flying.

Also, I needed a one-way as I was staying a few days in Japan at the end of my trip and then continuing HND-LHR (JAL's J product on their 787 was such a refreshing change after multiple segments on UA).
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Old Feb 15, 19, 4:25 pm
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For future reference, I have found that searching LIH-MAJ will mysteriously produce a lot of premium inventory, although the segment-marrying tricks haven't worked as well on the website as of late.
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Old Feb 15, 19, 4:49 pm
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Originally Posted by findark View Post
For future reference, I have found that searching LIH-MAJ will mysteriously produce a lot of premium inventory, although the segment-marrying tricks haven't worked as well on the website as of late.
You mean you see PZ>0 oh HNL-MAJ when you search LIH-MAJ but not on HNL-MAJ?
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