Yeah, I prefer it as a sandbox game with no goals other than the ones you set yourself. My goal in exploring was to find some of the new stuff, and found that island as a result. Not sure what I think about moving to another location though.
I don't really get the point of creative mode. You have this entire world to explore, but you already have everything, so why would you? I feel I'd get bored of that even more quickly than survival. I think the fact that you have to find things in order to proceed makes it more interesting.
The core gameplay is fine, to a point, but yeah, I agree. It's as if they keep adding things while forgetting the core gameplay elements that are needed, like say nether tools to complement the nether. And then those new things are half-baked as you say, so it doesn't amount to much in the realm of new things to do. I'm puzzled as to why they've even released villages in 1.8 if NPCs weren't ready. I'd think it would be far more impressive to see those villages with NPCs in them the first time you see them, so I think they could have waited until 1.9 to release villages. But again, I think it's going to be another thing that will feel like a novelty, unless it really feels worth it to find one. It remains to be seen wether they'll make us want to go back to them.
I'm not a fan of enchanting weapons. I'd much prefer having to level up and choosing skills as that would give more of a feeling of progression. With enchantments, it doesn't seem nearly as exciting. They don't seem to be a part of your character like skills are and generally give you less a feeling of attachment towards your character.