Maui Travel Tips for Nut Allergies
Aloha! My husband and I love going to Hawaii and it has been 7 years since our last trip in 2008. We have been longing for about 6 years for soft sandy beaches, lush tropical landscapes juxtaposed with black volcanic rocks, and beautiful flowers tantalizing our senses. Memories of gentle waves washing over my feet, swimming in the warm ocean, and feeling small while viewing starry skies over the infinite ocean allowed my mind to be calm and peaceful.
Hawaii is more than just a vacation destination for our family. It’s where we spent our honeymoon and 1 year anniversary. It was our first vacation with our two very cute and sweet little babies. We went with our friends to celebrate her miraculous recovery from an accident. It’s a place to be carefree and relaxed, but how does one be free of care and manage food allergies at the same time?
Maui is such a beautiful place, I could be at the airport parking lot in a swimsuit, hat, and flip flops, take in the coconut trees, flowers, scenery, and just be happy. Seven years is too long and we won’t allow food allergies to hold us back anymore. If you don’t want to read anything else, be sure to check out tip #5 at the very end for the most important travel tip.
We woke up early on our first day to enjoy the sunrise on the beach.
Disclaimer: As much as I would like for everyone to feel empowered after reading our experience, please keep in mind that what works for our family, might not work for yours. Be sure to do your own research and consult with your doctor for advice as needed. All of the restaurants, businesses, and food products mentioned could change owners, menus, and ingredients at any time without notice, you are responsible for determining whether foods mentioned are safe before consuming.
We have a terrific travel agent, Miranda Chin (Beyond Hawaii), and I count on her for helping me to book a travel package at the best price possible while I figure out exactly what we want, where we want to stay, amenities needed matched up with hotels that offer the amenities we need within our price range, and with consideration to what activities we want to do to determine which part of the island we want to stay at.
At the time I booked our travel, Hawaiian Airlines seemed to be the best airline choice. We have flown with them before. Their crew members are very professional, the flight is comfortable and on-time, and they have great service with a meal included. I did check their published policy about traveling with food allergies
which seemed reasonable: macadamia nuts in first class and pretzels in economy.
Peanut or Nut Allergy
Hawaiian Airlines recognizes that some passengers are allergic to peanuts or other nut products. Hawaiian Airlines does serve macadamia nuts in the first class cabin and a snack pack with pretzels in the main cabin. Due to last minute equipment changes and the possibility that other passengers may bring peanuts or other nut products onboard, and because there may be trace elements of unspecified peanut ingredients in other meals and snacks, we cannot guarantee there will not be peanuts or peanut-related products in-flight. We encourage customers to consider the possibility of exposure, particularly when accepting any in-flight meal or snack, and we strongly advise passengers to take all necessary medical precautions to prepare for the possibility of exposure.
Passengers may wish to bring their own food items on their flight. Many passengers take the precaution of carrying epinephrine (Epi-pens) or other suitable anaphylaxis treatment prescribed by their physician that can be self-administered. Please review TSA guidelines regarding the carriage of liquid prescription medication.
If you require a specific dietary meal, which we cannot accommodate, we recommend that you bring your own meal on board.
Prior to our departure, I called the airline to confirm that they noted our children’s peanut and tree nut allergy and was informed that we may pre-board either with the families with children or with people who need extra time or assistance to board. We need the few extra minutes so that we can wipe down our seats, tray tables, and armrests as well as visually inspect the seat pocket, the floor, and under the seat cushions for obvious food residues without getting in anyone’s way before stowing our carry-on baggage and seating ourselves.
On the day of the departure, I spoke with the gate agent about our children’s nut allergies and the agent asked if we had epinephrine (yes), our own food (yes), and if our children had reactions to airborne nuts (yes, history of airborne reactions to peanut, not sure about other nuts). They declined to make an announcement that there are passengers with nut allergies on board because they couldn’t stop others from bringing on their snacks with nuts, which wasn’t what I requested. Instead, they suggested that I speak with the passengers around us to create our own buffer.
Longing for Allergy Friendlier Skies
While the Hawaiian Airline staff members were professional and polite and flew us safely between home and Hawaii and back, their attitude about food allergies seemed indifferent. Any food allergy safety issues were completely up to us: bring your own epi, bring your own food, make your own announcement.
I wasn’t impressed especially in contrast to our previous trip to Washington DC with Virgin Airlines. I blogged about our experience with Virgina America upon our return, when there was at least one Virgin staff member on each leg of our flight who was empathetic and helped us with by making an announcement (and not serving nuts multiple times to every passenger on board).
After I had booked our flights, I learned that Virgin America will begin offering flights from the mainland to Hawaii beginning in December, 2015. While they do not have a formal food allergy policy, I have greater confidence in Virgin’s stellar customer service which has been a delight.
On our Maui bound flight, we pre-boarded, wiped seats and trays, and spoke with our neighbors. Crew members started off by rolling out their carts of snacks to sell, including lots of macadamia products. Then they served drinks and a snack (an almond cookie). Then it was time for lunch, spaghetti and meatballs, salad, and two chocolate covered macadamia nuts. Nuts, nuts, and more nuts. Both of my sons had runny noses when the nuts came out. It’s not normal to react to any food that one did not ingest but a runny nose is better than anaphylaxis!
On our San Francisco bound flight, I gave the boys antihistamine and a decongestant before leaving the hotel and another decongestant right before boarding. We lined up to pre-board when they made announcements for families with children ages 2 and younger and those who need special assistance. Imagine all the looks we received from frazzled parents with babies trying to cut in front of us in line.
Bring your own epi, check. Bring your own food, check. Make your own announcement, check???? Considering our flight to Maui, it seemed futile to speak with our neighbors when the airlines might distribute snacks with nuts to everyone multiple times, talk about nut enabling. They rolled out their snacks for sale cart but most people had their own stash of chocolate covered macadamia nuts on board. Snack included a cracker mix with almonds. Lunch consisted of three marble sized meatballs with white rice, salad, and a chocolate cookie.
We’re really thankful that nasal congestion was the only symptom, which cleared up after we arrived. Over all the flight with Hawaiian was great as a traveler but as a family with food allergies, it wasn’t a positive experience nor was it terrible. There’s a lot of room for improvement and I hope for more awareness and education about food allergies to help those with food allergies fly safely. Airline safety and food allergies are a complicated political issue and if you want to learn more or be proactive, sign No Nut Traveler’s petition.
Traveling and Going Through Security with Peanut Patches
My son’s peanut patches are normally stored in the refrigerator. We’ve been told that it’s okay to store them without refrigeration for a few hours but I prepare for unexpected delays. I pack the patches with an ice pack, leave them in the fridge until the last possible moments, and set many alarms and reminders to take them with us. I want the therapy to work and wouldn’t want to be away from home with a questionable supply of peanut patches.
Even though my ice has a hard shell, the gel inside was already slushy by the time we arrived at the airport and went through security and I forgot to declare it as we went through security which resulted in additional screening. On our way home, I told the TSA agent in advance and he visually checked everything and we were on our way. I recommend familiarizing yourself with TSA’s policies about traveling with medically necessary liquids and other items in any case.
Breathtaking views outside of Maui Kai’s Unit 905 condo from the lanai which was set up as a bedroom with two twin beds.
Home Away From Home:
We wanted to stay in the Lahaina area on Maui’s west side in a condo with a full kitchen and ocean views. I did not want to pay a premium for luxury (we’ll spend most of our time off property), or a resort (takes too long to walk to and from the pool, parking lot, everywhere), or a large property (avoid noise, crowd). We ended up staying at Maui Kai, a beachfront property with views of Lanai and Molokai, located about 20 minutes north of Lahaina. It was everything we hoped for and even better.
We were adjacent to a large resort and we could faintly hear Hawaiian music on their luau nights, the best background music ever. The hotel has a nice DVD and Blue Ray collection of movies to check out and the poolside cabana has a BBQ, a ping pong table, and many board games for check to borrow, an in room safe, free wi-fi, and laundry facilities. We lucked out and ended up in unit 905 which is beautifully decorated, well appointed including a full kitchen. We were so happy with our little bit of heaven on earth.
We feasted on locally grown fruit (clockwise): papaya, pineapple, plumeria (decorative only), mango, and dragonfruit.
Stocking up on Groceries
Near the airport:
We picked up our rental car and went straight to Costco for groceries. However it seemed my children were eager to try local foods rather than the exact same foods we can eat at home. I bought just enough food for a few easy meals at the hotel until we could orient ourselves: Maui Gold Pineapple, Sun Noodles ramen, chicken and cheese ravioli, Golden Island pork jerky, and some additional fruits and vegetables. As we drove around the airport area on subsequent days, I noticed that there is also a Whole Foods Market in the area and another organic healthy food store called Down To Earth. I did not visit either stores but thought it’s worth mentioning as options to check out.
There’s a Safeway at the Lahaina Cannery Mall and we shopped there a few times. The produce was mostly familiar with some local produce such as taro leaves, papaya, and very green apple-banana, and there were quite a few familiar brands to make shopping easier. I bought a bottle of Aloha Shoyu Teriyaki sauce to make my broiled teriyaki chicken thighs and it was a delicious, quick, and easy main dish a couple of times. Our unit had an electric rice cooker so I also bought short grain calrose rice, Yamamoto nori sheets, and Turkey Spam to make spam musubi for our beach days. I obviously did not have a musubi mold with me but was able to figure out how to make some crudely shaped musubi with foil and a plastic food container.
If you end up in the Honokowai area (west side), be sure to stop by at the Farmer’s Market of Maui, which is a natural food store and deli. They have a lot of allergy friendly, organic, and natural brands (such as Pirates Booty, Lundberg, Late July, Lukes, Glutino, Mary’s Gone Crackers, Van’s Crackers, Happy Baby, San-J, Eden Organics, Straus, Alexia, Made in Nature, and others). Also notable, the Farmer’s Market of Maui also has the best local tropical produce such as passion fruit, pineapple, papayas, mango, and apple bananas. We did not try the smoothie bar or deli foods. They don’t seem to have a website but their address is 3636 Lower Honoapiilani Road, across from Honokowai Park, (808) 669-7004) and another location in Kihei, which we did not visit.
Other stores (with caveats):
Maui Kai is right across the main road from a strip mall with a Times Supermarket, we didn’t look carefully at the products available but it’s a convenient location and we mainly went there to buy non-food items (underwater camera, foil, etc.). It didn’t seem like they carried as many national brands so we did most of our food shopping at Safeway. If I had more time I would look at their weekly online ad to get a feel for what brands and products are available. Foodland is another supermarket chain that I noticed while we were driving around. If one has sensitivities to food coloring, preservatives, or other food chemicals, I think that one will have more selection at Whole Foods Market, one of the natural stores, or Safeway.
We also stopped by at the Olawalu Juice and Fruit Stand. It’s a little roadside stand under some trees, adjacent to some place with shaved ice and boiled peanuts and maybe a bar. The only reason I mention the fruit stand is because I bought the most delicious dragon fruit with bright magenta flesh, which we’ve enjoyed in Hong Kong but never in the US. The ones with the magenta flesh are so much tastier and sweeter than the ones with white flesh. It was $5, $7, or $10 each depending on the size, but there is no way to determine objectively their size or cost as you shop, so buyer beware. I did not buy any other fruit as there were many flies landing on sweet or soft skinned fruits such as papaya or mango and doing what flies do to fruit (or maybe they were twerking on the fruit, not sure).
Ono means delicious and we definitely ate well. Generally our family prefers to try the local food over chain restaurants. We avoided Asian fusion restaurants because of the extensive use of nuts on their menus and we weren’t comfortable with the risk of cross contact. About two months before our trip, I checked AllergyEats, Yodish, Yelp, and asked friends in support groups for their recommendations. Then I checked the restaurant’s menus online and followed up with a phone call or an email. I cooked every breakfast and packed a lunch for us on our beach days. We did enjoy a few meals out.
Aloha Mixed Plate:
Thanks to my friend Bethany for the recommendation! Aloha Mixed Plate is located right behind the Lahaina Cannery Mall. They do not use peanuts and tree nuts on their menu except coconut shrimp was one of their specials that night. They have a good variety of food on their menu, traditional luau fare such as kalua pork, lau lau (pork belly wrapped with leaves), as well as some Korean and Chinese favorites. We ordered the ahi poke as an appetizer and it was very good. The seating is outdoors and the beach is within view. I recommend calling during non-peak hours to discuss any concerns about other allergens. We did not check or order from the dessert menu.
Aloha Mixed Plate signature dish with Kalua Pork, Lau Lau, Salmon Lomi, Poi, Macaroni Salad with Two Scoops of Rice, classic! Furikake fries and ahi tuna were amazing.
Old Lahaina Luau:
Old Lahaina Luau is located right next door to Aloha Mixed Plate and might be owned by the same company. One would think that a buffet is off-limits for food allergies, but the Old Lahaina is worth considering. They were able to provide me with an extensive allergen menu that included every ingredient for every item on the buffet. Per the document I received, the only item we needed to avoid was a macadamia nut crusted fish filet. They flagged our reservation and allowed our table to go through the buffet first, thus minimizing the risk of cross contact. I have some great posts and videos of our time at the Old Lahaina Luau but the host at the imu pit asked the guest to post a picture or a video on Instagram, so go check out Nut Free Wok’s Instagram feed. 😉
Aside from food allergy concerns, this luau is truly wonderful and a worthwhile family experience. Upon checking in, we were greeted with orchid leis and a mai tai (or non-alcoholic drinks) and were shown our seats. One can walk around and enjoy the various crafts and activities, take group or family photos with a professional photographer, enjoy live music, or watch them fetch the roasted pig out of their underground oven called an imu. The food is tasty, the staff is friendly, and the live entertainment fabulous. I recommend booking one month in advance, we didn’t and discovered that they were sold out for the next 3 weeks, fortunately they do keep a waitlist.
Iron Imu is basically Texas BBQ in Hawaii, very nice for casual dining. The restaurant is part of a hotel and the light fixtures have cowboy hats on the lampshade but the chairs and tables have a pineapple motif. The restaurant is nut free with the possible exception of dessert but since the owner of the restaurant has a child with tree nut allergies, we were comfortable dining there. The menu is written on a chalkboard wall and we placed our orders for one main dish plus three sides. There’s also a large kiddie play room off to the side for those who need it. Our food arrived on paper trays with compartments, perfectly barbequed with a subtle smoke ring around the meat, and very tasty.
After dinner we took a little stroll through the hotel property and found ourselves enjoying a gorgeous sunset at Napili Beach. Napili Beach is considered one of the world’s most beautiful beaches but there is very little public parking available and it’s difficult to access unless one stays in a nearby hotel. Definitely take advantage of the opportunity to take a quick peek if you decide to eat at the Iron Imu.
I ran out of good ideas and my husband suggested Joey’s Kitchen, located in the food court of Whaler’s Village. When I called Joey’s Kitchen, they told me that they don’t use any nuts on their menu unless it’s requested and I was puzzled by how can one request a nut dish in a restaurant that doesn’t have nuts on the menu. When we got there, I spied a large jar of peanut butter which they use to make an off the menu peanut butter jelly sandwich for those who don’t want something on the regular menu. I wish that they would believe in their menu, especially the dishes that they make well, and get rid of the just-in-case jar of peanut butter.
They serve kalua pork and lau lau but we didn’t try those entrees since we had recently dined at Aloha Mixed Plate and planned to go to a luau later. My husband and one son ordered ordered Chicken Katsu and while my son liked it a lot, my husband thought it was average. I ordered fish tacos with a sweet and spicy coleslaw, which was edible but not great. One son ordered beef short rib and his meal looked the best. We still had an appetite for more food and I went back and ordered coconut shrimp and pancit (very good and off menu), and halo halo (shaved ice dessert with fruit, milk, beans, and jellies).
Seascape Ma’aalea Restaurant (inside Maui Ocean Center)
One son really wanted to go to the Maui Ocean Center and there’s really very few dining options in the area. We’ve been there with friends on our last trip and thought they very accommodating and careful even though they have nuts on their menu so we decided that it would be okay to go again. The staff let us know that their fries are made in a shared fryer with other foods containing nuts. One son ordered beef short ribs and the other son ordered a cheeseburger, no fries, and an order of potstickers. When the waitress came back to check our order, she mentioned something about a gluten free bun and I can’t be sure whether I told her regular bun or not, but in any case we ended up with a gluten free bun and an extra $4 charge for the gluten free bun. Perhaps they were being over-cautious and helpful but should you decide to eat at the Maui Ocean Center, be specific that nut free does not necessitate gluten free foods and extra charges if your diet does not restrict gluten.
Jamba Juice & Bubba Gump:
On our very last full day in Maui, we walked up and down Front Street to explore and to find a restaurant to have lunch. Along the way, we were hot and thirsty and stopped in a Jamba Juice for a smoothie and much to our delight, they had two different varieties of dragonfruit smoothies on their menu, yummy.
We checked out the menus and talked with hostesses or waiters at a few restaurants on Front Street and finally settled on Bubba Gump because there were very few dishes with nuts on the menu. Our first waiter seemed uncomfortable with handling our food allergy order but fortunately a different waitress took over and checked our orders to make sure our children’s meals were free of nuts and all traces. We had a very nice meal overlooking the ocean.
Homecooked Meals Were Relaxing
Overall, I felt that dining out nut free to be a mentally exhausting process with lots of research and many hazards to avoid. The mental effort necessary for dining out was much greater than the physical activity to grocery shop, cook, and clean at the condo. I had my easy recipes in my head, safe ingredients on hand, and just went into autopilot mode and enjoyed the ocean view as I cooked. I had peace of mind about our meals and my family could shower and unwind, win-win. My family was great about helping out so I wouldn’t be exactly like the mom in this funny piece courtesy of The Onion: Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming All Household Duties in Closer Proximity to Ocean.
I felt most comfortable with Aloha Mixed Plate and the Old Lahaina Luau in terms of nut allergies and our food preferences. Iron Imu was definitely a safe nut free restaurant to dine in but it’s Texas style BBQ, not Hawaiian food. If you don’t crave Asian inspired island foods, there are are other chain restaurants besides Bubba Gump on the island such as Outback Steakhouse or Ruby’s Diner.
Other Random Tips (in no particular order):
#1 You Will Need Extra Sunscreen
Be prepared to use lots of sunscreen and reapply often. We like to use Vanicream products because they are hypoallergenic and our dermatologist recommended sunscreens that use zinc oxide and titanium oxide as main ingredients due to some skin sensitivities. Plus we also use their moisturizer to help control my son’s eczema.
We ended up checking in one suitcase because the 4 ounce tubes are too large for carry on luggage. We slathered on two tubes of sunscreen and it still wasn’t enough even though we were already sunburned enough and still had half a week left of our trip. We didn’t know where to buy more and there wasn’t enough time to have some shipped over. Luckily for us there’s a Walgreens drugstore in the Lahaina area that carries Vanicream products, including their sunscreen ($20/tube at Walgreens, $10-11/tube at home!!), which is a great option to know if you happen to run out of sunscreen. You can order extra tubes for your bags or ship them ahead of time to your hotel using my affiliate links (no extra cost to you, thanks for your support):
#2 How Not to Look Disheveled on a Beach Vacation
I couldn’t figure out why but my hair became frizzy and crispy, not smooth, shiny, and silky like it is usually. My little TSA friendly little bottles of conditioner ran out quickly and I ended buying a full sized bottle of conditioner to help me out so that I don’t end up looking like a disheveled sunburned lady with crazy hair in our family photos. And BB cream with sunscreen saved me even though I’ve been using it for a few years, I could really see how it evened out my facial redness due to too much sun and gave me additional sun protection.
#3 Favorite Beaches:
Our favorite beach is Kapalua Beach, there’s a little public parking lot adjacent to Napili Kai Beach Resort. It’s a very nice beach with calm waters in a sheltered bay for snorkeling, facilities but no lifeguard. It’s a very popular beach so be sure to go early.We also went snorkeling at Molokini and if you are short on time or cash, skip Molokini and snorkel at Kapalua. We swam with a sea turtle which followed us as we backed away and saw many schools of fish amongst the coral at Kapalua.
If you have time to take a little car trip and beach hop, DT Fleming Beach is near Kapalua and is a very nice beach with lifeguards, amenities, and lots of parking. Going a little further north, we also found Honolua beach. It is one of the prettiest beaches ever but down a long flight of stairs, no facilities, and no lifeguard. We also made it out to Ka’anapali beach by the black rock behind the Sheraton hotel but were scared by the waves and ended up at Kapalua for a second time.
Kapalua Beach is our very favorite beach on Maui. The water is very calm, there’s partial shade, and facilities. There are no lifeguards at this beach and parking is limited.
#4 UV Swim Shirts:
If you have sensitive skin or are prone to being sunburned, I highly recommend wearing a UV protection swim shirt. Get one for each family member.
#5 Protect the Epi and Keep Them with You
Tip #5 isn’t quite random and may be the most important one for a family with food allergies. It didn’t take long for someone in my family to lose their balance on a rock, fall into the water with Auvi-Q in their waist pack. Waterproof the epi ASAP with a special waterproof pouch or at least double bag them in zippered plastic bags.
The ambient temperature is also very hot so be sure to protect them from the sun or excessive heat. Everyone in our family carries a set but on our beach days, one of us kept all of them in an empty insulated bag inside a backpack or a cooler, out of the sun, under a sun umbrella. On the other temperature extreme, keep your epi with you in your carry on bags, never in checked baggage because 1) you might need it and 2) the cargo hold area might be very cold.
Always carry at least two autoinjectors, we never know what could happen so it’s best to be prepared and safe.
#6 Bring Hand Wipes
I used to bring pack household disinfecting wipes with disposable gloves and an extra bag to seal up the used wipes and gloves in order to clean our airplane seat area thoroughly. However, I once heard a man exclaim, “It smells like bleach” really loudly and I felt so embarrassed about causing someone else discomfort. This time around I carried an extra package of Wet Ones, suitable to use as hand wipes, which I used to disinfect our area without bothering other people.
Aloha Maui, until we meet again, we had a wonderful trip with sweet memories. Mahalo! Napili Bay sunset
It’s your turn…what are your best allergy friendly suggestions for traveling to Maui? Share with me in the comments and help others.
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