Revving up: Starlight Express shoots for NYC
While local tourism officials strive to bring visitors to Charlottesville, one new local business is aiming to get people out of town– and fast.
The Starlight Express, a luxury bus, makes its maiden voyage to the Big Apple this weekend. Owner David New says he hopes locals will take big bites of his new business, which begins offering nonstop weekend travel from Charlottesville to New York on Saturday, October 23.
New, founder of Root 66 Root Beer, and partner Oliver Kuttner, a local developer, spent several months customizing an old Trailways bus. They outfitted it with 22 leather BMW seats, a state-of-the-art sound system, and an upgraded restroom. Snacks and nonalcoholic beverages will be served on each six-hour trip, says New, who, alternating with Kuttner, will serve as driver– at least initially.
For the first New York trip, the bus will depart from Charlottesville at 5:30am and arrive before lunch in the meatpacking district of Manhattan, a "hot, up-and-coming area," New says, loaded with shops and restaurants just south of Chelsea and near the Hudson River.
Passengers arrange their own accommodations. "We just get them there," New says. Information on reservations is available at the Starlight Express website, www.nycshuttle.com.
The bus leaves New York the following day at 5:30pm and arrives back in Charlottesville at 11:30pm. New says he'll experiment with the schedule to see which times work best. For some of the trips, the bus will leave Charlottesville at midnight on Friday and arrive early Saturday morning.
"That'll be popular with young people," he predicts.
In addition to the reclining seats and expanded leg room, New says the bus has advantages over other forms of travel. The price– $149 round-trip– is just the start.
Amtrak offers a round-trip ticket for about the same speed and about the same price: $170. But there's another consideration, says New. The two northbound trains originate in New Orleans and Chicago.
As a result, "You never know how late the train's going to be running," says New. The Starlight Express, he promises, will stay on schedule.
Airplanes are potentially quicker, but pricier. A recent search on Travelocity.com offers several non-stop flights that involve just an hour and 35 minutes in the air– but pluck $412 from your pocket. Some one-stops (taking at least three hours from airport to airport) can be had for as little as $331.
Though no one's had the New York Starlight experience yet, New's wife, Marla Cantor, who owns downtown kitsch boutique Cha Cha's, organized an all-women trip to Richmond on the bus in September.
"I just didn't stop smiling the whole time," says Jody Forman, a friend who lauded the music, food, and comfortable seats.
Fellow traveler Amy Lemley agrees. "It was a blast," says Lemley. "I think the New York trips will be a little bit zany," she says. "This is not your typical Greyhound bus ride."
Forman concurs– and her nose does too.
"It didn't have that Trailways smell about it," she says.
David New and Oliver Kuttner (with son Christoph) want to take you to New York.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO