A group of eagers gets ready to board a Starr motorcoach.

Charter bus company gives passengers the “Starr” treatment

Often when people travel, they hope to find comfort and entertainment at their destination, but if the mode of travel is itself comfortable (and entertaining), would that be so bad?

Starr, the Hamilton-based company once known as Starr Tours, owns a fleet of more than 40 buses deployed with comfort in mind. At Starr they prefer the term motorcoaches, which more readily conjures visions of the amenities one will find on board, including reclining individual seats, heat and air conditioning, DVD players, wi-fi and onboard lavatories.

As most people know who are familiar with Starr, these motorcoaches are available to charter. Groups, corporations, schools, wedding parties and more hire Starr motorcoaches to take them to Broadway, Atlantic City, Washington or wherever their destinations may be.

Starr is well known throughout the area for its daily excursions. For a set fee, customers can book a day trip to an Atlantic City casino, or to the city for lunch and a Broadway show.

But Sandy Borowsky wants people to know that Starr will take them much farther than that.

Borowsky is vice president of marketing and tour operations for Starr. She also represents the third generation for this family-owned company: her grandfather, Gilbert Sussman, founded Starr in 1947, and her parents, Renee and Alan Glickman, run the company today.

Starr also provides transportation for one-day sightseeing trips to places like Washington or the Baltimore Aquarium. Or a day trip to Lancaster County, Pa. might include visits to attractions like Kitchen Kettle Village and a tour of an Amish homestead.

Borowsky described a typical day trip to Washington with Starr.

“You meet your bus at seven in the morning and get down to D.C. before lunch,” she said. “You have some free time on your own, lunch at Union Station usually, then the driver gives you the tour highlights, then drops you off at the Smithsonian. You have free time to take in any of the Smithsonian mall museums. then in late afternoon you get back on bus. So you’re not going on your own doing rest stops, finding parking, things like that. These drivers know exactly where they’re going.”

Starr also offers multiday sightseeing tours. Many of these trips, to places like Cape Cod or Colonial Williamsburg, last three or four days and include overnight accommodations.

“Really, there’s nobody else in the area that offers vacations by motorcoach,” Borowsky said.

Starr has experienced tour directors on staff — some have been with the company for more than three decades — to provide guidance and assistance to travelers. Some trips have historical themes, like those to Gettysburg or George Washington’s Mount Vernon home, and the tour directors are knowledgeable about those sights.

Starr’s website, starrtours.com, offers detailed descriptions of the surprising variety of possible vacation destinations, which include Boston, Niagara Falls, Montreal and Virginia Beach. And those are just some of the 3- and 4-day trips. Weekend getaways to locations such as New York’s Hudson Valley or the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania are also on the schedule.

Starr offers longer trips as well, including weeklong trips to Tennessee, Branson, Mo., or Savannah, Ga. In fact, they even offer a 26-day, cross-country trip, with stops in St. Louis, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Yellowstone National Park and Chicago.

This year’s cross-country trip is scheduled to depart June 29. Travelers can catch the Starr motorcoach at a number of area locations, including Hamilton’s AMC 24 theater, the Yardley, Pa. park and ride and the Hotel ML in Mount Laurel.

Starr partners with local facilities and shops who allow their customers to park their cars in their lots while they are away. For many of the shorter trips, riders can catch the bus at one of the same locations.

Borowsky said that while Starr strives to provide comfort and convenience for customers, the company also seeks to provide value. “You get a lot for your money,” Borowsky said.

“The other day I overheard this couple tell another couple, ‘Hey, we’re going to Nashville on a bus tour,’” Borowsky said. “And the people said, ‘Oh, that’s great. We’ve always wanted to go to Nashville but we looked at flights and they were really expensive.’ And combined with hotel it was more than they wanted to spend.”

So the first couple told the second couple that on the bus tour, accommodations were included and they could avoid the hassle of the airport altogether.

“You’ve got to take a plane, rent a car, find a hotel, decide all your own attractions,” Borowsky said. “Where we do all that for them. You make a reservation, drive to the local pickup point, you get on board and that’s all you do. Even baggage service is included.”

Borowsky said Starr caters to all kinds of travelers, of all ages. She said there was a time when many of their customers were 65 and over, but the average age is lower today. She said she sees many of the children of their earliest customers taking Starr tours today.

She also said she finds that customers get out of their trips what they put into it. Some like to keep to themselves, or spend the majority of their time with their spouse or companion, and they can have a perfectly good time doing that.

On the other hand, some people go on trips with the goal of meeting new people. On longer trips especially, Starr organizes at least one group meal where people get a chance to mingle and get to know one another.

Borowsky said she knows of many people who have met on Starr trips who have become such good friends they regularly schedule future tours so they can travel together again.

“That is the best part of my job, when I hear stories like that,” she said. “I hear these stories that are just unbelievable. They keep traveling and coming back for more.”According to the Starr website, the company began with two transit buses providing service between Trenton and Hightstown.

In the 1950s, Starr started building up its fleet of air-conditioned buses with onboard lavatories, and tours for groups and individuals were introduced in the 1960s with the New York World’s Fair. They also began offering vacation and sightseeing bus trips in the 1960s.

When gambling was legalized in the 1970s, Atlantic City’s casinos became a major destination for Starr and its competitors. And starting in the 1980s, Starr began offering air and cruise vacations packages as well.

The Starr headquarters are located at 1 E. State St. Extension in Hamilton. But for information about traveling with Starr, go online to starrtours.com or call (800) 782-7703.