Entertainment on Amtrak:
Entertainment on Amtrak:

Entertainment On Amtrak: advice for better trips

Unlike other forms of transportation, Amtrak does not provide audiovisual entertainment at your seat, but there are different ways to find entertainment on Amtrak. One selling point of train travel is the scenery, but sometimes you may need a little more than looking out the window.

A well-prepared traveler comes with the tools they need to make their adventure h the best they can, including a positive outlook and realistic expectations.

Most of this article works well for other forms of travel like buses, road trips, and flying.

If you are a new traveler, you may still benefit from this article, which will help you plan what travel gear you need as you start traveling.

There are several things that I love to pack or do to make my travels enjoyable. You may find a few ideas from this list that may improve your next trip; you might even have a thought or two that I didn’t think of listing. Comment below or message me; I would love to hear your idea.

The podcast companion to entertainment on Amtrak

Preparing for entertainment On Amtrak

As you learned, Amtrak does not provide entertainment outside windows for you to see the vistas, but sometimes, it is nice to decompress and look out the window, not a screen.

Kids in a Sightseer lounge playing and looking out the window  great entertainment on Amtrak.
While riding on the California Zephyr, Mackenzie played with her train buddy.

On long-distance trains, often there are informational announcements where you can learn about the area you are going through.

Still, there are conversations with other passengers or staff and stops to get out and stretch your legs.

Whatever else you want or need for entertainment is up to you.

When packing entertainment, the biggest thing to consider is how much room you have in your luggage and how much you want to carry.

If you plan on traveling more, you may need to experiment with what works for you.

You can pack a mix of digital and old-school entertainment.

I love digital entertainment, but a puzzle book, cards, or other things can help pass the time while you wait in a station or when darkness falls on the land.

Experiment, and find out what works for you. You may find out you have too much when you start or not enough!

Free Entertainment On Amtrak

The train allows you to talk to people you don’t know. I know this is not for everyone, but it is an option for those who want to participate.

Views from the Capitol Limited
Watching the country go by through the windows of the Capitol Limited Sightseer Car

I met several new friends on the train; some were just for the trip, and a few for a lifetime.

Watching the scenery is one of my favorite forms of entertainment that only rail travel allows.

I know road and bus trips offer some incredible views, too, and there are some neat views from the skies. But trains sometimes offer stunning vistas you can only see on the rails, plus the sounds and movement of the trains add to the fun.

When I embark on road trips, often I am the driver, so I see some things, but I miss a lot because I focus on the road. Being on the train (or other transportation) is relaxing because I do not need to pay attention.

I can let my eyes and mind wander, and if I take a random nap, so be it!

Amtrak Route Guides

Several years ago, Amtrak produced route guides about the communities the train stops at or rolls through, which can add a little education to the communities you pass through. While they are a little outdated, they are still cool.

If that interests you, you can find those route guides here that you can print out or download to your device.

Life On The Train

One of my favorite train routes is the Califonia Zephyr. Traveling from Chicago to California takes about 52 hours.

Ca Zephyr
Amtrak’s California Zephyr stopped at Ottumwa, IA. This stop is a fresh air and crew change stop.

Out of the 52 hours, you naturally do things that will take up chunks of that time.

For example, you will need to sleep. So, you will spend about sixteen hours on the journey doing that.

On the bright side, you can take naps on the train! And no one will judge you on that. The train can lull you to sleep.

Depending on how much you sleep and nap, you have thirty-six hours to account for your adventure.

Besides sleeping, you must do another activity to sustain life: eat!

For this example, there are seven meals during this ride, which takes time. If you are staying in a sleeper, you can use the shower.

Train travel gives you plenty of time to relax; that is the next section!

Relax

The best part of train life is sitting back and relaxing.

Dad sleeping on the City of New Orleans.
My dad is relaxing and napping while riding Amtrak’s City of New Orleans.

While on your journey, you only need to worry about two things when on a train: meal reservations and getting off at the right station.

With long-distance trains, in coach class, you have more legroom than you ever will have on a bus or a plane and a lot more room than the back seat of your BFF’s car.

So, even in coach, you can stretch out. I am about 6’2″ and find ample room to stretch my legs.

Each seat on long-distance trains has a leg and footrest, and the seats lean back comfortably without being in someone’s lap.

The best thing, for me, is that trains offer the chance to decompress.

If you are in coach class on a regional train, you do not have as much legroom, but still more than some airlines, plus no middle seats.

Games

Cards and other travel-friendly games work well for train travel because they are light. Plus, they are a great way to meet new people. If you are looking for new card games, check this page out, or if you are looking for the actual rules for the games you play!

Amtrak often sells cards in the cafe car, but I leave a pack of cards in my luggage because they do come in handy, they are light, and don’t take up much space,

Other lightweight and easy-to-learn games work for meeting new friends. Some suggested games include:

  • Apples to Apples
  • Bananagrams
  • Uno
  • and more

Cards Against Humanity may be fun but not the best game for the train’s public areas unless you have a family-friendly one.

Entertainment On Amtrak For The Kiddos

I have little experience traveling with a toddler, but this is not my strong point.

Mackenzie and her emotional support alligator!
Mackenzie is excited to be on the train. We had an Amtrak Superliner Family Room,

Each kiddo and grownup combo may have a unique entertainment idea and needs. Recently, I took my niece on her first train trip. Her mom brought activities and electronics.

For her, we included several things in her entertainment arsenal. One trick that worked well, everything she had was new and a surprise. But they were based on things she loves. She loves stickers, coloring books, and magic ink books.

Often, for some little ones, a stuffed travel companion helps them be brave and comfortable.

Her support stuffed alligator was a big hit and comfort to her. She liked that people would talk to her about her critter.

We did pack an iPad for her. While she had it with her, she did not use it much. Some parents talked about limited screen time or using it as a reward for kids. Doing what you think is best for you and your child would be best.

Some kiddos enjoy walking on the train; sometimes, going to a different car resets that boredom sensor.

Amtrak has a webpage of activities you can print out for the little ones. Crayons or colored pencils work great for adults and kids. Also, a few freight railroads have activities if you want a railroad theme.

I have found a few; if you know more, let me know!

I found this site that puts activities together for your kids in a bundle; this option could work well for some.

Fresh Air Stops

Fresh air stops are mainly on long-distance routes, but some regions have them if the train arrives early.

Alpine Texas, a Amtrak fresh air stop, Smoke break.
Amtrak Superliner Sleeper car on the Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited stopped in Alpine. Texas.

These stops allow you to get off the train, stretch your legs, and get fresh air or smoke.

Here is an important point: if you get off the train, listen for the toot of the whistle (air horn) and ALL ABOARD from conductors. Never walk too far away from the train.

You are responsible for stepping back on the train before its departure, for it will leave without you if you are not on board when it is ready to go.

Most stops are not fresh air stops, so don’t get off the train unless they announce you can or at your final stop.

Sidenote:

Amtrak will not leave before their scheduled time except for flag or departure-only stops, which are never fresh air stops. So, if you are on a train and wondering why you are not moving, check the schedule and see if the train is running early.

Walking Around The Train

There are a few places to walk and stretch your legs if you are a coach or sleeper passenger.

Amtrak observation car
A view of the inside an Amtrak’s Sightseer Loung Car with the cafe on the lower level and booth seating on the other side

Anyone on the train can walk to the cafe car for snacks, meals, and beverages.

You can hang out in the Sightseer Lounge on a Superliner Train (two stories) or in a Viewliner train’s cafe car.

Many people want to use the Sightseer or cafe area, which can cause passengers to wait.

Be mindful of others so they get some time in the car, too, because many people want to use these cars.

When this article was published, dining and sleeper passenger lounges were only available to sleeping car passengers.

Eating On Amtrak: For Nourishment And Entertainment

Everyone needs to eat; am I right?

Amtrak Food
You can bring the food you purchased from the Amtrak Cafe Car back to your seat and eat it in the Sightseer Lounge or cafe car.

Whether I am in coach class or a sleeper, one activity I enjoy is walking to the cafe car to grab a snack or beverage.

It is fun to stretch the ‘ol legs or get fancy and get wine and cheese while rolling along (or whatever special treat that could make your day).

Also, if you are in coach class, the cafe car is the only place on the train to buy meals, at least at the time of publication.

You can hang out in the cafe car, but be aware of other passengers who may want to use that space. If you are on a Superliner train, you can eat downstairs and go upstairs for more views.

For more about eating on Amtrak trains, check out this article. The article will help you find more and list the current menus.

Review Your Destination Plans

One advantage of train travel is that it allows you to review your destination plans before arriving.

Palace Market Frenchman
Palace Market Frenchman, New Orleans, LA

Doing so lets you review your thoughts, see if they are still open, and see if those activists work best for this trip.

Doing this can help avoid those last-minute disappointments and give a chance to pivot.

The weather predictions might help you decide that you no longer wish to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge when you planned. Or maybe you might decide at the last minute to go to different beignet shops every morning during a New Orleans visit. If you have a beignet every morning, I understand and will not judge; send me a picture!

Smartphones provide Entertainment On Amtrak.

Smartphones are a must for the modern traveler. I am sure a few of you out there can prove me wrong.

smart phone
Smartphone

These phones, like music, podcasts, and ebooks, can hold your schedule and reservations. Plus, for the average traveler, a smartphone works well as a camera.

Map apps often help you get around your destination and help you decide if you should walk or get a ride. Plus, it helps to summon rideshares.

Downloading a few games might help you with downtime or waiting at the station.

Amtrak has outlets on the wall at every seat; an extension cord is handy.

Remember, if your electronics make a sound, you need headphones. Not everyone wants to hear your music, movie, or phone call. Silent is a fantastic ringtone for on the train. 

Track your train

This site offers several ways to find out the status of your train.

There are a few ways to track your trains; one uses a map app on your electronic device or GPS equipment.

Doing so will help you determine where you are along your route.

You can also use the Amtrak app or website to ensure your train is on time. There are a few third-party sites like the one I often use or this other.

A speedometer app can be fun to see how fast you are going down the rails.

Wi-Fi, Maybe?

Wi-Fi is not necessary for life, but for some of us, it is an accessory for our entertainment.

I assume that trains, planes, and buses don’t have Wi-Fi, even if they say they do. My day gets a little brighter when they do, and it works.

Masked passenger
A masked passenger on her phone is waiting to leave the station. Photo courtesy of Amtrak

I try to be realistic; if my router messes up at home, there is no reason why technical issues can’t happen on my transportation.

I remind myself that Wi-Fi is not a right but a convenience, regardless of speed.

If I pay for it, that is a different case; it must work!

Wi-Fi on trains, buses, and planes is often limited to emails and browsing the interwebs and usually does not allow you to stream sites such as YouTube and Netflix or download big files.

If you need Wi-Fi for your devices while traveling, see if your phone can work as a hotspot or purchase an independent one. Be aware that streaming video can burn through data faster than you think.

Learn more about Amtrak Wi-Fi.

Most regional Amtrak trains have Wi-Fi, along with Viewliner long-distance trains. Superliner trains do not, but the Auto Train.

Tablets: An Excellent Travel Investment

A tablet can be a great multifunctional tool for travelers because it can be an entertainment center, jukebox, e-reader, audiobook library, learning center, etc.

A tablet can be an excellent substitute for a computer if you need to do light work while on your adventure. Nowadays, tablets are reasonably powerful for many tasks, and you can even get a keyboard if required.

There are many brands, and I suggest you get the best one that fits your budget. If you are considering getting a tablet, check out this article.

My biggest suggestion is to buy a tablet with the most memory you can afford. I recommend sixty-four or more gigs of memory and do not suggest anything below 32 gigs. Some tablets do allow you to add memory.

Tips for getting movies & TV Shows

Services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney +, and more allow you to download movies and programs temporarily to your phone or tablet without streaming them (aka no Wi-Fi).

Netflix (not a sponsor) photo courtesy of Netflix

Sometimes, these files are smaller than those you purchase from places like iTunes.

Download standard definition videos instead of high definition or 4K to save space.

The better the quality, the more space they take. I would rather have variety over high quality, but you may differ. Just be aware of that compromise.

You could also buy movies to download from several sources. One trick is spending the extra money to get the digital download when you buy the DVD or Blu-ray.

Entertainment on Amtrak: Music & Podcast

Music can add to the enjoyment of watching the world go by or help while you wait to board your train.

mobile-phone-samsung-music-39592
Phone, headphones, and favorite podcast apps can help the miles go by your window.

Like movies, there are music streaming services to load temporarily, or you can still purchase songs for your phone or tablet.

You can also buy music to download or rip some CDs onto your computer and upload them to your phone.

I suggest creating a travel playlist; the right playlist can aid in your enjoyment of a trip. 

Podcasts can also add to your entertainment or even learn from them. There is even a Travels with Kev Podcast.

Digital downloads are much more manageable than bringing CDs, cassette tapes, eight tracks, or records.

Travel tip: Regarding digital media, audio goes on my phone, and the video goes on my iPad. Doing this saves me space because I do not need the same media on both devices. If you only have one device, you’ll need everything on that, which can also work.

Necessary Electronic Accessories For Entertainment On Amatrak

Don’t forget chargers, cables, a power pack, and an extension cord if you bring any electronics.

Before packing, ensure that you have the correct cable and that it works; the same goes for chargers. Nothing is worse than wanting to take a photo of a stunning landscape to find out your phone is about to die because it did not change overnight.

If you pack anything that makes noise, ensure you have wireless or wired headphones and know how to silence your device.

Paper Products: Old School Entertainment on Amtrak

It is cool to go old school!

If so inclined, train time offers you time to journal and reflect. At the same time, I have this under a paper activity; digital works well if that media is better for you. It is also a great time to catch up on those books you have put off.

Some travelers trade books with others or swap books at Little Lending Libraries. Others want to donate the book they read and buy a new book at a non-chain bookstore at their destination.

If you are up for it, there are some excellent coloring books for adults, and colored pencils do not weigh much. Coloring is one of those activities that can help pass the time without even realizing how much time has passed.

By all means, magazines, gamebooks, journals, sketch pads, or whatever else you can think of are great ways to pass the time. Train Magazine is always a great suggestion. I see people of all ages with books.

Entertainment On Amtrak Wrap-Up

A good pair of headphones goes a long way.

Now that you have some suggestions figure out what works best for you. Let me know in the comments what you might bring. Are there things that work well for you that I missed?

I find riding on trains relaxes me even if I write or edit. The train’s motion, the sounds, and just being in motion are therapeutic for me, and I hope for you.

The best advice I can give is not just to sit there. Get up and move. Strike up a conversation with someone. Step off the train or do something to improve your or someone else’s trip.

When planning your trip, remember to bring things to do, leave that negative at home, and assume positive intentions when trying to help you.

If you start your Amtrak adventure thinking I am stuck here for hours, you will be miserable if you don’t plan for the experience. Enjoy your time and use it to its fullest.

Safe Travels,

Kev

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8/23/22

Kevin Monteith

Kev Monteith has been traveling on Amtrak since 2012. With over a decade of experience, he has been on over 800 trains, covering over 200k miles of rail. Kev enjoys helping others achieve their travel dreams by providing support and information. Outside of travel, Kev enjoys making music as an organist and outings with family.

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