Entertainment on Amtrak:
Entertainment on Amtrak:

Entertainment On Amtrak: Advice for better travel

To have an enjoyable journey, savvy travelers prepare in advance, considering both the beautiful scenery and the potential lack of other personal entertainment on train rides. Although Amtrak may not offer at-seat entertainment, you can carefully plan entertainment on Amtrak and open up various amusement options.

In addition to packing a few things to do, bringing along essential tools such as a positive attitude and realistic expectations can enhance the travel experience. Here are some ideas from my decade-plus experience traveling on Amtrak and listening to what others do.

These insights extend beyond train travel and apply to flying and other forms of travel. Find what suits you best so you can pack your essential items for your next journey.

The podcast companion to entertainment on Amtrak

Preparing for entertainment On Amtrak

There are a few things that you can do on the train that you do not need to pack.

Watching the scenery go by can be a great way to have an enjoyable trip, meet new friends, and swap stories.

There are some stops where you can get off the train to stretch your legs, but whatever else you want or need for entertainment is up to you.

A significant factor to consider when packing is the amount of room you have and the weight of your luggage.

Pro tip: do not pack your entertainment in your checked bags! While you may have the space there, you do not have access to your things until your destination.

If you plan on traveling more, experiment to see what works for you and take notes on what you wish you brought.

Feel free to pack a mix of digital and old-school entertainment. I love digital entertainment, but puzzle books, cards, or other things can help you pass the time while you wait in a station or when darkness falls on the land.

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 in this entername on Amtrak.

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 just for the trip and a few for life.

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 do not have to focus on anything; if I nap, so be it!

Amtrak Route Guides

Several years ago, Amtrak produced route guides about the communities the train stops at or rolls through. These guides 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

Ca Zephyr

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

Out of the 52 hours, there are standard things you do that take up time.

For example, sleeping and eating take some time.

Don’t forget that no one judges you if you take a nap on the train!

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

You will eat meals during this ride, which takes time. Train travel gives you plenty of time to relax; that is the next section!

Relaxing is one of the best entertainment ideas on Amtrak!

The best part of train life is sitting back and relaxing; a nap is an excellent way for many to entertain themselves on Amtrak.

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

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

On long-distance trains, in coach class, you have more legroom than you will ever have on a bus or a plane.

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, with seats that can 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 and great for meeting new people. If you bring some playing cards, here are some game rules and ideas.

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

Other lightweight and easy-to-learn games that work for meeting new friends 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 grownup combo has a unique entertainment idea and needs. I occasionally take my niece on trips, and here are some things that have worked for us.

We had new activity books and toys for her. She loves stickers, coloring, and magic ink books, and the excitement of new ones was fun.

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. 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, which can break up the trip and reset 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.

Step off the train at fresh air stops

Alpine Texas, a Amtrak fresh air stop, Smoke break.
The Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited stopped in Alpine. Texas.

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

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

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

If you get off the train, listen to instructions and stay close.

Walking around the train

Amtrak observation car
=Amtrak’s Sightseer Loung Car

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

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.

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

Eating on Amtrak: for nourishment and entertainment

Amtrak Food
Food from the Amtrak Cafe Car.

Everyone needs to eat; am I right?

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 a treat like wine and cheese while rolling along (or other special treats).

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.

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 determine which activists work best for this trip to avoid last-minute disappointments and give you a chance to pivot.

The weather predictions might help you decide if walking across the Golden Gate Bridge is still a good idea for your plans. Or open your schedule for the last minute changes, such as 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!

Electronics entertainment on Amtrak ideas

Smartphones are more than just communication tools. They are portable entertainment centers and organizational tools. Tablets, like iPads, offer versatile functionality, serving as entertainment hubs and light workstations.

Smartphones

Besides making calls, smartphones can help with entertainment by storing music, podcasts, videos, movies, and ebooks. They can also keep you organized by keeping your schedule and reservations.

When traveling by train, it is helpful not to rely on Wi-Fi-only entertainment because not all trains have Wi-Fi, and there can be dead spots on the routes.

Additionally, a smartphone can serve as a camera for the average traveler. Map apps help you navigate your destination, decide whether to walk or take a ride, and call for rideshares.

Downloading a few games can pass the time during downtime or while waiting at the station.

Remember to pack headphones!

Another option is a tablet or iPad; that is the next section.

Tablets

A tablet, like an iPad, 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.

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).

I like to put anything visual on my iPad and audio on my iPhone but see what works best for you. Like most things in travel, these are suggestions, not Canon Law. Don’t forget to use headphones.

Avoid downloading 4K movies or shows due to their larger file sizes, and instead opt for standard-definition movies. Since most of my movies are pre-4K, it doesn’t make much of a difference to me. But this one is up to you.

Track your train

Screen of the intercity map website
This site offers several ways to find out the status of your train.

There are several ways to track trains, one of which uses a map app on an 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!

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

Wi-Fi is not necessary for life, but for some of us, it is an accessory for entertainment, or it allows us to work so we can travel more.

I remind myself that Wi-Fi is not a right but a convenience so I can manage my expectations.

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

While Amtrak’s Wi-Fi has improved, it is still unavailable on most long-distance trains, and there are still slow and dead spots. If there are no cell signals, Amtrak will not have internet access.

If you need Wi-Fi 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.

Entertainment on Amtrak: Music & Podcast

Music can enhance your enjoyment of watching the world go by or help you relax while you wait to board your train. These days, there are several ways to add music to your trip efficiently, and the best way is whatever works best for you.

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

While streaming music is popular these days, and I use it when I travel, I also make sure I have music I can listen to offline. You never know if the Wi-Fi goes down or if you hit a cell dead spot. Some music streaming services allow downloading.

If you have unlimited data, you have nothing to worry about, but if you do not, streaming music can eat into your data allowance.

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.

I download all audio files to my phone and visual content to my iPad. I do this because it aligns with my usage habits. Also, since movies and similar media take up more space, having my music on my phone allows more storage space on the iPad.

Necessary electronic accessories for entertainment on Amatrak

If you bring electronics, remember to bring chargers, cables, a power pack, and an extension cord.

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 charge.

Paper products: old-school entertainment on Amtrak

It is cool to go old school!

Trains offer you time to journal and reflect.

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 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.

Entertainment on Amtrak wrap-up

Kev listing to something while looking out a train window.
A good pair of headphones goes a long way.

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

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 entertainment on Amtrak 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.

If you embark on your Amtrak adventure with the mindset of being stuck on a train for hours, you will have a miserable experience before it starts. But if you look at the trip as an adventure and plan some entertainment on Amtrak, you can improve your experience before you leave home. Make the most of your time and enjoy the journey to the fullest.

Safe Travels,

Kev

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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