It’s a testament to the talents of one of the world’s most successful authors that a simple train — at least when populated by a cast of mysterious and equally culpable travelers — can become the most thrilling setting for a story imaginable.
I speak, of course, of Agatha Christie. A veritable literary Hitchcock and the queen of murder mystery, she’s one of the most widely published authors in history, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. One of Christie’s seminal works, Murder on the Orient Express, is the ultimate expression of the genre she perfected, setting the template for countless books, films, TV shows, podcasts and games to follow. It ticked all the boxes for the ultimate whodunnit: a cast of dapper strangers, an eccentric detective, and most importantly of all, a killer backdrop in the form of a swanky train meandering through scenic wilderness.
As evidenced by the Christie adaptations still being made, including the most recent batch of films directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, the author’s cultural impact remains indelible nearly 90 years after the publication of Murder on the Orient Express. And while it may be impossible to fully replicate the gilded splendor of the original Orient Express (though some are trying), a slew of inspired imitators have popped up across the U.S., offering their own murder mystery train rides on vintage railways.
They may not be traversing the Swiss Alps, but these railways — from Florida to Napa Valley — offer murder mystery with a kind of pageantry Christie would be proud of.
Murder on the Bellevue Express, Portsmouth, RI
In case you can’t make it to the actual Orient Express, there’s something apropos about a faux murder in a waspy coastal New England setting. Operated by the Newport and Narragansett Bay Railroad Co., the Grand Bellevue Rail Dining Experience is an ornate blast from the past that takes passengers back in time, as well as through the scenic coastal waterways along Aquidneck Island. The premise is pure Christie: Passengers convene in the Atlantic Rose theater car for a murder mystery experience set in the ‘20s and ‘30s. Presented by the Murder Mystery Company, each ride lasts two and a half hours, with different clues and characters popping up along the way for guests to interact with and solve — all between bites from a four-course meal with wine and cocktails. While all murder mysteries are set in the same era, themes rotate seasonally, with “Masquerade at Midnight” taking place through November, and “The Most Wonderful Crime of the Year” running in December. Tickers are $128.95-132.95 per person, and can be purchased here.
Murder Mystery Dinner Train, Fort Myers, FL
One of the most robust and immersive murder mystery train rides in the country takes place in, of all places, Fort Myers, Florida. Running year-round, with a slew of rotating themes and five-course dinners with each outing, the dinner-and-a-show experiences are held all throughout the dining cars aboard the Murder Mystery Dinner Train. More of a comical theater performance than an interactive whodunnit, all passengers are given clue sheets, playbills and pens to follow along as the night progresses, with performers traipsing through the aisles — in full period garb — between courses. Throughout the evening, more clues are revealed, and guests make their final accusations before the resolution, with prizes awarded in each dining car. Rides include the horse racing-themed “On Track for Murder,” “Illusion of Death” with escape artists and showmen, and the Christmas-themed “A Merry Little Murder” during the holidays. Tickets range from $119-125, and can be purchased here.
My Old Kentucky Dinner Train, Bardstown, KY
Kentucky bourbon country is an ideal backdrop for a murder mystery, as experienced aboard My Old Kentucky Dinner Train in the bucolic countryside of the Bluegrass State. Along with a Bourbon Excursion ride, complete with whiskey flights and an on-board master distiller as host, the company offers the Murder Mystery Train, a 2.5-hour trek that includes a four-course meal and theatrics from a troupe called Murder and Merriment. Along the way, while enjoying plates of prime rib and bourbon fried chicken in opulent dining cars, passengers can participate in the live show and play along to see if they can solve the mystery. And even if you guess wrong, there’s always bourbon pecan pie. The cost is $139 per person, and tickets can be purchased here.
Napa Valley Wine Train, Napa, CA
When it comes to murderous pomp and circumstance, it doesn’t get much more decadent than the Napa Valley Wine Train. With its restored vintage Pullman cars, the train offers some of the most in-depth interactivity and themes in the nation, with five different murder mysteries to choose from, three courses of haute cuisine and one juicy murder — and all the Pinot Noir you can drink. With each immersive excursion, guests are given characters, including one masquerading as the killer. As the journey commences, passengers interact to follow clues and solve the crime, all while chugging through California’s beautiful wine country. Themes include “Death of a Gangster,” Hollywood-inspired “Best Laid Plans,” “Til Death Do Us Part,” ‘50s-era “A Dance With Death” and “Midnight Masquerade,” so dress accordingly. Each two-hour ride, which includes a welcome glass of sparkling wine and a multi-course meal, costs $595, and tickets can be purchased here.
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Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, Cumberland, MD
It’s crab cakes with a side of murder on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, a stately train that weaves its way through the mountainous western region of the state, and through quaint towns like Cumberland and Frostburg. Originally built to transport coal between Maryland and West Virginia, it now transports suspects and comical killers on its path through the Allegheny Mountains, which are basically the Appalachian version of the Alps. For the murder mystery jaunts, guests are given clues and tasked with solving the mystery while dining on meals prepared by the on-board chef, with a full bar selection available for drinks. Each murder mystery dinner costs $132.99, and tickets can be purchased here.
Strasburg Rail Road, Ronks, PA
Out in the pastoral countryside of Lancaster County, murder is afoot. More precisely, there’s a mystery to be solved while traveling through Amish country aboard the Strasburg Rail Road, complete with a full cast of well-dressed actors who look like characters from The Great Gatsby. Themes for each 45-minute ride change periodically, with “The Show Must Go On: A Murder Mystery Live Performance” running through the end of 2023. More theatrical performance than interactive whodunnit, the premise is that the train is on its way to Broadway for a splashy premiere, when — as guests mingle over drinks and hors d’oeuvres — a body is found. Conveniently, there’s a detective from Scotland Yard aboard the train, and it’s a zany spectacle to behold as clues get uncovered, characters reveal secrets and the mystery unfolds. Each trip is $72 and includes one drink (alcoholic or non) in first-class cars, with food options for purchase. Head here to purchase tickets.
Murder Mystery Express, Kingsland, GA
You’ll need to stay on your toes if you want to solve the murder on-board the Murder Mystery Express, a killer journey operated by the Georgia Coastal Railway in the woods of southeastern Georgia. Throughout each outing, characters, clues and storylines are wont to pop up at random, with various levels of audience interactivity throughout. The setting is the Moonlight Lounge in the ‘70s, when club owner DJ Johnny hosts an ill-fated party that sees a murder in its midst. Although the mystery doesn’t include dinner, snacks and drinks are available for purchase, including fun ‘70s-themed cocktails, and guests are encouraged to dress in period attire (prizes are given for best dressed). Tickets are $34-42 and can be purchased here.
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