“I’ll have a small Smurf cone with jimmies, please.”
A non-native Cincinnatian may be hard-pressed to decode that sentence, but it makes sense at Kings Island. The Smurf cone, blueberry ice cream, blue soft serve – whatever you call it – is an essential piece of Cincinnati’s food canon, and we have Kings Island to thank for it. It’s impossible to chronicle the history of blue ice cream in Cincinnati without first delving into the history of Kings Island, the brains behind the blueberry soft serve that has taken up residence in ice cream machines all over the Greater Cincinnati area.
Enchanted Voyage debuted in 1972 along with the park itself and was the classic family-friendly boat ride that echoed Magic Kingdom’s “It’s a Small World” in form, but with Hanna-Barbera characters instead of Disney ones. The whole cast of animatronic characters serenaded you in a chorus of cartoonish falsettos as you bobbed along. Enchanted Voyage was a must-stop for most visitors – by the end of its run, it had amassed 47 million rides, Don Helbig, digital marketing manager at Kings Island, said in a blog post.
In 1984, Enchanted Voyage was revamped into Smurf’s Enchanted Voyage, the post said, which required significantly more oversized plastic mushrooms and gallons of azure paint than the previous rendition thanks to the titular blue creatures. To garner excitement for the ride’s refresh, Kings Island debuted a blueberry-flavored (and Smurf-colored) soft serve ice cream that became more integral to the Kings Island experience than anyone had planned for.
The ice cream’s legacy outlived that of the ride by a significant margin. It was an instant hit among Kings Island fans. Getting a “Smurf cone,” as it came to be known colloquially, was just as important as riding The Beast in a day’s-worth of amusement – and it still is. But these days, many Cincinnatians simply refer to it as blue ice cream.
Perhaps it wasn’t clear to Kings Island officials at the time just how important the Smurf cone had become to the visitor experience until they took it away. In 1992, Smurf’s Enchanted Voyage was converted into Phantom Theater, a haunted theater ride. Since the blue ice cream was so popular for Smurf’s Enchanted Voyage, Kings Island assumed that a new flavor should accompany the new version of the ride, too. Ahead of Phantom Theater’s opening, a pastel red, cherry-flavored soft serve filled the park’s ice cream machines where blueberry once was.
It did not go over well. Helbig called it “uproar” and “chaos” in an interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer.
For Kings Island fans, blue soft serve had become integral to the Kings Island experience, and its abrupt replacement had caused an outcry among park regulars. Park officials eventually brought back the fan favorite, and the blue treat still is available in the park today.
The upheaval caught the attention of long-standing creamy whips throughout Cincinnati, and the little shops hopped aboard the blue ice cream train. Putz’s Creamy Whip started carrying blueberry soft serve as a rotating flavor in the 1990s but soon added it to the permanent menu due to its popularity.
“We actually added a new (ice cream) machine just to keep up with demand,” says Mindy Borgman, owner of Putz’s Creamy Whip. She started serving ice cream at Putz’s more than twenty years ago and eventually married into the family. Around 2020, she became an owner.
After over two decades of loyal ice cream service, Borgman has an opinion on this Cincinnatian delicacy.
“I don’t like it,” Borgman tells CityBeat. “My kids love it! But it’s not for me.”
Borgman says that Putz’s sells more blue ice cream than twist cones on average, churning through nearly 50 gallons each week. The company adds blueberry flavoring to the classic ultra-creamy vanilla base, setting it apart from Kings Island’s blue cone.
Many other mainstay creamy whips and soft-serve spots in Cincinnati have integrated blue ice cream into their menus now. Some serve a true-to-form blueberry flavor, while others opt for blue raspberry instead.
So what makes blue soft serve a Cincinnati thing? After all, Blue Moon hard-serve ice cream – the kind you scoop – has been in the freezers of Midwesterners for nearly 70 years, and soft serve isn’t native to Ohio.
But blueberry soft serve lies at the critical intersection of nostalgia and nuance. It was a Kings Island marketing ploy that turned into a fond memory for many, capping a long day of riding roller coasters in the summer sun with a sweet treat you couldn’t find anywhere else at the time.
And the ensuing years have shown that the ice cream being blueberry-flavored may have been less integral than it being Smurf-colored. Being tied to Kings Island has been a critical selling point. After all, Cedar Point tried selling blueberry soft serve, and it was a flop with the Sandusky crowd.
Blue creamy whip now belongs in the Cincinnati food hall of fame next to the goetta and Grippo’s, imprinting core memories into the minds of Kings Island fans who eagerly order their blue cones with rainbow jimmies.