By STEVE GIBBS Free Press Staff KEY LARGO -- Not many couples would drive to the Florida Keys from Central Florida just to see a bottle.
But for Mark and Jenny Stanley of Winter Springs, this is no ordinary bottle.
It is the green champagne bottle into which they slipped their wedding invitation and a note and tossed into the ocean last year during a July 4 honeymoon cruise off the north coast of Cuba.
"We were married at the Hemingway House in Key West before we boarded the ship for the rest of the cruise. That first night, after dinner, we drank champagne," recalled Jenny, 49. "It was my idea to put the note in the bottle. I had wanted to do this all my life."
"I always wanted to do the same thing," husband Mark, 51, added. "We had a balcony room. We could see Cuba. It was a very romantic moment. The trick was throwing it far enough out to keep from hitting the ship."
Exactly one year later, Taylor Creek resident Chris Gonzalez was out boating on July 4 with her family. They were exploring the shoreline north of Garden Cove when her nephew, Peter Perez, 15, came to the boat with a bottle.
"I could see there was something in there," Gonzalez said. "I used pliers to open the top. It had been well sealed.
"I pushed the cork into the bottle and had a hard time getting out the note. Inside was a wedding invitation rolled up with a white ribbon. Over that was a note. It said something like 'The finder of this bottle will be blessed by angels.'"
It was the newlyweds' champagne bottle.
When Gonzalez located Jenny under her maiden name on Facebook, she told her she had found the bottle. Gonzalez says the couple was at first skeptical, but after exchanging e-mails, the Stanleys have now planned a trip to visit Gonzalez and reclaim their bottle.
The topper, Mark Stanley says, came when his adult son left a book behind earlier this month when he departed for his Army base.
"Call it coincidence, but when we got the call [from Gonzalez] my son's book, "A Message in a Bottle" by Nicholas Sparks, was there on the table in plain sight," he said. "That was really strange."
They were ebullient about the bottle's recovery.
"To find our bottle one year to the day defies all odds," the couple wrote to Gonzalez a week after their one-year anniversary.
Added Mark: "Jennifer and I met six years ago and our first vacation together was no other place than Key Largo where we rented a houseboat for a week. Thus our adventure began at the origin of the bottle finding.
"We do not feel this saga is over, but just begun. Please keep our bottle safe. We do not feel it should be mailed home. We find it would be only right to personally pick up our bottle and meet the person(s) responsible for finding it. ... May the bottle saga continue, for there is something magical about it all that defies the odds."
Gonzalez is eagerly awaiting the Stanleys' visit.
"I am so excited for them. This is their story and I am happy to be a part of it," she said. "I get goose bumps even thinking about it."