We decided to plan 2 day trips with Costa Rica Best Trips in advance before our arrival. The first was to Arenal w/ hot spings and hanging bridges. Credit Card was offered as a form of payment with an unfortunate 7% up-charge so we paid cash. We got a confirmation by email and phone call in our room around 8pm the night before. There seemed to be some resistance to speaking English when my husband answered the phone so they asked to speak with me (as I speak Spanish).
Alex picked us up on time in the morning (7:30am). Super nice friendly guy. However, immediately the trip felt a little unorganized. He didn't really know what day trip package we wanted and was asking us where we had planned to go. Once we were on route, we had to take a detour so Alex could stop at his house. He went in to get a knife (to cut a pineapple for a snack later) and coffee. This added time to a trip that was already going to be a full day and a lot of driving. Along the way, Alex was very knowledgeable about the area and wildlife. He stopped a few times while we drove around Lake Arenal to point our tropical birds and good vista's for photos. Alex offered to take lots of photos of us which was appreciated. The hanging bridges were fun and Alex pointed out lots of wild life including small little poisonous frogs that would otherwise be hard to see.
Along the way Alex spoke a fair bit of English but often kept reverting to Spanish, turning my me into a translator for a fair portion of the trip which was really annoying. We had lunch after the hanging bridges, which we found a bit late in the day. Maybe it was just me, but he also spent a fair amount of time talking on the phone to his friends throughout the trip.
There seemed to be no plan where we were going for lunch, he asked if we wanted to eat local food or the restaurant that was included in the tour. We said local so the plan was to eat in La Fortuna, so we drove another 25-30 min into town. We got out of the van while Alex went to ask if the other restaurant was available even though we had asked for local. About 10 min later we got back into the bus and said the other place was available so we were going there. We left the town to back track another 15-20 minutes to the hot springs resort (Los Lagos, the one we just drove by) where we finally got to eat (around 2:30pm which we thought was a bit late). By this point it was getting dark and starting to rain but we made the best of it and spent an hour or so in the hot springs. We left at 4 and knew we still had a long drive ahead of us. The trip included dinner in the price, but the dinner location was only an hour away from the hot springs. Since we had just finished eating at 3pm, we decided to skip dinner and at this point just wanted to get back to the resort and eat there instead. We didn't ask for any money back, we just wanted to go back.
All in all we probably wouldn't opt to do this day trip again. We spent a total of 8.5hrs in the van, and about 3.5-4 hours of the day was actually spent doing things outside. The drive home was spent tailgating other cars through the mountains and by the time it was dark and raining on the Pan American Highway, we were passing cars and transport trucks 3 at a time. The only reason to get out of the oncoming lane was headlights! We were high-beamed and honked at more than a few times. As we almost reached the resort, there was another short unscheduled personal stop. Needless to day, we were both happy to get out of the van and get back to the resort (7:20pm). I imagine it would have been another 1.5-2hrs later had we decided to do the dinner.
Alex gave us a choice of rescheduling the trip to combine it with another couple. He told us we would save money if we shared the tour but it was optional. Ariel had given us the choice to cancel without any issues and we found them to be really pushy towards the end. We told him we'd email him with our decision and he kept pushing us to schedule it saying they had already booked it (even though he gave us the choice to reschedule). Unfortunately we decided to cancel the second trip and go another route.
All in all not a bad tour company, just seemingly unorganized. Best piece of advice I could leave is to iron out the plan for the day and find out where and when you will be stopping, ahead of time, and ask the guide to stick to it.