THE GEORGIA AQUARIUM, which opened last November, is the standard bearer for this new strain of state-of-the-art aquariums, thanks to a man named Bernie ­Marcus. Marcus, cofounder of the Atlanta-based hardware chain the Home Depot and a 77-year-old philanthropist, wanted to give something back to the community. So he reached into his pocket and pulled out more than $250 million for the creation of what he calls "something that nobody in the industry has ever done before." But Marcus did more than just write the check. He toured 56 aquariums in 13 countries across the globe, researching what worked and what didn't, and, with his team, came up with what they considered the ultimate aquarium experience.

I, for one, tend to agree with them. I visited the aquarium early one Friday morning, and if I had a dollar for every "ooh" and "aah" I heard uttered that day, I might be as rich as Marcus. Because be they wide-eyed preschoolers, dubious teens and tweens, harried parents, or seen-it-all seniors, the Georgia Aquarium managed to somehow get under their skin at some point or another. It simply couldn't be helped.

For me, it was the leafy sea dragons. A huge Cousteau fan, I'd never even heard of a leafy sea dragon before, and here were a bunch of them swimming around just a few inches away from me. Visually, they're a combination of a sea horse and a leafy branch, and they actually don't so much swim as float about like dead limbs. They're so strange-looking, Peter Jackson should put them in his next movie.

Another crowd favorite is the Beluga whales. After watching the five of them dive, dance, twirl, and twist through the water as if in an exquisite undersea ballet, I actually saw two grown men high-five each other. I told you, you just can't help but be impressed. The place is one big, beautiful screen saver that you want to take home with you and stare at throughout the day.

It's all part of the reason why, after only 98 days, the Georgia Aquarium welcomed its one-millionth visitor. Which came as a shock - they hadn't expected to reach that number for several months. But the Georgia Aquarium isn't the only new aquarium drawing a crowd. Nor is it the only one boasting the latest wow-factor amenities and attractions. Here's a short list of U.S. aquariums that are in the works, have just opened, or are being overhauled to oblige today's sophisticated visitors.